Are new family names created often?

I’m wondering if there is any research anywhere on the rate of invention of new family names (primarily in the US, I guess.) What brings this up is I had a passing thought of a black guy I worked with around 20 years go with the last name “Airline.” Obviously the name has to come from some time in the 20th century, so not a name taken up by his ancestors after being freed at the end of the Civil War, and not from a recent immigrant family so not an adaptation of a foreign name (Aierlinskykov?) So I’m wondering how often the circumstances come up that people create entirely novel family names for themselves (or their children.)

New surnames are occasionally coined. The artist Judy Chicago (nee Cohen) comes to mind.

However, Airline itself is not necessarily a new coinage. It may simply be an old surname that is coincidentally similar to the word “airline.” The Social Security Death Index shows a number of people by that name, especially in South Carolina. shows a concentration of the surname in Texas, found between 1880 and 1920.

In Australia (well, in my home state) you can give a child literally any surname you want, as long as it’s not obscene or beyond a certain bound of weirdness. I know two people who were given fairly random surnames by their unconventional parents, and according to research, about 3% of kids are named like this. Not sure how many people make up new surnames when they get married, but I’ve known a couple of people to do that too.

On marrying, my step-daughter and her husband decided to take a new last name rather than use his or hyphenate. They chose a Hebrew word that was meaningful to them.

It was no big deal for her to get a new driver’s license and other ID with her name, but the bureaucracies of Maryland made it much more difficult for him to change his name.

I don’t know about the surname, but the word airline or air-line goes back to at least 1813, in the sense of “bee-line” (a direct route from point to point). I know this because here in Maine, “taking the Airline”–much to the confusion of tourists–refers not to flying but to driving on the eastern part of state Route 9. It’s a relatively straight road that connects Bangor and Calais. When it was built, it replaced a much more circuitous route.

I have a friend who got married and they decided to both change their names to something that started like one of their surnames started, and ended like the other ended. Kinda like a portmanteau. However, given what a google search for the resulting word yields, it doesn’t look like a “new” surname, though the Facebook event for their anniversary was on the first page of the results, so it’s pretty rare.

My grandfather’s name in his native land was suddenly spelled differently when he came through Ellis island. Does that count?

I knew someone named Radford. She said that back in the 19th Century the family name was Bradford. Two brothers had a dispute, the family split into rival camps, with one group keeping Bradford, and the other dropping the “B.”

I know of at least two couples who portmanteaued their last names (they had names conducive to this) to create new ones, so I assume new last names must come up fairly regularly, if not commonly.

No, I’m thinking about making up new names from scratch (or at least from something that wasn’t known to you to be a name.) Like if your name is Smith but you change it to (or name your new child) Roomba or Snapchat or whatever. It might eventually become a common name (Smith, after all, was originally an occupational name) but someone had to be the first to have it.

I wonder if anyone has changed their name to Blogger or Spammer. :slight_smile:

I remember hearing somewhere of a region in India where people hadn’t previously had family names, but were starting to take them. Like in the West, a number of them were occupational names, which is how someone ended up calling himself Mr. Javaprogrammer.

I’ve always liked Sodabottleopenerwala, though, as best I could tell, it’s an urban legend, though that India Times article claims it is “very much real.” If anyone knows the Straight Dope, lemme know.

The word “airline” refers to the shortest distance between two points - similar to saying “as the crow flies.” So it’s the distance as you’d measure it in the air.

An air-line railroad referred to a route which was flat and straight.

It predates air travel by a good bit.

As mentioned, the surname Airline wouldn’t necessarily be somebody who named themselves after the modern common noun ‘airline’, wouldn’t necessarily be directly related to the English word ‘airline’ even in earlier meanings.

But speaking of African Americans it’s been relatively common for people of that background to choose new surnames in the relatively recent past. Even the freed people originally didn’t all choose to go by the surname of their former owners. And since then various religious and other beliefs in the black community have included changing or modifying one’s surname.

Although not all are strictly ‘new family name created’. Adopted Islamic names are usually not new themselves, just new for the person adopting them (like Muhammad Ali). New Swahili language surnames might or might be commonly used by people in Africa as surnames (like the surname adopted by the former Congressman and NAACP head Kweisi Mfume, or the mononym Mwandishi sometimes used by the musician usually still called Herbie Hancock). Or it might be a unique modification of name (like the Moorish Science Temple of America practice of adding the suffix -El or -Bey to an existing surname, as in the former NFL star Antwaan Randle-El). Or it could be a whole new system of surnames ( [number]X among Black Muslims at one time).

I just want to say, holy shit Airline is an awesome last name. They hit the jackpot of badass last names with that one.

In East Asia, very rarely.

I believe that Japan only allows the children to take the surname of the father, if the parents are married or the mother if they are unmarried. Until recently, the wife was required to take the husband’s surname upon marriage.

The change to allow the wife to retain her own name is recent and I’m not 100% that the children must take the father’s surname. It may be possible to take the mother’s name, but they do not allow another name to be used.

People can legally change their name but its not an easy process and there are limitations to the kanji characters allowed.

Occasionally people obtain Japanese citizenship and then they will pick a last name. I have heard of new surnames created under those circumstances.

Immigrants to the U.S. from parts of the world that still don’t commonly use last names (Afghanistan and Indonesia, e.g.) will generally adopt a new last name, often based on their home city or province.

Yes, I knew a fellow who was getting his Canadian citizenship a few years ago and changed his surname. He explained that the village where he came from (northeastern India?) they did not have surnames. When he first came to Canada, he used his village name - but now realizing it would be permanent, decided to use his father’s name as his surname.

Married couples in Japan are still required to have the same surname, a challenge to that law was rejected a few months ago, I haven’t heard of any change since. But it doesn’t actually have to be the husband’s name. In around 4% of cases per various sources the husband adopts the wife’s surname. The guy I knew who did this was a Pacific War veteran so it’s not a new thing. Generally it’s when the wife’s family line would otherwise die out.

In Confucian-influenced societies besides Japan, women traditionally keep their maiden names.

The relatively small flow of non-ethnic Japanese, Koreans etc becoming naturalized citizens of those countries sometimes adopt a new name. In the ROK around 50% per this article of ~130k people naturalized as ROK citizens in 2008-17 adopted new surnames. People have a name and clan. The article notes new clans like ‘Thailand Tae’ (태국태[泰國泰]). That is, a naturalized immigrant from Thailand invented a new clan for the surname ‘Tae’ using the Chinese character 泰 , first character of the Sino-Korean word for Thailand. Tae using the Chinese character 太, ‘great’ is an existing though rare Korean surname. Another person mentioned in the article is a German born writer/broadcaster who adopted the name ‘Dok-il Ee’ (독일이[獨逸 李]). He adopted a two syllable surname (unusual but not unheard among older Korean surnames) which is the Sino-Korean word for Germany. His one syllable given name (also unusual but not unheard of for people with single syllable surnames, but if you have a two syllable surname you pretty much have to have a one syllable given name) is the Chinese character for the surname pronounced ‘ee’ (written Yi, Rhee or Lee in Latin letter). But the indigenous phoneme ‘ee’ attached to a word about a person means ‘that kind of person’, so IOW his Korean name sounds like ‘German guy’.

Iceland has been very conservative when it comes to naming. First names must be drawn from an official list or be approved by a committee.* These first names (or sometimes middle names) then become patronyms with the son/dóttir ending.

New last names do occur, e.g., when a person moves to Iceland and then has kids. But with some limitations.

I wonder what would happen if Metta World Peace moved to Iceland and had some kids. Would they allow “Worldson” or “Mettadóttir”?

There may be a whole slew of new Icelandic “last” names popping up now that they allow the gender-neutral ending “bur”.

  • Harriet is right out. One reason: declension.