Latinos crack top 10 in list of surnames
Arizona Daily Star
Nov. 23, 2007


Opinion by Ernesto Portillo Jr.

Tucson, Arizona | Published:


My Garcia cousins, Laura, Terry, Maggie and Bobby, made the list. So did another set of cousins whose surname appeared on a recent and fascinating government study.

The U.S. Census Bureau, based on data collected in 2000, recently reported the most common surnames in the country. And for the first time Latino surnames, Garcia and Rodriguez, cracked the top 10.

Smith, Johnson, Williams, Brown and Jones it sounds like a stuffy law firm remain the top five surnames. But the fact that Garcia and Rodriguez have cracked the top 10 is an indicator of how we are changing.

Before some of you start gnashing your teeth and moaning about the Hispanicization of the country, save your groans and derision for more important changes such as the rising price of oil, the increasing number of uninsured, and the escalating human and financial costs of the Iraq war.

Changing surnames is an American tradition.

About 150 years ago Smith, Williams and Jones were joined by O'Brien, Murphy and Fitzgerald. In the ensuing years there was an explosion of names Levy, Rossi, Kowalski, Olsen, Svoboda, Nielsen, Schmidt, Szabo, De Jong, Vokac, Wong, Watanabe, and, well you should get the idea.

Then, as now, the changing American faces and names make some people uncomfortable.

But around these dusty parts, Garcia and Rodriguez were some of the first European names. When Tucson became part of the U.S. in 1854, there were more Garcias than Smiths.

As more Smiths arrived to the Old Pueblo, so did people named Lee from China. (By the way, Lee is the 23rd most common surname, sandwiched between Lopez and Gonzalez.)

All these newcomers and oldcomers joined the indigenous occupants along the Santa Cruz and Rillito rivers.

Eventually the Smiths outnumbered the Garcias and everyone else. Even so, names like Garcia, Flores and Carrillo remain fixtures in today's changing Tucson.

But across most of the country, save the Southwest, the increasing number of people named Garcia and Rodriguez has startled many.

According to the U.S. Census, Latinos in the United States are about 13 percent of the population. In the previous decade the percentage of Latinos grew by nearly 60 percent.

Illegal immigration has contributed to the growth, but even without illegal immigration, legal immigration and birth rates of Latinos are the principal factors.

The increased permeation of Latinos has been evolving for years. It wasn't long ago when tortillas began to rival white sliced bread in the kitchen, and before that salsa replaced ketchup as the most consumed condiment.

For some people, however, the prevalence of salsa and tortillas are evidence of cultural Armageddon. Seriously.

Some Tucsonans are up in arms that KUAT and KUAZ, the University of Arizona's television and radio stations, will begin offering Spanish-language programming later this month.

That's hilarious. Spanish-language radio has been heard in this country since the advent of radio. Spanish, as well as other languages, has always been heard, read and aired in our country.

While the fearful cower, most of us will adapt to the changes because they are not new but part of our evolution.

Still, the Census Bureau report of common surnames doesn't tell the full story. Surnames don't accurately reflect ethnicity.

Take my other cousins, Lucy, Lola and Yolanda Wilson. Their mother, my ta, was born in Mexico and their father was born in Guatemala.

Wilson is the 10th most common family name.

What the census list importantly shows is that we're all Americans, regardless of our surnames.

Opinion by


Portillo jr.

For a searchable database of demographic data, visit

● Contact columnist Ernesto Portillo Jr. at 573-4242 or His blog is at