Sat, 26 Mar 2022
While writing the recent article about Devika Icecreamwala (born Patel) I acquired the list of most common U.S. surnames. (“Patel” is 95th most common; there are about 230,000 of them.) Once I had the data I did many various queries on it, and one of the things I looked for was names with no vowels. Here are the results:
It is no surprise that Ng is by far the most common. It's an English transcription of the Cantonese pronunciation of 吳, which is one of the most common names in the world. 吳 belongs to at least twenty-seven million people. Its Mandarin pronunciation is Wu, which itself is twice as common in the U.S. as Ng.
I suspect the others are all Czech. Vlk definitely is; it's Czech for “wolf”. (Check out the footer of the Vlk page for eighty other common names that all mean “wolf”, including Farkas, López, Lovato, Lowell, Ochoa, Phelan, and Vuković.)
Similarly Smrz is common enough that Wikipedia has a page about it. In Czech it was originally Smrž, and Wikipedia mentions Jakub Smrž, a Czech motorcycle racer. In the U.S. the confusing háček is dropped from the z and one is left with just Smrz.
The next two are Srp and Srb. Here it's a little harder to guess. Srb means a Serbian person in several Slavic languages, including Czech and it's not hard to imagine that it is a Czech toponym for a family from Serbia. (Srb is also the Serbian word for a Serbian person, but an immigrant to the U.S. named Srb, coming from Czechia, might fill out the immigration form with “Srb” and might end up with their name spelled that way, whereas a Serbian with that name would write the unintelligible Срб and would probably end up with something more like Serb.) There's also a town in Croatia with the name Srb and the surname could mean someone from that town.
I'm not sure whether Srp is similar. The Serbian-language word for the Serbian language itself is Srpski (српски), but srp is also Slavic for “sickle” and appears in quite a few Slavic agricultural-related names such as Sierpiński. (It's also the name for the harvest month of August.)
Next is Krc. I guessed maybe this was Czech for “church” but it seems that that is kostel. There is a town south of Prague named Krč and maybe Krc is the háčekless American spelling of the name of a person whose ancestors came from there.
Last is Smrt. Wikipedia has an article about Thomas J. Smrt but it doesn't say whether his ancestry was Czech. I had a brief fantasy that maybe some of the many people named Smart came from Czech families originally named Smrt, but I didn't find any evidence that this ever happened; all the Smarts seem to be British. Oh well.
[ Bonus trivia: smrt is the Czech word for “death”, which we also meet in the name of James Bond's antagonist SMERSH. SMERSH was a real organization, its name a combination of смерть (/smiert/, “death”) and шпио́нам (/shpiónam/, “to spies”). Шпио́нам, incidentally, is borrowed from the French espion, and ultimately akin to English spy itself. ]
[ Addenda 20220327: Thanks to several readers who wrote to mention that Smrž is a morel and Krč is (or was) a stump or a block of wood, I suppose analogous to the common German name Stock. Petr Mánek corrected my spelling of háček and also directed me to KdeJsme.cz, a web site providing information about Czech surnames. Finally, although Smrt is not actually a shortened form of Smart I leave you with this consolation prize. ]