Word Ways


A. Ross Eckler


For the logologist, the study of American surnames is both fascinating and frustrating: fascinating because there are 1.3 million different names now in existence, frustrating because there is no single reference work listing them. The nearest approximation to a reference work is the telephone directory, but the search for a rare name there can be a tedious one: there are thousands of different directories, and most of the smaller ones contain separate alphabetical listings for each town or telephone exchange. And, alas, most names are rare -- Social Security records in 1974 indicate that about 450,000 surnames were held by only one individual each, and 370,000 more appeared from two to nine times. The search for a name shared by only nine people can be very length, and is likely to be successful only if some of them are in the larger monoalphabetic directories associated with metropolitan areas.