Top 10 Surnames in the U.S.

Okay, so Smith has always been at the top of the heap. And Jones. But it’s always interesting to investigate where these names came from. According to the U.S. Census, here is our list of the top 10 surnames in the United States and a few bits of trivia about them:

1. Smith (2,376,206)

As many know, this surname started in the British Isles and derives from the Old English word for metalworker, smitan (which, by the way, comes from the Old English form of the biblical favorite ‘smite’). It was used as an occupational surname as far back as 975 AD. Since then, many have acquired the Smith surname to maintain a secret identity, to mingle with American colonists, and to avoid discrimination. Many African slaves acquired the surname through their masters. All of these factors have led to Smith being the most widely used surname in the United States.

And it doesn’t stop there. Dozens of surnames come from the same root as Smith. Schmid, Schmitz, and Schmidt are all German versions of it. Even the Italian Fabbri, Ferraro, Ferrari, and Fabris and the French Favre, Favrette, and Dufaure come from the Latin term for Smith.

Notable people with the Smith surname include: actor-producer Will Smith; the late model Ann Nicole Smith; and Mormon prophet Joseph Smith.

2. Johnson (1,857,160)

Meaning, literally, ‘son of John’, Johnson is what is referred to as a patronym. It started in England and Scotland is closely related to the surnames Jansen, Johansson, Johnston, Jones, MacShane, McKeown, and Ivanov–all of them originating from different derivations of the name John.

Among the famous people to hold the surname Johnson are: President Lyndon B. Johnson; Lakers point guard Magic Johnson; action star Dwayne Johnson; and singer-guitarist Jack Johnson.

3. Williams (1,534,042)

Although it may not look like it at first glance, Williams is a patronymic form of William. Like many a common surname, it started in medieval England. It derives from two words: ‘will’, meaning ‘desire’, and ‘helm’, meaning ‘helmet’ or ‘protection’. Don’t ask me what the two words mean together–I’m sure it’s something deep.

Famous Williamses include: tennis star sisters Venus and Serena Williams; movie composer John Williams; comedian Robin Williams; and the Hank Williamses of country music.

4. Brown (1,380,145)

It comes from England and Scotland but also has its Old English (Brun), Old Norse (Brunn), Gaelic (Donn), and Continental (Bruno) derivations. The original Browns were named thus for their tendency to wear brown attire or have brown features (eyes or hair, usually).

Notable Browns include: George H. Brown, the inventor of the color TV; Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown; and Godfather of Soul James Brown.

5. Jones (1,362,755)

This surname actually comes from the term ‘son of John’, like Johnson. This makes it especially common. In fact, Jones is the second most common name in the UK. Famous Joneses include: R&B pioneer Quincy Jones; signer Tom Jones; Looney Tunes creator Chuck Jones; and talk show host Star Jones. 

6. Miller (1,127,803)

Like Smith, Miller derives from the occupational title for people who worked at mills. Coming primarily from England and Scotland, the name is now represented by these famous people (and more): jazz musician Glenn Miller; comic legend Frank Miller; NBA star Reggie Miller; and journalist Judith Miller. 

7. Davis (1,072,335)

It is a patronymic that comes from ‘son of David’. You might be able to guess that it shares this derivation with Davies, Davison, and Davidson. The name is common in England and Wales. Actresses Bette and Geena Davis, trumpeter extraordinaire Miles Davis, and singer-dancer Sammy Davis, Jr., all share this surname. 

8. Garcia (858,289)

It is one of several non-Anglo-Saxon surnames that are gaining ground in the U.S. No one is sure exactly where the name came from, but they know it is patronymic and that it probably comes from Iberian or Basque origins. Famous Garcias include Grateful Dead rocker Jerry Garcia and actor Andy Garcia. 

9. Rodriguez (804,240)

Rodriguez means ‘son of Rodrigo,’ Rodrigo meaning ‘famous power’. The surname likely started in the 9th century, which is widely believed to be the century when patronymic names began. Notable Rodriguezes include: director Robert Rodriguez; baseball star Alex Rodriguez; and tough girl-actress Michelle Rodriguez. 

10. Wilson (783,051)

Meaning ‘son of Wil’, this surname became popular in the 1000s and 1100s after the emergence of William the Conqueror as King of England. US President Woodrow Wilson, playwright August Wilson, and Thomas E. Wilson, of Wilson Sporting Goods, all share this surname.



The (Surprising) Joys of 3D

Few things are more annoying than gimmicks. The dictionary defines a gimmick as "a concealed, usually devious aspect or feature of something, as a plan or deal." Like how stores lure you in for sales on Black Friday only to have very, very limited quantities of the items advertised. That’s how most people have always thought of 3D- a flashy label they slap on otherwise mediocre films to get someone- anyone- to show up on opening day, a sign that the film is not good enough on its own. 

 
Thanks to advances in the way filmmakers use 3D, it is finally becoming more than just a gimmick.
 
Anyone who has seen Disney’s A Christmas Carol, based on Charles Dickens’ holiday mainstay, can tell you that 3D has now become art. Rather than toss orbs at the audience’s face or point sharp objects at them teasingly, director Robert Zemeckis uses 3D to give us an awe-inspiring depth of field to beautifully composed shots and to lend real texture to the crags and crevices of his characters’ faces and the environments they inhabit. The CGI characters look all the more real because of the 3D and less like video game marionettes. Indeed, the audience finds themselves drawn into the world because of the 3D, rather than being distracted by it.
 
Zemeckis’ Christmas Carol and the upcoming Avatar from James Cameron represent a new wave of 3D movies. With groundbreakers like Forrest Gump, Terminator 2, The Abyss, Titanic, and Contact under their belts, these directors have reinvented the way Hollywood uses visual effects to tell stories. And they are not alone. Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, and George Lucas are also joining the push to make 3D more than a gimmick, each planning their own movies using the new technology.
 
There has been some resistance from critics and set-in-their-ways moviegoers. For many, the stigma of 3D, evoking such bombs as Jaws 3D, has them turning their noses up in discontent long before they even enter the theatre. Purist critics decry 3D, despite advances and differences in usage, as mere distraction from the story and gimmickry. Then again, before Spielberg proved how awe-inspiring CGI can be with his towering Jurassic Park creatures, critics poo-pooed the technology as nothing more than a fad. Before Peter Jackson used motion capture to give us The Lord of the Rings‘ Gollum, one of the most haunting characters in modern cinema, critics gave the technology a thumbs-down. Critics and more traditionalist moviegoers, it seems, prefer not to go on faith, but on things seen.
 
No doubt, with such forces as Spielberg, Cameron, and Lucas behind this technology, 3D will soon take its place as another powerful tool of the film medium. 


Is Holiday Travel Worth It?

Call me idealistic or old-fashioned. When I think of Christmas, I think of gathering with my family in our living room around a well-lit tree to open presents. Having Christmas at a cabin or in a hotel room just does not sound like Christmas at all. And yet I hear of families who travel to Paris or a tropical resort to celebrate the holidays. Instead of gathering around the family dinner table, they go to a restaurant somewhere. While the thought of warmer weather does sound nice, celebrating anywhere but at home does not sound like Christmas.

Take make matters worse, this usually requires holiday travel. If it requires flying, they are in for a hearty dose of lines, delays, and stress- enough to dampen even the most robust holiday spirit. 

So what do you think? Are you okay with travelling to exotic locales to celebrate the holidays? Or would you rather just stay put at home sweet home with your loved ones and a roaring fire?

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