Written by Amy Franz
Ethnic Technologies’ “Who Is…?” series highlights the fascinating multicultural insights one can glean from a name.
So, who is Sarah Johnson? In the United States or Canada, you can imagine someone named Sarah being just about any ethnicity.
Sarah is a first name that is ubiquitously used, regardless of a person’s ethnicity or cultural background.
A Judeo-Christian name, Sarah is rooted in Hebrew and means “lady or princess.” Sarah is a prominent name from the Old Testament as Sarah, the wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac, is considered the matriarch of the Jewish people. Impressively, this name has remained within the top 120 most popular baby names in the United States since the Social Security Administration started tracking name statistics in 1880.
Her surname, Johnson, is English in origin, meaning “son of John.” For decades, it has consistently been one of the most common surnames in the United States, currently the second most popular surname is the United States according to the Census. Therefore, it’s fair to assume that Sarah Johnson is likely an individual of English descent.
However, when we look at an individual Sarah Johnson, living in a particular neighborhood in the United States, this might not be the case.
Consider the demographics of Midway, Alabama; the small Alabama town is 94% African American, as reported by the 2017 American Community Survey. If there were a Sarah Johnson living in Midway, she would likely be African American.
Johnson isn’t uniquely English – it’s also used by African Americans. 35% of Johnsons in the United States are African American, according to the 2010 United States Census.
Any given Sarah Johnson – and I’d estimate that there are more the 5,000 Americans with this name – might be of English descent or might be African American.
Sometimes understanding identity through names is more than what meets the eye, and such is the case with a name like Sarah Johnson.