5 most common local surnames

Kinzy Janssen, photos by Jesse Johnson

Eau Claire: the name of a city filled with people who have names.
Eau Claire: the name of a city filled with people who have names.

With a little help from the Chippewa Valley Museum, we divined the most common official monikers worn by the Eau Claire citizenry.

1. Johnson

Johnsons dominate the Eau Claire area phone book, taking up almost seven entire columns (in the full sized versions). As it turns out, there were lots of separate Johnson clans. In fact, Johnson pretty much encompasses all of northern Europe, including Sweden, Norway, Germany, Denmark, England, Ireland, Scotland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, and Switzerland.

2. Olson

According to ChaCha.com, the surname Olson is distinctly Scandinavian (encompassing Finland, Sweden, and Norway).   But there was never anyone named “Ol” walking around who then had offspring … Olson actually means “son of Olaf.” Or “Olof.” Or, the familiar and mishap-prone husband of Lena, “Ole.”

3. Smith

Only third most prevalent in Eau Claire, Smith is actually the most prevalent name in the triumvirate of English-speaking countries: England, Australia, and the United States. Though it originated in England, not everyone who shares the name is of English descent. According to Wikipedia, black slaves overwhelmingly adopted “Smith” upon emancipation, making it one of the most common surnames among African Americans.

4. Larson

Given the abundance of Scandinavian heritage around these here parts, it should come as no surprise that the fourth most popular name in Eau Claire means “son of Lars.” Apparently, Lorenz is a German variation and McLaren is the Scottish form. Maps of surnames nationwide show a concentration in the upper Midwest, New York, and the Pacific coast.

5. Nelson

Nelson is another patronymic surname (a component of a personal name based on the given name of one’s father, grandfather, etc.) from Scandinavia which was used as a means of conveying lineage. This one means “son of Nels”   or, if the origin was Irish, “son of Nell.” Though it’s in the top five in Eau Claire, it only ranks 39th most common nationally.

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