I received a query about surnames that were the same as nations. An example might be Captain America, if indeed his first names was actually Captain and his surname was actually America instead of a pseudonym for Steve Rogers, and I guess while we’re at it, if he wasn’t a fictional character in a comic book. Maybe his surname would have to be "United States of America" if we wanted complete accuracy. Anyway, don’t read too much into the example. It’s intended merely to get the point across. Hopefully you now understand the question being asked.
It’s an interesting notion. Perhaps it aligns loosely with general genealogical origins of various peoples too. I turned to the United States Census Bureau’s "Frequently Occurring Surnames from Census 2000." I downloaded the file of surnames occurring 100 or more times.
On a bit of a tangent, naturally I searched for my relatively rare non-geography surname and found it tied for 76,946th place, shared by 232 people along with other obscure surnames such as Bottles, But, Coma, Crummy, Fangmann, Java, Junck, Octave and Tar. Zusi falls at the bottom of the list in case you were wondering, with 100 occurrences and tied for 150,436th place.
Certainly other sources could have been consulted to provide a more international point of view, however I had neither easy access to those sources nor did I want to stitch together a bunch of files. Also I figured the U.S. might serve as a decent proxy at least for the English-speaking world due to it’s large population and immigrant-heavy background. Others should feel free to build upon the data if so inclined.
I looked for every nation and territory listed in the CIA World Factbook. I searched for partial matches like Hong and Kong individually too. I also sought demonyms or gentilics, the names of groups of peoples or the languages they use, such as Russian for Russia. The results are all compiled in a public spreadsheet that everyone should be able to view.
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Saint Martin does best if partial matches are acceptable. Martin is the 17th most common surname in the United States with 672,711 instances in the 2000 Census. I have two quibbles: Saint Martin isn’t a standalone nation (as much as I enjoyed my visit) and it doesn’t carry the same weight as a complete match. King, in spite of all of the various Kingdoms including the UK, seems a little bogus too. Next comes the demonym Scott, followed by Cook for the Cook Islands in free association with New Zealand (named for Captain Cook!). These all lead me to believe that the cleanest, most completely unambiguous and frequent nationalist surname is Jordan.
One should not conclude that Michael Jordan or any of the 197,212 Jordans are necessarily Jordanian. However the surname and the nation do have a common root, an Aramaic/Hebrew word Yarden, “to descend.”
The River Jordan provides a name to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and likely inspires the surname due to its religious significance. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. Its importance is further emphasized by the biblical prominence of the Sea of Galilee, which the River Jordan flows into and out of along its watercourse.
Other candidates follow along further down the list. Holland might be a possibility although it’s just a portion of the Netherlands even though it’s often used synonymously. A couple of great demonyms also appear in this range, the surnames French and English. Let’s set all of those aside.
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The second best exact match also demonstrates biblical roots: King Solomon, son of David. Solomon was described as acquiring immense wealth in shipments from a faraway land called Ophir. Many people over the centuries speculated about the geographic placement of Ophir. The Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira offered his opinion when he stumbled upon a group of island in the South Pacific and named them after Solomon in 1568. Solomon was the 726th most common surname in the United States with 42,839 occurrences. I am sure there are famous people with the surname Solomon although I can’t think of any off the top of my head.
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Third place goes to something non-biblical although still religious in a sense: Ireland. "The modern Irish Éire evolved from the Old Irish word Ériu, which was the name of a Gaelic goddess." I think it’s probably safe to assume that the surname Ireland is more accurately a reflection of the United States’ immigrant roots unlike the other examples where the surname and the nation evolved separately from a common root. There were 14,168 Irelands in the United States including Kathy Ireland, the former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.
Let’s take a quick look at racial and Hispanic origin classifications. I’m sure there aren’t any minefields there, right? Even the Census Bureau walked delicately through the topic in its Explanation of Race and Hispanic Origin Categories that accompanied the 2000 Census:
The race and Hispanic origin categories used by the Census Bureau are mandated by Office of Management and Budget Directive No. 15, which requires all federal record keeping and data presentation to use four race categories (White, Black, American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian and Pacific Islander) and two ethnicity categories (Hispanic, non-Hispanic). These classifications are not intended to be scientific in nature, but are designed to promote consistency in federal record keeping and data presentation.
I will follow the classifications designated in the 2000 Census since I am using its data source with specifically-named fields as mandated by the US government at the point in time of the survey. I know that other name(s) may be preferable in other contexts so please don’t feel you need to leave a comment with a correction. The Census Bureau seems to be saying the same thing in their note.
The highest percentage surname instances by race and Hispanic origin categories, discarding partial matches and demonyms are as follows:
- 99.67% of people with the surname Romania were white. Swede tied the percentage although that’s a demonym.
- 93.27% of people with the surname Senegal were black.
- No nationalist surname correlated closely with American Indian and Alaska Native populations. 53.78% of people with the demonym surname Mexican were American Indian and Alaska Native though.
- 78.55% of people with the surname Austria were Asian and Pacific Islander (Austria?!?). More logically the demonym Thai was 94.67% though.
- 96+% of people with the surnames Nicaragua, Guatemala and Jamaica were Hispanic.
The only one that surprised me was Austria. It’s hard to understand why the vast majority of people with the surname Austria classified themselves as Asian and Pacific Islander.
I believe I’ll try this experiment next with state names so if this article didn’t interest you feel free to come back in about a week.
Examining the Emerald Isle, it becomes apparent to me that Northern Ireland comes very close to separating the tip of the Republic of Ireland from the remainder of its body. The neck constricts to perhaps as few as ten or eleven kilometres at its narrowest point between the border and the sea.
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It’s even shorter if we look at the width of available land: nearby Lough Melvin compresses any overland passage through here to only about six or seven kilometres. Still, it’s unobstructed countryside with many different paths available through the neck to make it a relatively simple transit. A much more remarkable situation exists a little further north in Ballyshannon, the so-called "Oldest Town in Ireland." Here the River Erne flows from Northern Ireland, crosses the entirety of the narrow neck, and empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
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The River Erne creates a water barrier that separates the tip from the remainder of the nation. As a practical matter there are bridges, boats, aircraft, and innumerable other ways to solve this problem. It’s not even that large of a river. Someone could probably swim or wade across it without too much difficulty. However let’s ignore those very realistic possibilities, suspend our disbelief for a moment, cross our eyes, wave our magic wand and try to have some fun with this.
Consulting the maps, the overland path through the neck appears to constrict to the width of a couple of roadways: those that connect Ballyshannon and points beyond to the rest of the Republic of Ireland directly: a local street (Main St.) and a highway (N15). Those are the only choices if someone wishes to take an automotive trek past the neck without leaving the country.
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Another option exists for those on foot, a really cool pedestrian bridge in Ballyshannon that crosses the River Erne. I’m not sure what it connects or why it’s altogether necessary. It looks to be less than a quarter-mile from the Main Street crossing but I suppose that it could make a meaningful difference to someone on foot. There are a several apartment buildings nearby so maybe it’s a nice shortcut between various sections of town.
A dam also crosses the river just east of Ballyshannon to create Assaroe Lake. Workers at the hydroelectric power station might be able to cross here on foot although I don’t think it would be feasible for members of the general public. I imagine the authorities would consider that a safety risk or a security violation.
In conclusion, I discovered only three easy paths across the River Erne under ordinary circumstances within the boundaries of the Republic of Ireland, two large enough for motor vehicles and one only by foot. That assumes one does not have routine access to a boat, helicopter, pole vault, or other extenuating means of movement.
I found one more "almost" crossing point where the River Erne flows across the border from Northern Ireland. There is a bridge located immediately to the west but the border hugs the northern riverbank along a short segment here. Thus the bridge crosses an international boundary. It’s interesting to note, however, that people from Northern Ireland can use this bridge as a shortcut, clipping a corner of the Republic of Ireland, and avoid a detour of several miles (map)
Long-time reader Steve of CTMQ recently completed a visit to the CTMARI Tripoint. Check out his thorough trip report. He’s also recently discovered a state government website that show the exact location of every Connecticut boundary marker in tremendous detail. Steve doesn’t think he’ll visit all 374 markers but we should expect to see upcoming trip reports on some of the more fascinating ones. I’ve been trying to turn him into a County Counter so far to no avail, but he seems to be getting closer-and-closer.
The poll has closed and the winning iconic view came from wangi: "Edinburgh Old Town & Castle from Arthur’s Seat." The image will appear on the blog banner for the remainder of June.
I don’t know why I torture myself. Nothing good can come from this, and yet I can’t resist. I noticed a place reputed to be the "oldest town in Ireland" as I investigated an unusual geographic feature. These types of claims are notoriously tenuous and probably doubly-so in a land as ancient as Ireland. At what point does a gathering of people magically transform into an initial town? It’s entirely subjective.
The nebulous definition allows multiple claimants to create their own versions of the truth. This condition extends to all corners of Ireland as I discovered when I tried to fact-checked that initial assertion. Let’s investigate a few choices.
Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal
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If victory went to the settlement with the most mentions, then Ballyshannon would be an obvious choice. The town and its cheerleaders have pushed aggressively to cement its reputation. The claim appears everywhere. It’s ubiquitous. The Ballyshannon Town Council says,
Ballyshannon, the oldest town in Ireland is steeped in history. Inis Saimer, the little island situated in the Erne Estuary is said to be the spot where the first inhabitants of Ireland landed. Parthalon [sic.], a chieftain from Scythia (near modern Macedonia) is said to have landed here around 2700 B.C.
Notice the use of the operative phrase “is said.” Really? Who said that, exactly? I’m not sure that someone allegedly stepping ashore three thousand years ago necessarily creates a solid claim. However, I do give them points for boldly firing over the bow of any other town that might try to make a similar boast. A mere Viking founder would have a tough time dethroning Partholón of Scythia unless one goes with the smart money that says Partholón was a myth rather than a historical figure.
Kinsale, Co. Cork
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Kinsale is another extremely common claimant. However, there does not appear to be even the thinnest attempt to substantiate Kinsale’s assertion, unrealistic or otherwise. The Intertubes toss it around as a factual statement, as if the conventional wisdom is so self-evident that it requires no further elaboration beyond the statement itself. It’s hard to take the Kinsale claim seriously.
Waterford, Co. Waterford
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"Waterford is arguably the oldest area of continuous urban settlement in Ireland" according to the Waterford City Council. It dates back to a Viking founding in 941. The difference between Waterford and other claimants is that Waterford splits a hair and focuses on a slightly different status: the first "city" rather than the first town. The Street View image above is Reginald’s Tower which has its own claim to being oldest — allegedly the oldest civic, urban structure in Ireland.
Kildare, Co. Kildare
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Kildare receives frequent mention too. The Cill Dara Historical Society says, "It would appear that Kildare had developed urban characteristics long before the Vikings came to Ireland. It can therefore claim to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest, town in Ireland." I do give some credit to the Cill Dara Historical Society for adding the qualifier. Plenty of other sites drop the qualifier and claim exclusive title to the honor.
There are plenty of other places that have been designated the oldest Irish town to varying degrees. I found references to Armagh, Dublin, Glenarm, Limerick, and Dún Laoghaire, although to much lower frequencies than the others mentioned previously.
My thought is that there are plenty of ancient towns in Ireland and it’s probably pointless to try to designate one above the rest. This seems to be more of an indication of the aspirations of tourism bureaus and local bragging rights.