What are the top surnames in Auckland?

Baby name lists are always popular in the media, but they always focus on the first names that parents are giving their children.

According to the New Zealand Government, Amelia has overtaken Charlotte as the most popular name given to girls, while Oliver remains New Zealand’s most popular baby name for boys. Nikau and Mia are the most popular Māori names, followed by Mikaere and Aria.

But what about family names? AMC finds out where the trends lie in Auckland, New Zealand’s most populous city of 1,650,200 inhabitants.

When it comes to last names, Auckland’s top 10 list exemplified the changing demographics of modern New Zealand. Nine of the ten most popular surnames are of Asian origin, according to the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA).

Singh, a Sikh family name, is not only the most popular last name in Auckland – it’s the most common for new babies overall across New Zealand. 

Singh is originally a Khalsa (baptism) name for Sikhs, but now it is used widely by non-religious Sikhs. It is also commonly used by other Indians. Harpreet Singh, of the charity Sikh Aware New Zealand, says, “Some Sikhs just use Singh, others use their other caste-based surname, and some use both. Sikhs generally don’t need to change their name when they are baptised as they already have Singh as a part of their names – most often it also doesn’t change on official records like your birth certificate or your banking details. If parents don’t baptise their child, they still may have Singh as their only last name.”  

Kaur is the second most common last name in Auckland for New Zealand-born babies. The Khalsa name Singh (which means lion) was traditionally only used for males, while Kaur (princess) is used for females. “Now, there are lots of girls as well having Singh as their last name from non-baptised families. It’s not specific to gender anymore.”  

The use of Singh and Kaur as last names are said to help eliminate the caste system, in which a family name indicates whether a person is from a high caste or low caste. The tradition of using the family names Singh and Kaur sends the message: “all humans are all equal in God's eyes”.

Number three on the last-names list in Auckland is Wang. This is the most common surname in mainland China, and there are also 100 million people with Wang as their last name worldwide. Wang is the Chinese word for king.

Next on the list is Patel. This name, from the Gurjarat state, was historically associated with land ownership and farming. Today, it’s the most popular Indian surname outside of India: in the UK there are 150,000 Patels, and that number is the same for the US. In fact, 1 in 10 people of Indian descent in the United States is a Patel. The total Patel diaspora outside of India is half a million individuals.

The fifth most popular name is Chen, a common East Chinese surname and the most common last name in both Taiwan and Singapore. In Cantonese, it is Romanised as Chan and is thus common as such in Hong Kong. Chen means “to describe” or “ancient”, and dates back to around 2200 BCE. Chen and Chan are sometimes converted to Tan in parts of Southeast Asia (especially Singapore and Malaysia). The “Ch” sound is “T” in Hokkien and other dialects.

The baby names ranking 5-10 in New Zealand are as follows (in order): Zhang, Li, Liu, Smith, and in 10th place a tie between Kumar and Sharma. Smith is the only Anglo-Saxon surname in the mix of top 10 most popular baby surnames in New Zealand. English in origin, 64.3 percent of Smiths in the world are American (current estimate is circa 2.5 million).

These names follow the immigration statistics that confirm most migrants to New Zealand settle in Auckland, which has substantial communities from Indian and Chinese origins. The last name top 10 list suggests that young migrants make New Zealand their home, and start/raise their families here.

According to RNZ, Massey University professor Paul Spoonley said the DIA figures reflected the dramatic demographic change occurring in New Zealand. "Between 2013 and 2018 we've had the largest net inflow of migrants we've ever seen. So, 260,000 additional people and what you see in that period is that the largest group in many of the visa categories is Indian and they are coming here under the skilled visa categories and they are coming as families."

-  Asia Media Centre