President George Washington’s name is on numerous schools, buildings, streets, monuments, bridges and people, but is also borne by Black individuals more than any other race.
A project using the 2000 U.S. Census data counted 163,036 people with the surname Washington. Ninety percent of those were African-American, a far higher percentage of Blacks than for any other common name.
How Washington became the “Blackest name” in America is unknown, but conventional wisdom suggests it began with slavery, becoming very common after the Civil War when Blacks were allowed to select a surname for the first time. Washington’s name may have been selected because of his widely-known gesture of freeing his slaves in his will.
Some who carry the last name believe it’s an honor. Tre’von Washington of Baltimore, Md. said, “I don’t know how I got my last name… but I’m glad Blacks have something to claim as ours, even if it’s just a name.”
The last name of Washington was listed 138th when the Census Bureau published a list of the 1,000 most common American surnames from the 2000 survey, and while 90 percent of those named Washington were Black, only 5 percent were White.
“I had no idea that I had the most common Black last name in America. In high school I thought it was just a coincidence but I guess it wasn’t,” said Shayna Washington of Temple Hills, Md.
While those with the last name Washington are most likely African-American, there are several other last names which are held by a high percentage of African-Americans. Jefferson was the second-blackest last name, with 75 percent of those with that name being African-American. Jackson was third with 53 percent, and Williams was 16th, with 46 percent.