Is your last name Culpepper, Sallow, or MacQuoid? If so, you are one of a rare breed, since all of those last names are considered to be endangered. In fact, the family ancestry site My Heritage estimates that fewer than 20 people are left with any of the surnames listed above. And they report that the names Fernsby, Villin, Miracle, Dankworth, Relish, Loughty, Birdwhistle, Berrycloth, and Tumbler are also in the same boat.
Nor is this an exhaustive list of endangered last names (for one thing all of the names listed originate in the British Isles). In fact, according to Ancestry.com, another family history site, there are plenty more endangered British surnames, including Mirren, the last name of actress Helen Mirren. She may have an Academy Award, but she also has fewer than 49 people who share her last name. Which is actually kind of cool, I guess. Is it just me or did Helen Mirren just get even cooler?
So why do some last names go extinct? Well, unsurprisingly, names associated with less popular professions — aka, not Smith or Miller — or with less populated areas — unlike, say, Hamilton — are much more likely to die out since they had fewer bearers to begin with. But mostly the whole thing is random. Sometimes historical events might disproportionately affect people with some last names — for instance, lower class boys might be more likely to die in a war, or people from a certain region more likely to die from a plague. But a lot of it apparently really does come down to luck and chance and who happens to have kids.
Of course, as sad as it is that apparently there are apparently no more people with the last name Portendorfer, having a last name go extinct isn't as big a deal as, say, having an animal species go extinct. For one thing, last names don't provide any crucial ecological benefits, hold the key to potential medical advancements, or represent billions of years of evolution. For another, last names can always be theoretically resurrected; if someone wanted to legally change their last name to Portendorfer, they totally could. In fact I encourage them.
Plus, it's way easier to save endangered last names than endangered species. Even if you only have one dude with a specific last name left, for instance, he could easily just pass the name along to his seven kids, and behold: sudden exponential growth!
Also, did I mention what a good idea it would be for one of you to change your name to Portendorfer?