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  • When you marry,

  • usually you take on your partner's surname or your parter takes on yours.

  • Two people with different surnames become

  • two people with the same.

  • One surname spreads, the other one goes...

  • ...extinct? Usually not.

  • There might be siblings, cousins,

  • strangers who happen to share the surname,

  • to carry it on for the one who lost it.

  • But if one person fails to pass on the surname,

  • so might the others.

  • In fact, every now and then

  • entire surnames do go extinct

  • when its last bearer passes away

  • without passing it on.

  • According to the Daily Mail,

  • in England and Wales, 200,000 surnames

  • were lost since 1901.

  • You can find lists of endangered surnames

  • on websites such as Ancestry.com and myheritage.com

  • Ancestry counts surnames with less than

  • 50 carriers left as endangered,

  • which in England and Wales,

  • would currently be names such as

  • Pober, Mirren, Febland (heh, Febland),

  • Nighy - N-Nighy?

  • While some of these names might be more of a loss than others,

  • it's sad to think that they might all cease to exist within a few generations.

  • Back in the days, new surnames were created as well

  • based on someone's job or father's given name or where they came from.

  • But that doesn't really happen anymore,

  • not on a large scale, anyway.

  • So more surnames are lost than new ones are being born.

  • Keep this experiment going long enough,

  • and we will all end up with the same surname eventually, won't we?

  • When we look at Earth's more ancient civilizations - even more ancient-

  • intensive research reveals that most Chinese surnames in use today

  • were handed down from thousands of years ago.

  • While historically about 12,000 Chinese surnames have been recorded,

  • only a bit over 3,000 are currently in use,

  • a reduction of 75 percent!

  • And only a fraction of those are taking over a majority of the entire population.

  • The three most common surnames in mainland China are Li, Wang and Zhang,

  • which make up for more than 7 percent of the Chinese population each.

  • Together they belong to close to 300 million people

  • and are easily the most common surnames in the world.

  • In China, the phrase "three Zhang, four Li" is used to say just "anybody."

  • So after thousands of years, the Chinese people aren't down to

  • one all-dominating surname, but several.

  • What's going on here?

  • This effect can be shown in a simulation.

  • What you see here is the result of a Galton-Watson process,

  • which maps out how the distribution of family names changes over time.

  • It starts out with a very large number of unique family names

  • each represented by a different color, and after 40 generations,

  • or around a thousand years, ends with the ones which are left.

  • When you look at the very end there,

  • what you see is very similar to the Chinese situation.

  • The top three names take over 20 percent of the cake.

  • But the question is: if we keep the simulation going,

  • will we end up with only one surname?

  • Mathematically, the entire population does converge to only one surname.

  • But in real life, if we start out with, say, 10,000 surnames,

  • (and there are actually much more than that)

  • after 40 generations we'd still be left with over 400.

  • Okay, how about 200 generations?

  • Still 93 left.

  • While the less frequent names are dying out quickly,

  • the more frequent ones become so widely spread

  • that humans will probably cease to exist before they do.

  • The probability of extinction of

  • a unique family name that is carried by only one young couple

  • is 45 percent, at least in the West.

  • That's the average likelihood of them having no children

  • or only children who won't pass on the family name.

  • But the likelihood of a family name which is held by multiple couples

  • going extinct within one generation is 45 percent to the power of the number of couples.

  • So with a few more people sharing a surname it becomes very unlikely very quickly

  • that this surname should disappear soon.

  • If you want to know how often your family name is currently in use,

  • you can find that out on websites such as Forebears.

  • According to the US Census Bureau,

  • the most common family names in the US are currently

  • Smith, Johnson, and Williams,

  • which together make up for around 2 percent of the entire US population.

  • That's, of course, not very impressive to China.

  • In a way, you could say that on this timeline, the US is somewhere here

  • while China is already over there.

  • As fewer family names become more widely spread,

  • we might follow the Chinese feat and become more creative about given names.

  • So instead of Tim Smith,

  • you might be called the TalentedPeaceful Smith.

  • And, instead of Tom, I might be called The Rest of Us.

  • Subtitles by the Amara.org community

When you marry,

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Surname Extinction: When will we all be "Smiths"?

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    Kristi Yang posted on 2017/06/08
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