The most common surnames across Africa

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Check out this great map of the most common surnames across the continent.  The original post at NetCredit also has the rest of the world.  (ETA: the data sources used for this are probably more comprehensive for rich countries than poor ones, so take this with the appropriate grain of salt.)

2 thoughts on “The most common surnames across Africa

  1. Dear Rachel,

    I’m a little hesitant about the data behind the surname map you shared. I’m sure it’s unimpeachable for large, highly legible societies, but when I looked at their sources’ data on Suriname (a middle-income country with good government records), which I know well, what I saw was laughable. Less than 3% of the population is ethnically Chinese, and they finger “Lin” as the most common surname (here, a common joke is that everyone has at least one in-law named “Pinas”, a surname shared among the Creoles and eastern Maroons, groups that collectively make up just over 50% of the population).

    They should get credit for having some fairly rare surnames in their database, but they undercount them significantly (the council of the village where I live includes five Antomoi’s, and I personally know a few hundred more; their source data says there are 4 people with the surname in the world). They calculate that there are two people named Anakaba in Belgium, and one in Suriname, which does capture how Belgium is eclipsing the Netherlands as a preferred destination for poor Surinamese emigrants, but is otherwise just funny.

    If I were to make a guess, in general, their biases seems to be against surnames that are most common among poor people in poor and middle-income countries, and also toward the surnames of legal immigrants everywhere. Not enough to make me fight with them over whether “Smith” is supremely common in the US, but enough to make me go Mort Jerven on them when it comes to surname distribution in the Global South.

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    1. Thanks for this thoughtful comment! The question of the underlying data source is a good one, and given that the original map was apparently made by a fintech company, I’m not inclined to take it too seriously. I’ll add a note about the unclear data sources, though. Hope you’re doing well!

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