What’s The “Blackest” Last Name? Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Or Jenkins? » VSB

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What’s The “Blackest” Last Name? Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Or Jenkins?

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What’s The “Blackest” Last Name?

It’s a question that has plagued us for forever. (And by “us” I mean “me” and by “forever” I mean “since like Wednesday, when I first thought about writing this.”) Out of all of America’s most popular surnames, which is the “Blackest?” And it’s a question that leads to other questions, like “How do you define Blackest?” and “What’s wrong with you?” and “Why do you even care about things like this?”

Fret not, because we will find a definitive answer today. 

Before we begin, however, let’s discuss how Blackest is defined in this context.

1. Imagine you’re a screenwriter or show runner. And you’re tasked to write/produce a show about a Black family. The name of the family will also be the name of the show. And you have to choose a surname that lets everyone immediately know this is about a Black family, without explicitly saying it. Which last names do you think of first?

2. How important is the name to Black American culture, historically and currently? And is it immediately recognizable by most people as a Black name? For instance, Dorsey is a pretty Black-ass last name. Over 51% of people with that name identify as Black, which is quite a high number. But Dorsey just doesn’t have the same immediate “Damn. That’s a Black-ass name” recognition as Jenkins does.

3. Frequency matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters. For instance, The University of Memphis has more Black students than Spelman and Morehouse. Combined. But no one would consider it to be a “Blacker” school than either of them. Which is why although there are more Black Americans with Williams, Johnson, Smith, or Jones as their surname than any name on this list, none made the cut. There are mad White Johnsons.

4. I’m aware there are traditional surnames from some parts of the Caribbean and some African countries that are quite frequent in America now, but they’re excluded. For reasons. As are last names like “Shabazz” and “X” and “World Peace.”

Basically, all the names chosen are totally slave names. Which, when considering the history of the Black person in America, is both fitting and ironic. Especially when considering that the last name of the single most famous White American (George Washington) is possessed by like 17 White people today.

Anyway, onto the question:

The case for “Washington”

—Percentage wise, is the Blackest name on this list, as 90% of Americans with that name identify as Black. (Which actually surprised me when I saw that. I mean, we know why there are so many Black Washingtons, and there’s no need to go into that history. But where the hell did all the White Washingtons go?)

—Also happens to be the name of our capital and one of our states. Which actually kinda, sorta makes it less Black. (While you’re here, imagine for a second if someone named “Jenkins” was our first president, and the nation’s capital was Jenkins, D.C. This somehow makes the Chocolate City even more chocolatey. Jenkins, D.C. is a chocolate-ass sounding city.)

The case for “Jefferson”

—Remember this?

Imagine you’re a screenwriter or show runner. And you’re tasked to write/produce a show about a Black family. The name of the family will also be the name of the show. And you have to choose a surname that lets everyone immediately know this is about a Black family, without explicitly saying it. Which last names do you think of first?

Well, when Norman Lear asked himself this question, Jefferson was his answer.

—Jefferson rates well percentage wise (75%) but it’s not a terribly common last name. It’s basically a niche Black last name. Not super popular, but extremely effective. The Reg E. Cathey of Black last names.

The case for “Jackson”

—Is the name of the single most famous Black American family. And, considering Jermaine’s hair issues, the single Blackest American family too.

—There’s a reason Outkast decided to name their song “Sorry Miss Jackson” and not “Sorry Miss Schmidt” or “Sorry Miss Nguyen.”

The case for “Jenkins”

—A sentimental favorite. Whenever I think of a fake Black family or fake Black person in my head, Jenkins is the last name I usually give them. I guess 227 really had an indelible effect on me.

—Statistically, is actually the least Black name on this list, as only 36% of people named Jenkins are Black. Which, quite frankly, surprises me. Because where the hell are all these White Jenkins hiding out? I really believed Sally Jenkins and Richard Jenkins were the only White Jenkins’ left in America. But I was wrong.

All things considered, it basically comes down to Jackson and Washington. And while I’m tempted to lean Jackson’s way because Janet and Michael and Samuel L, the sheer percentage of Black people named Washington makes me give them the title.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    Johnson.

    There’s no way you’ve never seen, heard of, or know of a black person with the last name Johnson.

    And Smith.

    Smith is the whitest last name ever to be tanned and under Black folks.

    I know they may not sound the Blackest but sometimes the best Black names are the ones you play guessing games with.

    • MysteryMeat

      Haha yes Smith

    • I have never seen a white Johnson…. lmao

    • miss t-lee

      One whole side of my family is Johnsons…lol

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        That’s a whole football team right there

        • miss t-lee

          Yup…and they’re super country too.

          • These are Black Johnson’s, huh? lmao

            • miss t-lee

              Yup.
              Like trail rides and raising cattle Black.

    • AshAlly08

      Smith just doesn’t count. There’s too many of us on all sides of the color lines. Too many black Smiths and too many white Smiths. Honestly, how have we never had a President Smith?

      • Lea Thrace

        “Honestly, how have we never had a President Smith?”

        This is a really good question. I need someone to do some research on this asaptually.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        It is one of those ambiguous names though that you can’t tell who it would be by reading their name…you’d have to wait and see, so I always find that interestin

    • Glo

      My mom’s side of the family is all Johnsons, lol.

  • KingCarlos

    Michelle Robinson from the south side of Chicago will always be the blackest of black names.

    • PhlyyPhree

      Forgot alllll about Robinson, but really, how do you get blacker than that?

  • MysteryMeat

    YOU FORGOT JOHNSON!

    But Jenkins FTW

  • Damon Young

    Re: Johnson:

    “3. Frequency matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters. For instance, The University of Memphis has more Black students than Spelman and Morehouse. Combined. But no one would consider it to be a “Blacker” school than either of them. Which is why although there are more Black Americans with Williams, Johnson, Smith, or Jones as their surname than any name on this list, none made the cut. There are mad White Johnsons.”

    • KingCarlos

      Go Tigers tho

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      We see that part….I’m just saying…if I wanted an army of Black people, I bet all of Beyonce’s wigs that I’m having at least 3 Johnsons on my squad.

  • Val

    Harris.

    • That’s my government name, so yeah.

      • Val

        I’ve never met a White person named Harris, so.

        • Lea Thrace

          They do Harris as a first name…

        • kingpinenut

          I knew a white kid with the last name harris in high school….

          Come to think of it…he mightabeenpassin

  • always right

    seems like anyone with a last name that just begins with “j” is more likely to be black…johnson, jenkins, jones, jefferson, jackson, etc.

    • A.G.

      Or ends with an “s.” Jones is a good one.

  • Elle

    Jenkins. I remember being so confused when the new nurse at my doctor’s office had the last name of Jenkins without the melanin to match. Halfway into my appointment, however, she began asking me questions about my hair and compared it to her stepdaughter’s. That’s when everything made instant sense.

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      Jenkins can never be denied as a Black name.

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      She aint Black, but damn sure got some up in her

    • Nik White

      She sensed your confusion and felt the need to clarify plus her stepdaughter’s hair is probally jacked up.

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    Brown is a good one.

    • miss t-lee

      Brown, White, Green–all very black.

      Funny–all the folks who I know who have the last name of Black are white…lol

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        I just met my first set of Black folks with the name Black!

        • miss t-lee

          Wowwww.

  • Washington.
    But it has to come after “Booker T.”

    • KingCarlos

      Booker Anyname instantly transports the listener to a hot field in the delta.

      • Cheech

        There should be a tribute band named Jones, Not Washington.

  • Mika

    going to go with Jenkins here……………

    • Kas

      This should have been a one sentence article. “The Blackest name is Jenkins”. Full stop

      • Mika

        Kasfacts?

    • BmoreLikeLA

      I go with Jenkins, too. I even renamed my Black Jesus “Jesus Jeremiah Jenkins” bc it sounds blackest… and I like alliteration.

      • Jennifer

        “Jesus Jeremiah Jenkins” = blue black Jesus

        • Nik White

          Or a Black Puerto Rican.

      • Mochasister

        Sounds like a character who would be in a Toni Morrison novel.

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