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Assume a society where all girls take their husbands surnames on marriage. It then follows that there will be an exponential decrease in the No. of surnames in that society, since some fathers will have only daughters.

For example, if all families have just 2 children, about 25% will have 2 daughters, leading to a loss of 25% of the surnames available each generation. After 10 generations, only about 5.6% of the original number of surnames would remain.

There are a lot of odd names in Dickens; I always thought he'd made them up, but perhaps they've died out....

Since we aren't all called Smith, and the phone book shows plenty of names, my model is obviously over-simplified, and there must be a source of new surnames coming into society - from where, and how?
Good points, though you oversimplified the surname loss problem a bit. For example, even when a couple has two girls, the mother could have had a male brother who has his own children...

But overall, you're probably right. Thing is, some people these days choose to take their mother's surname (especially women) -- as a consequence of feminist movements. Other people adopt composite surnames of "father's"+"-"+"mother's" or something of that sort. Yet other people upon marriage change both surnames to a single composite that begins with half of one surname and ends with half from the other or some such thing. Then of course there always are name changes for people who simply want to change their name for some reason. Heck, some people have dozens of names. Anyway, just some ideas...
I decided sometime ago that if I ever married again I'd like to insist that the formation of the new alliance is named by the creation of a new last name. I don't see why the woman should be expected to give up her name and in equal faireness the man should not be made to give up his, the only fair system should be the creation of a new name.

But I have no intention of ever marrying again, but I'd like to see others follow my idea.
Ooh, just had another idea, which is probably the most important since it really represents a timeless source of surnames: orphans!

Anyway, right on Cris.

Thanks to all who responded - it had the effect of making me think much harder about this problem. In fact, I now think there is no problem - surnames do not decrease with each generation!

Consider a society where say 25 families consist of a Mr. and Mrs. Brown, and each family has just 2 children. (This simplified model also assumes the children all grow up, marry and reproduce, etc.) Then the next generation will consist of about 25 boys and 25 girls, and the boys will carry the name Brown into the future - there are as many Mr. Browns in this new generation as in the previous one.

The error in my previous statement of the 'problem' was to concentrate only on the Mr. Browns who had 2 daughters, forgetting that they would be balanced out by those who had 2 sons! Carrying my original reasoning to its (illogical) conclusion, the whole population would be declining exponentially, contradicting the implicit assumption of replacement level reproduction. It's often the case in statistics that a superficial case can be made for wrong conclusions, and I fell into the trap!

The idea of making up new surnames each generation would lead to a nightmare for genealogists and bureaucrats! Hyphenating the names of both parents (becoming a Brown-Smith) would soon become unwieldy too. At least the system we (mostly) have now means something, but it's worth pointing out that many ancient societies traced descent through the mother's line - after all, it's easier to be sure who your mother is than who your father is!
But those people who have two sons will have two sons of the same surname. My guess is that the only way to add surnames is through immigration. That is how new surnames have been added in the past.

I have a question. Some schemes for interstellar flight involve sending a "seed ship" of ten people, five men and five women, of maximum genetic diversity. So from then on, there would only be five surnames. Trillions of trillions of people eventually, and only five surnames. "I'm John Smith." "Yeah, you and 10^24 others." How would they add surnames if interstellar travel is as insurmountable as some say? (Let's assume it is.)
Yes, this is a situation where surnames could die out: with small numbers (ie, just 5 surnames), there is a fair chance that one father would have only daughters. (This chance could be reduced by having as many childen as possible, although even this wouldn't help if there was some genetic problem that allowed the man to only father daughters - in this connection, I have read that men in stressful jobs do tend to have more daughters.)

But presumably the planners of such an interstellar mission would have thought carefully about all such possible problems, and selected the personnel accordingly.

Otherwise, new surnames would probably arise in much the same way they have in history - specialised occupations, physical peculiarities, geographical origin, etc, would all be used to differentiate one Jones from another.
I'm sorry to clock in so late on this one ...

... but I've apparently been obsessed with other things.
Since we aren't all called Smith, and the phone book shows plenty of names, my model is obviously over-simplified, and there must be a source of new surnames coming into society - from where, and how?
Two notes, and I'll try to be brief.

* Something I may do is something a friend of mine did. She hated her family, and he hated his name, so they just picked a completely new one not quite at random. The reason for this is twofold; let me get the first aside, since it's only a point for justification--I have no blood relatives.

* This is only significant when we consider the story of my family name. (I must, please, withhold; there are approximately twenty families bearing our name in Western Washington, and perhaps only a few others across the nation, these entirely by coincidence.) However, so the story goes .... I believe it is my father's grandfather arrived to work in the mills along the waterfront, took one look around at how many other Lutheran families there were named "Petersen", and took up a rather silly name that sounds almost English.

Thus it is that the topic has given me cause to reflect that I have no bloodline as yet (it has, literally, disappeared into history so that there remain only three players in the saga ... it almost sounds like the novel that I won't ever get around to because it would kill me), and also that I bear one of the most meaningless names in the history of humanity. But, yes, it's completely made up. He literally intended to make a name that nobody else had.

thanx much,
Tiassa :cool:
I don't think that you have to worry about names and their dying out. Until recently most families had two or more children. In underdeveloped countries there is still a population expolsion going on.
We probably don't give mother nature enough credit on this front. During the wars of our history lot's of women, girl friends, lovers, ect. got pregnant just before their significant other left for the front. Remember the baby boom?
Hey Wet1 you may find it interesting to know that about 8 years ago the average Australian family had 2.4(could be 2.3) children. Now it is 1.7 and the government is worried. but our population still gets bigger because of immigrants.
As is much the same in the US. Immigration from other countries helps in several ways. There is the influx of new ideas, methods, cultures, and the refreshing of spirit. There is nothing that inspires as much as someone who looks around and really appreciates what you have taken for granted and can tell the stories of what it is like to be without. Another way to obtain this is to go to some other foreign country and look for yourself. Do not go where the tourists go. Go where they do not. Ask those who you meet. Observe what they do and do not do. Such is enlighting and at times a real eye opener.

People who immigrate do not always fill the bill for the best of jobs. So they are no threat to those who work and already hold a job. Rather they augment the populace. They do those things that you most likely would not. I worked my way through high school as a dish washer and a grocery bagger. Today I could not afford to do that. So, I would not do such. But guess what? Immigrants will, gladly. No shame in that. It is the chance they want. And they should have it.

One other thing I would like to point out is that in the past a lot of names came from what a person did. Smith, Carpenter, Wood, Farmer, to give a few examples.
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When my wife and I got married, I looked into getting my last name changed to hers (I like it better than mine) and it would have cost us $400.00 to do so. Needless to say, she decided to hyphenate hers, which cost nothing.


Awright. But I have found, having changed my name once, that the cost wasn't too high, and not as high as $400.

But I liked your idea of going against the trend, pity it didn't pan out.