Sunday, September 23, 2018

Why So Many Smiths?

Well, it’s an interesting story. Back in the Middle Ages, when people first acquired surnames, most of them – in the West at least – lived in small villages. Now, these villages were generally full of tillers of the earth, sons of toil, agriculturists … farmers. 

There was someone, though, who really stood out. And that was the guy who fixed your plow, made your hoe, fashioned your cooking utensils – even made swords and stuff for the lord of the manor. In other words, he was basically the man. Every village had one, and he was pretty darn important to everyone there.

Yeah, you can take your sons of John (“Johnson,” “Jones”), your guys who lived by the village green (“Green”), your guys who had a darker complexion (“Brown”) … Give me a Smith any day!

A Smith by Any Other Name

Now, here’s the fun part about this … You might already know that Smith is a pretty darn popular name in the English-speaking world ... Its equivalents, though, are also pretty popular in other countries as well. I’m talking about being in the top 3 in countries like Germany, Poland, Italy, and Russia. Wow! Read on …

The Germanic Languages

So, this is us. And, sure enough, Smith is #1 in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. 

What comes up when you Google “smith”

The Germanic languages, though, also include German (duh!), as well as Dutch, Flemish, Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish. Here’s how Smith shakes out in those places:

Language Equivalent Rank Notes
German Schmidt 1 Also includes Schmitt, et al.
Dutch Smit 3 Also includes Smits, de Smet …
Flemish de Smet 10
Any Scandinavian Smet 30 in Danish

Why so low in the Scandinavian countries? You’ve got to remember how many patronymics there are there – Johannson, Pedersen, Nillson, Olsen, Larsen …

Surprisingly, that’s exactly what happened in Flemish as well. There, we’ve got Peteers, Janseens, Jacobs, Willes, Martens …

The Celts

Hmm … I don’t recall any Irishmen with names of O’Smith or McSmith. The Gaelic equivalent of that, though – McGowan – actually is fairly common. It’s not exactly Murphy, Kelly, or Sullivan, but it does click in at #5. Now, that number actually includes “Smith” as well. A fair amount of McGowans did, however, take that name.

Rose and friend

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any equivalent in Scotland, Wales, or Cornwall. The Bretons, however, claim the name Goff, which was later taken to England and is known in the eastern part of the country (East Anglia). Think NFL QB Jared.

The Latins

The Latinate languages – i.e., those descended from Latin – are divided into two groups … at least when it comes to Smiths.

In France,  LeFevre (and LeFebvre) comes in 13th and is derived  From the Latin for a  craftsman, faber. All the rest come from the Latin word for iron, ferrum.
Language Equivalent Rank Notes
Italian Ferrari 2
Portuguese Ferreira 3
Catalan Ferrar 31 Jose Ferrar = Joe Smith
Romanian Feraru Closest language to Latin
Spanish Herrara
By the way, Spanish is actually loaded down with patronyms as well - Rodriguez (from Rodrigo), Sanchez (Sancho), Fernandez (Fernando), Lopez (Lope) ...

The Slavs

Interestingly, the Slavs seem to be as fond of this name as anyone out there. Needless to say, it’s not something that most speakers of Germanic and Italianate languages would recognize. It’s amazing how similar they all are. They do, though, all seem to have their own individual endings.
Language Equivalent Rank
Serbian Kovacevich 1
Croat Kovacevich 1
Polish Kowalski 3
Russian Kuznets(ov) 3
Ukranian Kovalenko 4
Bosnian Kovacevich 6
Czech Kovar
Bulgarian Kovachev
Macedonian Kovachev
Lithuanian Kavlaitas
Latvian Kalejs

Basically, the same guy

The Finno-Ugrics

Finno-Ugrics? What the …?

Europe can be divided into three basic language – Germanic, Latinate, and Slavic. Finland and Hungary, however, represent two linguistic islands - related to each other, but with no relationship to the languages surrounding them. Both, in fact, date back to the Barbarian invasions. Their nearest current-day relatives are 1200 miles away, in northern Russia.

Interestingly, however, Hungarian chose to go with the very Slavic Kovacs. The Finns, on the other hand, went with the very un-Smith-like Sepp (and Seppanen). Estonia, the only other Finno-Ugric country went with Sepp as well. Both the Hungarian and Finnish versions come in at third overall in their respective countries.

Middle Eastern

Moving out of Europe, Smith extends somewhat into the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. Nowhere, though, does it have the same prevalence as in Europe.Here's what I could find:

  • Greek – Sideris
  • Arabic – Haddad
  • Armenian – Tarpinian
  • Turkish – Demirci
  • Persian – Zargar
  • Albanian – Nallbani

Just think of him as Dave Smith

Even more interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be any Smiths out there past the Middle East. Not in Africa, not in Asia, not nowhere.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Animals, People, and Things – How Do Sports Mascots Shake Out?

Well, there sure are a lot of tigers, and bulldogs, and eagles out there. And pirates, and knights, and raiders as well. Heck, there’s even jets, and thunder, and athletics, and browns, and hoyas (whatever those are) too.

Ever wonder how they all shake out? Are there more animals than people? Where do things fit in? And how would you actually characterize a devil, or a phillie, or even a little heat?

Let’s take a gander …


The most obvious group to look at are, of course, the four major North American sports leagues. And that’s MLB, along with the NFL, NBA, and NHL.

Everyone else seem to play soccer. Unfortunately, they’re really not all that into mascots. Heck, most of the teams are just known as a city name, plus “FC” or “United” or “Athletic” or even just “City.” And if they do have nicknames, they’re never official. Heck, they’ve usually got several. Manchester City, for example, is known as City, the Citizens, and the Sky Blues.

Given soccer’s out, the next most likely group is colleges. As I don’t have all the time in the world, I thought I’d limit them to Division I – in particular the Football Bowl Subdivision. And to keep the number of pro and college teams somewhat equal, I limited it to just bigger conferences – the SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, and PAC 12. Sorry, Mid-American. Sorry, Golden Hurricane.


Overall, animals do rule (68), followed closely by people (62). Things are definitely in the running (28), but really don’t compare to those first two. 

Undefined are actually not that far behind with 18.  These are things that simply don’t seem to have a real-world equivalent outside the team itself. What, for example, is an astro, or a bill, or a hokie, or an aggie?

The two remaining categories both come in at 6. These include mythic creatures/characters-(titans, devils, angels …) and adjectives (athletic, metropolitan, wild …).

Interestingly, there is quite a bit of difference between the pros and the amateurs. To wit, colleges are just slightly over half animals (perhaps reflecting the average student body):

Professional teams, on the other hand, are a lot more balanced, and with a ton of things (particular colors of socks, various means of transportation, weather phenomena, and much more):


Like I say, these are the most popular. As for particular leagues, the PAC 12 and the SEC are both close to 2/3’s non-human creatures:

(Wondering who those mythic creatures are? Why, sun devils, of course.)

Overall, though there are more than their fair share of tigers, eagles, bears, wildcats, and so on, we also have some odd birds (ravens, penguins, pelicans), unusual rodents (gophers, beavers), and assorted ducks, dogs, and buffalo.


Two leagues are half people, the Big 10 (which actually has 14 teams) and the Big 12 (which only has 10):

And Major League Baseball has almost half (37% to be exact).

Overall, people are a lot more unique than animals. In addition to state-wide demonyms (Tar Heels, Jayhawks, Hoosiers, Sooners), there are also some unique occupations (commodores, boilermakers, cornhuskers), as well as various Native Americans, religious figures, and rebels/patriots


Things are not equally distributed. Only 2 leagues, the NBA and the NHL, account for 78% of all things out there:

Why so many things in those two? My guess is that there are a lot more new teams in those leagues. Why go with fusty old animals or people? Let’s do something different! 

Heck, why bother with those silly old plurals. Let’s go with mass, instead of count, nouns. You know, things like Lightning, Thunder, Heat, Magic, and Jazz.


So, who does that leave? Well, would you believe there was one pro league (the NFL) and one college one (the ACC) that actually had some real balance? Both were almost equally divided between animals and people (14 to 12 for the NFL, and 6 to 5 for the ACC):


Soccer aside, there are actually two foreign leagues that do a pretty good job with mascots. Interestingly, they’re both based on American sports: the Canadian Football League and the Nippon Baseball League. 

The NBL fits in easily with the overall animal theme:

These include standards such as tigers, bears, lions, and hawks, but oddities such as buffaloes, swallows, and carp.

The CFL, on the other hand, is a little more balanced: 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The US Supreme Court - Nominees' Ages

The upcoming nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court got me thinking. I know a few years back, there was quite a hullabaloo about the youthfulness of some SCOTUS nominees. In particular, I remember a lot about Clarence Thomas, who was nominated at age 43. I think the thought was that selecting younger judges was a kind of way to pack the court. The younger they are, the longer they’ll stay on the Court, the more influence the president nominating them will ultimately have.  


Kavanaugh is pretty youthful looking, but he is also 53. Is that young though? Compared to Thomas it is. How about the rest of the Court? How about historically?

I’m guessing this one’s not that recent
(though it is one on his Wikiepdia page)


So, what I did was divide up all nominations by decade. I figured that would give me decent numbers and also regular intervals. I could have gone with presidents, but some of them were 1 term, some of them were 4 terms, and some of them passed away before their 1st term was even up. 

I then simply counted up all the nominees for that decade, figured out their ages, the got an average. I then simply plotted that over time.


Hmm, looks pretty normal to me. In fact, recent years are nothing compared to the early one. Well, I guess they were a lotta young, hot-headed rebels. I just think it’s a little ironic that those hoary, old Framers were actually such young studs.

Though poor John Jay was bald even when young 

With the exception of those early years, pretty much everybody else falls in a band between 50 and 60. Now, I do notice a slight drop off from the 1950s to today – 58 to 51. And I also see a steady slope from the 1920s, with an all-time high of 60. Even that, though, is less than 10 years.

A couple of other thoughts:
  • I have no idea why the 1840s also had an average age in the 40s. Maybe there was some court packing based on slavery.
  • The youngest nominees were 33-year-olds, William Johnson and Joseph Story.
  • The oldest were two 68-year-olds, Edward Terry Sanford and Charles Evan Hughes.


Charles Evans Hughes

Appointees by Decade

Of course, some of these decades have a larger sample size than others. And here’s how that shakes out ...

The 1st decade, the 1790s, was of course the highest, with 11. I mean, Washington had a whole court to fill out, right?

There were only 2 decades, the 1810s and 1820s, where only 2 nominees were recorded. But that actually makes a lot of sense, if you figure that all those young studs were still relatively young. 

Nor is the jump in the 1830s. That’s when all those young studs were all getting a little long in the tooth. 

In fact, that same thinking would predict a spiky sort of graph from there on out. Indeed, that seems to be the pattern until about the 50s.

And my guess is that may have to do more with increasing life expectancy if nothing else. Maybe I’ll tackle that in my next post.

Thought the oldest to ever sit on the Court was Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., 
who served from the 1900s to the 1930s

Thursday, July 26, 2018

How White Was My Soccer Ball

So, it sounds like the Interwebs are blowing up with finger-pointing about race / ethnicity and the failure of the German national team to get out of the group stage in the recent World Cup. In particular, Mesut Ozil, a native-born German of Turkish extraction has quit the team, saying that he feels like a “German when we win, but an immigrant when we lose.”

So, I was curious ...  How diverse are each of the teams in the Cup, especially compared to Germany?


Since I don’t have all the time in the world, I thought I would limit myself to Germany (on the losing side) and the four teams that made the semis (on the winning side). Interestingly, all were European, so that’s pretty much apples to apples.  I also threw in Sweden, Switzerland, and Denmark - 3 other similar teams that sort of represent the middle, the teams that finished not too badly nor too strongly.

For each team, I simply counted up the number of players who were at least half non-European. I then ranked the teams, based on what percentage of the team that accounted for, in ascending order.

So, how did things wash out?



Well, the first thing we need to discuss is Croatia. They are a real outlier here. 

Most European countries are definitely First World. You could say Croatia is as well, but there really is a difference between the large, rich, stable states that seem to be destinations for immigrants (mostly in the north and west of the continent) and those smaller, less rich and stable countries which immigrants are avoiding or simply passing through (mostly in the south and east).

Croatia definitely fits the latter. I mean, they only have 4 million people, for goodness sakes, date back to only 1991, and have a per capita GDP of less than $15,000 (less than half of the others we’re looking at).

Notice how everyone’s name ends in “ic”

As for the rest, the one thing I’m struck by is that the most diverse team was also the champion.  Yup, only 1 in 4 of the French national team was a “real Frenchman.” 

For Germany, it’s just the opposite – 1 in 4 were “foreigners.” Hmm … Perhaps Germany ought to take just the opposite approach (to whinging about their auslanders), and beef up their non-European presence.

Monday, June 18, 2018

How White are the Oscars?

In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about how non-diverse the Oscars typically are. That seems to be right, but I’ve never really seen some numbers on it. Let’s take a look …


There are a lot of Oscars (sound editing, anyone?). So, I made an executive decision to limit it to the big 3 – director, best actor, best actress. Yeah, yeah, I probably shoulda include best supporting, but I like how these 3 are all actually pretty equal … plus I’m really lazy.


Well, the first thing we need to look at is just the raw numbers:

So, a couple of things:
  • For the 1st 20 years, there were no non-white awardees
  • After the 1st, it took another 12 years to get the next, then another 20 to get the 3rd, then another 20 to get the 4th (interestingly, all 4 were for actors)
  • Only in this century did things start to pick up
  • There were still 7 years, though, where everybody was White
  • There has only been one non-white actress


Now, as you can imagine, there have been a ton of these awards given out in the past non-quite 90 years. So, how does all this look percentage-wise?

A couple of observations:
  • Up until the current century, this line was basically flat – at below 2%!
  • Things have improved since then, but we’re still at only 5%.  
  • On the other hand, that line actually does have a real slope now.


Pretty darn white, but let's give 'em a point for at least tryin'.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

What Does Your Tattoo Say About You?

No tattoos

I have a real job

I have tattoos but only in places that would be covered up by business casual attire

I have a real job, but secretly yearn to be cool and rebellious

And then there’s this guy

I have very small tattoos – of birds, suns, stars, butterflies – in inconspicuous places like ankles, wrists, etc.

I am a girl (but not that kind of girl)

I have an upper arm tattoo

I am somewhat conventional

I have a chest or back tattoo

I am somewhat less conventional

Ben Affleck

I have a tramp stamp

I am that kind of girl

I have a tattoo in my armpit, on the soles of my feet, on the top of my head …

I am really unconventional

I have some Chinese characters

I am not Chinese, do not speak Chinese, and really hope this says what the guy said it did

I have a sleeve tattoo

There’s no way I have enough money to pay for this

I have two sleeve tattoos

The only way I can afford this is to have a relationship with a tattoo artist

I have a neck tattoo

I have been in jail

I have a face tattoo

I have been in federal prison

I have "LOVE" and "HATE" on my knuckles

I am a serial killer

I have a swastika in the middle of my forehead

I am a member of the Manson family

So meta