So what’s in a name? In the greater scheme of things does a surname have any significant relevance when we talk about or judge athletes on pure merit? There is a common thread to the most popular names in sports and you don’t have to have a PhD in sociology to identify what it is. For all that is changing in America culturally, the sporting landscape remains dominated by an Anglo-Saxon heritage from centuries ago.
Outside of this domain the names Garcia and Martinez are in the top 20 for the general American demographic, but not when it comes to professional sports. Why is this exactly? Is systemic bias an issue when analyzing the merits of a sportsman or woman? If a College is looking at a talented baseball player, would they base their decision on whether or not the kid is a blue eyed, blonde haired Alex Smith versus a Latino Javier Hernandez?
What we know for sure is that bias exists everywhere we look. Whether its based on gender, personality type, brands or race – the institutions that have been built generations ago were designed to fall in the favor of their heritage and belief system. Part of it might be conscious, but a lot of the time the prejudices we carry are instinctive.
The good news though if you’re a supporter of an NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB franchise or across any other sport for that matter is that popular names become interchangeable. Any Denver Broncos fan can hold onto their Anderson jersey, likewise the Cavs faithful if they somehow went out to purchase a Jones kit. History and statistics tell us this carousel will come back around again and again.
Standing out from the crowd with these surnames is hard to do, but some have excelled more than others. Here are the top 20 most common names in sports.
Long ago A Frederick “Mysterious” Walker entered the sporting pantheon when he debuted in Major League Baseball for the Cincinnati Reds way back in 1910. The name of Irish heritage, which translates to “fuller”, expanded far and wide down the years. 1990s NFL tight end Derrick Walker had a successful career as well as Detroit Lions kicker Doak Walker in the 1950s. Baseball had Ed, Harry, Neil and the beautifully named Peahead Walker in the 1930s. With Kemba and Antonine Walker currently gracing the NBA, there is plenty more where that came from.
Draymond Green is arguably one of the biggest names in sports right now, quite an achievement when playing on the same team as Steph Curry. But the Golden State Warriors superstar is not the only famous Green to make it in pro sports. There’s a litany of them – Marcus, Darrell, Roderick, AC, AJ, Adam, Van, Al, Barrett, Chad, Yatil, Cecil, Desmond, E.G., Hubert and Luther. Then there is former Kansas City baseman Dick Green from the 1960s and 1970s, yet somehow they don’t make Christian names like those any more. At least we hope not.
Derived from the Latin name Martinus, the double meaning name that is used for a surname or given name can be traced back in the history of sports to a New York pitcher called Alphonse “Phonney” Martin back in the 1870s. Hopefully that was an endearing turn of phrase rather than a slight on his character, but good old Phonney would start something of a trend. We had the privilege of seeing NHL coach Jacques, Manchester United footballer Lee, 1980s NFL player Charles and Denver Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin amongst many others.
Indeed Mrs. Robinson is trying to seduce us given how many of her offspring have popped up over the years! It is one of the few names that sports can truly hold onto and value as being special to them, given Jackie Robinson’s exploits becoming the first ever African American to play in Major League Baseball in the modern era. This follows on from a proud tradition inclusive of NHL Hall of Fame inductee Larry Robinson, iconic boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, NBA stars Nate Robinson and David Robinson, and NFL players Allen and Denard Robinson. Robinsons have been good to sports.
At 25 Klay Thompson might become the greatest Thompson of them all. Lets look at the competition for the star Golden State Warriors throne – English MMA fighter James “The Colossus” Thompson, MLB pitcher Rich Thompson, heavyweight boxer Tony Thompson, and a host of NFL footballers in the form of Shaq Thompson, Juwan Thompson, Tyrus Thompson and Dylan Thompson. It seems like Klay blows them out of the water in every sense, not just from a monetary or a fame level but talent as well.
This is a name that isn’t ambiguous in any sense and given the geography of its origin no one should be surprised – people in the UK don’t get a lot of sunshine. UFC President Dana White is probably the most prominent and famous of the current crop of Whites surpassing Falcons receiver Roddy White, Bears squad member Kevin White and figure skater Charlie White. The name was synonymous with baseball at the turn of the 20th Century with pitcher Doc White and Red Sox batter Sammy White.
No one in pro sports is unaccustomed to spilling a little blood for the cause. That’s a good thing for those named Taylor because it originates from the French phrase taillier which means “to cut.” This would have applied many times for boxers Jermain Taylor and Meldrick Taylor, but more seldom for the likes of Chris and Michael A. Taylor in Major League Baseball, Jeffrey Taylor in the NBA and Taylor Hall in the NHL. As for New York Giants legendary linebacker Lawrence Taylor? Lets just say spilling claret was part of his day job.
The English language is a strange and beautiful concoction of words and phrases passed down from one generation to the next. Somehow the name Harris derives from Harry, which so happened to be an informal take on Henry. Needless to say the English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish had a lot of communication issues down the years. Emerging female boxer Kristy Harris is one of the newest on the scene following on from Brendan and Mitch Harris of MLB fame, Tobias, Devin and Gary Harris of the NBA, and Dwayne Harris, Chris Harris Jr., Alonzo Harris and 49ers running back DuJuan Harris of the NFL.
The saying often goes “less is more,” but in this instance Moore is more. Since Roger Moore was the coolest cat around as James Bond in the 1970s, the likes of E’Twaun Moore at the Chicago Bulls, Lance Moore, Kellen Moore and Denarius Moore in the NFL, John Moore, Dominic Moore and Steve Moore in the National Hockey League, and Tampa Bay pitcher Matt Moore in MLB took the name and ran with it to great success.
Rebooted as a cool name in the blockbuster film The Matrix, going by the title “Mr. Anderson” was all the rage at the turn of the Millennium. It hasn’t lost any swagger with CJ Anderson, Derek Anderson and James Anderson carving things up in the NFL. The same can be said of Ryan Anderson, Kyle Anderson and Alan Anderson in the NBA, boxer Kenny Anderson, MMA fighter Anderson Silva, Dodgers pitcher Brett Anderson and Brazilian footballer Anderson Oliveira.
Almost every corner of the globe has an interpretation of the name Thomas, but in layman’s terms it means “twin.” Unfortunately there aren’t many twins named Thomas who made it in pro sports, but whether it be Thomas Rawls, Pierre Thomas, Julius Thomas or Demaryius Thomas in the NFL, Isaiah Thomas in the NBA, Tim Thomas and Christian Thomas in the NHL or Chicago White Sox legendary hitter Frank Thomas of the 90s and 2000s, the name certainly endures well into the 21st Century.
If the Jackson name is good enough for the Cleveland Browns to take a gamble on new coach Hue, then surely it has a stable future in sports, right? It’s popular enough for the current generation of NFL players with DeSean Jackson at the Washington Redskins and Steven Jackson at the Patriots. Coach Phil Jackson is arguably the most decorated individual the NBA has known surpassing the likes of Reggie Jackson, Stephen Jackson and Jim Jackson, while Bo Jackson and Austin Jackson made a name for themselves in Major League Baseball.
Most beloved by keeping Tom Hanks company during those lonely years on the film Cast Away, the Wilson name has become a brand in the soccer world for round balls everywhere. From Tom Wilson and Colin Wilson in the NHL to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, the name itself derives from the short form “Wil” which translates to “desire.” This is an essential characteristic for all athletes that make it professionally and extends to the likes of Wilson Chandler at the Nuggets and the bearded sensation and former San Francisco Giants pitcher Brian Wilson.
Its any wonder Millers are big in the sports industry. The name comes from the literal occupation of working at the mill where people would take their hats and coats to go underground to chip at black rock for a living. Fair to say pro athletes have it a bit better than their ancestors, going onto spawn Lamar Miller, Von Miller, Mike Miller, Reggie Miller, Andrew Miller, Wade Miller and infamous Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller. His $480 million new worth feels ironic given the history of the Miller name.
Vernon’s Denver Broncos have made the AFC Championship game and stands as being the biggest Davis in the sport. The name originally derives from the Welsh region to mean “son of David.” Draft in the likes of Vontae Davis, Eric Davis and Thomas Davis in the NFL, Pelicans center Anthony Davis, Patrick, Ryan and Malcolm Davis in the NHL, and MLB free agent Chris Davis and there is a lot of Davis to go around for everybody.
So popular they named a team after them! Not that the Cleveland Browns are anything to sing and dance about being the national punch line of the NFL, but it’s more than these other titles can attest to. It remains a famous name in football, with Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, Cardinals receiver John Brown and Panthers squad player Corey Brown. This extends to former Manchester United defender Wes Brown, 1970s NBA journeyman Roger Brown and British flyweight boxer Jackie Brown not of Quentin Tarantino fame. 50s and 60s NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown and coaching guru Paul Brown take the cake though in sporting parlors.
Footballers have a habit of tarnishing their own legacy, but also their surname by association. Cincinnati Bengals cornerback and loose cannon Adam Pacman Jones isn’t doing the NFL or his franchise any favors of late. Throw into the mix Manchester United defender and meme sensation Phil Jones, who spent the clubs game against Liverpool standing with the common folk in the stands. A few bad apples aside, the NBA has been graced by Terrance Jones, Fred Jones, Domonic Jones, MLB with Andruw Jones, Ruppert Jones, Tracy Jones and a plethora of footballlers including James, Jarvis, Jay, Deacon, Terry, Rod and Julio Jones in the NFL.
One individual stands out from the rest of Williams’ compatriots, even from older sister Venus. Named 2015 Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated, Serena Williams’ trophies, $74 million in prize money and accolades put the Williams name up in lights. The ye old English name meaning “son of William” remains as prevalent as it ever was. The NFL is chock full of Williams - DeAngelo Williams, Isaiah Williams, Cary Williams, Brock Williams, Kevin Williams and Karlos Williams are just the tip of the iceberg. Today we have basketballers Deron Williams and Jason Williams, hockey player Justin Williams and MLB free agent Jerome Williams.
You would think “Johnson” would be a cut and dried surname from England, but you would be mistaken. Coming out of Sweden of all places, it means “son of John” and boy have there been some sons of John in professional sports. NFL players Isaiah Johnson, Darcy Johnson, Andre Johnson, Austin Johnson, Calvin Johnson; NBA athletes Tyren Johnson, Mickey Johnson, Curly “Boo” Johnson; and baseball stars Davey and Lance Johnson –it’s a hell of a popular name. None of them hold a candle though to Lakers legend Magic Johnson, a pioneer in many respects on and off the court.
By far the most common surname in the English language and the Western world, it’s no surprise Smiths continue to dominate the field from all corners of the sports world. Forget past athletes from generations ago, just turn on a television or read a post game review online and they are everywhere! Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., Kansas City QB Alex Smith, Cavs forward J.R. Smith, Orlando Magic center Jason Smith, Nashville Predators right winger Craig Smith, Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith – you get the idea.
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