The Origins of 62 Last Names

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SasinParaksa iStock via Getty Images

Last names. You've probably got one or two, and they definitely came from somewhere. Whether it's ancient or modern, signifies the beauty of nature or an abstract concept or a job, or is something Grandma came up with on the fly, last names are intimate things that anchor us to our heritage.

Here are the meanings and origins of 62 last names (maybe including yours).

1. Green

Woman in a forest with binoculars
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Welcome, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia fans. Did you know that the last name Green has been around since before the 7th century? You could have gotten that name by playing the role of the "green man" on May Day, which involved dressing in green clothing and leaves. But people were also given the name Green if they just liked wearing the color green a lot. So if you're interested in changing your last name, look no further than your closet.

2. Smith

Blacksmith forging a horseshoe
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Smith is an old English name given to those who worked with metal. It's probably related to a word that meant "to strike" or "to smite," which means it may have referred to a soldier or to the person hitting metal to form it into armor.

3. Schmidt

Wrought iron detail on wooden door
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Similarly, Schmidt is basically the German version of Smith, which also derives from the word smitan, which pre-dates written history.

4. Lopez

Red wolf
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The popular Spanish last name Lopez came from lupus, the Latin word for wolf.

5. Thomas

Twin babies crying
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It's from the ancient Aramaic word תאומא, meaning twin, but you can use it on singles or all three triplets.

6. Hill

A small white house on a green hill in the sun.
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Hill is an English name referring to, you guessed it, someone living on a hill. Other people got the name not from location, but from the name Hildebrand or Hilliard.

7. Lynch

Man on a sailboat
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In parts of England, Lynch meant someone who lived by a hill. In Ireland, though, it may have meant seaman

8. Murphy

Vikings rowing in boats
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Slightly different, Murphy comes from the Irish term for a sea warrior, which is basically a Lynch during war time. There's most likely a Viking connection here.

9. Novak

Woman giving a casserole to a neighbor
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Novak comes from the Slovak word for new or newcomer. Good to know if people start calling you that as soon as you get to Serbia. 

10. Gomez

Man kissing his toddler son
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Gomo, which comes from old Spanish, meant man, and the "ez" at the end there makes it mean "son of man."

11. Cook

A male chef's hand seasons a rack of ribs.
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If your last name is Cook, you probably have some ancestors who did that for a living.

12. baker.

Man at potting wheel
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Dating back before the 8th century, Baker could have referred to someone baking bread, running a communal kitchen, or owning a kiln for firing pottery.

13. Baxter

Man holding a loaf of bread
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Baxter is the masculine version of the word bakester, which originally meant a woman who bakes.

14. Becker

Small house by a forest stream
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Becker is the German word for baker, and the name might have sprung up for the same reasons Baker and Baxter did in England, but it's also possible that the last name denoted someone living by a stream, or bach.

15. Hall

Long old-fashioned hallway
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They were the people who worked in a house or a hall. Or even if you just lived near one.

16. Adams

Stained glass depiction of Adam and Eve in the garden with a snake.
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Adams means "son of Adam" in England and Scotland. They borrowed the Adam part from Hebrew, of course.

17. Rogers

Statue of Athena holding a spear
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Rogers means "son of Roger." Roger isn't the first man in an alternate version of the Bible, though: His name comes from the legend of the Danish king Hrothgar, who can be found in Beowulf. Hrothgar, by the way, means "famous spear."

18. Thompson

Celtic crosses in old graveyard
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There are of course, a ton of these "son"s. Let's just get a bunch out of the way. Thompson, which is Celtic, means either "son of Tom" or refers to a place called Thompson in Norfolk.

19. Robinson

European robin in a snowy tree
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You would be correct in assuming that Robinson means "son of Robin." Or Robert.

20. Roberts

Sunlight through clouds
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Roberts means "son of Robert," and Robert means "fame" and "bright."

21. Johnson and Jones

Mosaic of John the Baptist
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Johnson and Jones both mean "son of John." The name John comes from the Hebrew Yohanan, which means "Yahweh has been gracious."

22. Jackson

Statue of John the Baptist on the Charles Bridge in Prague
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The name Jack is also derived from Yohanan, so Jacksons and Johnsons are really kinda the same.

23. Evans

Warrior holding a sword and shield
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Evans—besides meaning "son of Evan"—is a name that changes definition depending on your background. In Welsh, it also evolved from Yohanan. In Celtic, it means "young warrior." We're learning a lot about what people used to value: warriors, fame, religion, hills.

24. Martinez

Statue of Roman god of war Mars
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It's a Spanish last name meaning "son of Martin," and "Martin" comes from the Roman god of war, Mars.

25. Anderson

Man lifting weights in a gym
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The Greek word for "manly" gave us Anders and Andrew, and therefore Anderson, the son of Anders.

26. Wilson

Cat looking longingly at food
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The Will part of Wilson is from the Germanic word meaning "desire." Gives an even deeper meaning to the Tom Hanks' best friend in Castaway.

27. Olsen

Old family photos for genealogy
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The name Ole came from an Old Norse word meaning "ancestors' descendants". So I guess the Olsens of the world are the "sons of ancestors' descendants."

28. Philips

Man and horse
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The Greek name Philippos, meaning "lover of horses", gave us the name Philip. Therefore, every Philips in your life is the son of a horse lover.

29. Fox

Sleeping red fox
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The name Fox was taken from the animal's name. It's one of those last names that started out as a nickname. Usually, people who were called Fox were clever or else had red hair or both (probably just one or the other).

30. Russell

An intricate braid in the hair of a redheaded woman.
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Then there's the name Russell, which is an Anglo-Norman word meaning "red haired" or even "red-skinned."

31. White

Curvy river in green landscape
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White probably referred to a person who had white hair or a very light complexion. It's also referred to people living near the bend in a river.

32. Brown

Man in brown suit holding a drink
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The original Brown was someone with brown hair or who wore a lot of brown clothes. But really, wasn't that everyone in like the 5th century? I guess that explains why there are so many Browns.

33. Kim

Pile of gold bricks
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Kim means "gold." It's also the most popular surname in South Korea. One in five people living there is a Kim.

34. Li

Bowl of plums
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Li can mean "plum" or someone who lived near a plum tree. It's the second most popular surname on the planet.

35. Lee

A meadow filled with purple wildflowers
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The direct translation of Lee from Old English is "an open place," so it might have referred to a meadow or a water meadow.

36. Stewart

Butler at a door
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The Scottish name would have denoted a guardian who handled administrative tasks for a big royal household. It comes from the ancient word "stigweard."

37. Clark

Vintage typewriter with paper
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Clark means "professional scribe." So if I live near a hill and I'm something of a scribe, would be a Lynchclark?

38. Walker

Raw wool and tools
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Walker could have been someone who did fulling, which was walking on cloth to improve its quality.

39. [Another] walker

Two park rangers
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Another occupation related to that name: military officers who would monitor a forest area by, you know, walking.

40. Allen

Vellos in an orchestra
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This name means "little rock" or "harmony." So please enjoy using your Harmony Wrench to build your next swanky piece of IKEA furniture.

41. Myers

A black sign with golden letters reading City Hall
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In English, Myers means "son of the mayor." It may have also been used as a nickname for someone pompous.

42. Singh

Regal lion
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Singh means "lion." Sikh in origin, it's given to a son on achieving manhood.

43. COHEN

Hot priest
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It's Hebrew for "priest." But the name might also come from Gaelic Irish where it meant "son of wild goose."

44. PARKER

Female park ranger with lions
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The original Parker was a gamekeeper. Or maybe a park keeper. Makes sense.

45. Wright

Woman using a power tool
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The name comes from an Old English word for "craftsman," and usually denoted someone who made things with wood, like windmills or wheels.

46. Carter

A donkey in front of a green cart that has a sack in it
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Carter is also English. It originally referred to a job in which someone would transport goods via cart, hence Cart-er.

47. Schneider

Female tailor
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Schneider means "tailor" in German. The English version is, of course, Taylor.

48. Muller

Windmills and tulips
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In German, Muller meant someone who operated a mill. The English version of that one is, also of course, Miller, and they both would have needed a wright to build their mill.

49. Cooper

Warehouse full of barrels
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In England, a cooper was someone who made barrels. If you get a bunch of barrel makers together in tiny cars you have many coopers in Mini Coopers.

50. Moore

Yorkshire moors
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Moore has multiple meanings. It may have meant someone who lived by a moor or someone who worked on boats, or someone who was dark-skinned, like Othello.

51. Perry

Close-up of a bunch of golden pears on the branch of a pear tree
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In Old English, if you were named Perry, it meant that you spent a lot of time near pear trees. That sort of feels like a lazy nickname situation. In French, it was someone who worked in a quarry.

52. Turner

Wood being turned on a lathe
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Turner also has a couple different origins. It might mean "turn hare," or someone who can run faster than a hare. It could also mean "one who works with a lathe".

52. torres

Belem tower in Lisbon Portugal
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In Portuguese and Spanish, Torres means "tower." So, someone with that last name was someone who lived by a tower.

53. Hoffman

Female farmer in a wheat field
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In German, Hoffman meant someone who was a steward on an estate. Or someone associated with a farm. Either way, do not hassle the Hoffman. 

54. LEWIS

Cannon overlooking a river
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Lewis comes from many cultures and has a few different meanings. An English Lewis was the son of a Lowis. Lewis also developed various first names in France and Germany and Normandy and so on. Those with the last name Llewellyn, in Welsh, usually becomes Lewis in English. They all came from the Frankish name Hludwig which meant "famous battle."

55. Young

Female teacher and children in preschool
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Young referred to the youngest child. You might also might have earned the surname if you were young at heart.

56. Weber

A woman weaving at a hand loom.
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Weber is German for "weaver." It probably stemmed form the Old English word webbe, which meant "to weave."

57. King

Statue of King Edward VII
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In English, King obviously means leader, but many people adopted it who weren't rulers, and it was used as a nickname quite often. You'll notice, for instance, that the Queen of England is not named Elizabeth Queen. But the name became popular among American immigrants from Ireland, and in the 16th century it was also common to give orphans in France the last name Roi, meaning "king."

58. Garcia

Brown bear cub climbing a tree
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The etymology of Garcia isn't certain but most believe it came from a Basque word meaning "bear," or "young bear."

59. Rodriguez

Female chief executive officer
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Rodriguez means "famous chief." But it may also have come from a word meaning "red-haired one." So, if you're a famous red-haired chief, you're all set.

60. Campbell

Model of teeth with braces
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Campbell derives from two Scottish-Gaelic words: cam meaning "crooked" and bell meaning "mouth." Shout out to all the crooked mouths out there.

61. Abdullah

Muslim women praying
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Abdullah means "servant of God." It's popular among Arabic Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

62. Mwangi

Tall skyscrapers
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Mwangi is the most popular surname in Kenya, and it means "rapid expansion."

In this episode of The List Show, John Green examines the origins of 62 surnames. For a transcript, click here.

The ChopBox Smart Cutting Board Has a Food Scale, Timer, and Knife Sharper Built Right Into It

ChopBox
ChopBox

When it comes to furnishing your kitchen with all of the appliances necessary to cook night in and night out, you’ll probably find yourself running out of counter space in a hurry. The ChopBox, which is available on Indiegogo and dubs itself “The World’s First Smart Cutting Board,” looks to fix that by cramming a bunch of kitchen necessities right into one cutting board.

In addition to giving you a knife-resistant bamboo surface to slice and dice on, the ChopBox features a built-in digital scale that weighs up to 6.6 pounds of food, a nine-hour kitchen timer, and two knife sharpeners. It also sports a groove on its surface to catch any liquid runoff that may be produced by the food and has a second pull-out cutting board that doubles as a serving tray.

There’s a 254nm UVC light featured on the board, which the company says “is guaranteed to kill 99.99% of germs and bacteria" after a minute of exposure. If you’re more of a traditionalist when it comes to cleanliness, the ChopBox is completely waterproof (but not dishwasher-safe) so you can wash and scrub to your heart’s content without worry. 

According to the company, a single one-hour charge will give you 30 days of battery life, and can be recharged through a Micro USB port.

The ChopBox reached its $10,000 crowdfunding goal just 10 minutes after launching its campaign, but you can still contribute at different tiers. Once it’s officially released, the ChopBox will retail for $200, but you can get one for $100 if you pledge now. You can purchase the ChopBox on Indiegogo here.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

11 Fascinating Facts About Tamagotchi

Tamagotchi is the toy that launched a thousand digital pet competitors.
Tamagotchi is the toy that launched a thousand digital pet competitors.
Chesnot/Getty Images News

They blooped and beeped and ate, played, and pooped, and, for ‘90s kids, the egg-shaped Tamagotchi toys were magic. They taught the responsibility of tending to a “pet,” even though their shrill sounds were annoying to parents and teachers and school administrators. Nearly-real funerals were held for expired Tamagotchi, and they’ve even been immortalized in a museum (of sorts). Here are 11 things you should know about the keychain toy that was once stashed in every kid’s backpack.

1. The idea for the Tamagotchi came from a female office worker at Bandai.

Aki Maita was a 30-year-old “office lady” at the Japanese toy company Bandai when inspiration struck. She wanted to create a pet for kids—one that wouldn't bark or meow, make a mess in the house, or lead to large vet bills, according to Culture Trip. Maita took her idea to Akihiro Yokoi, a toy designer at another company, and the duo came up with a name and backstory for their toy: Tamagotchis were aliens, and their egg served as protection from the Earth’s atmosphere. They gave prototype Tamagotchis to high school girls in Shibuya, and tweaked and honed the design of the toy based on their feedback.

2. The name Tamagotchi is a blend of two Japanese words.

The name Tamagotchi is a mashup between the Japanese words tamago and tomodachi, or egg and friend, according to Culture Trip. (Other sources have the name meaning "cute little egg" or "loveable egg.")

3. Tamagotchis were released in Japan in 1996.

A picture of a tamagotchi toy.
Tamagotchis came from a faraway planet called "Planet Tamagotchi."
Museum Rotterdam, Wikimedia Commons//CC BY-SA 3.0

Bandai released the Tamagotchi in Japan in November 1996. The tiny plastic keychain egg was equipped with a monochrome LCD screen that contained a “digital pet,” which hatched from an egg and grew quickly from there—one day for a Tamagotchi was equivalent to one year for a human. Their owners used three buttons to feed, discipline, play with, give medicine to, and clean up after their digital pet. It would make its demands known at all hours of the day through bloops and bleeps, and owners would have to feed it or bathe it or entertain it.

Owners that successfully raised their Tamagotchi to adulthood would get one of seven characters, depending on how they'd raised it; owners that were less attentive faced a sadder scenario. “Leave one unattended for a few hours and you'll return to find that it has pooped on the floor or, worse, died,” Wired wrote. The digital pets would eventually die of old age at around the 28-day mark, and owners could start fresh with a new Tamagotchi.

4. Tamagotchis were an immediate hit.

The toys were a huge success—4 million units were reportedly sold in Japan during their first four months on shelves. By 1997, Tamagotchis had made their way to the United States. They sold for $17.99, or around $29 in today's dollars. One (adult) reviewer noted that while he was "drawn in by [the Tamagotchi's] cleverness," after several days with the toy, "the thrill faded quickly. I'm betting the Tamagotchi will be the Pet Rock of the 1990s—overwhelmingly popular for a few months, and then abandoned in the fickle rush to some even cuter toy."

The toy was, in fact, overwhelmingly popular: By June 1997, 10 million of the toys had been shipped around the world. And according to a 2017 NME article, a whopping 82 million Tamagotchi had been sold since their release into the market in 1997.

5. Aki Maita and Akihiro Yokoi won an award for inventing the Tamagotchi.

In 1997, the duo won an Ig Nobel Prize in economics, a satiric prize that’s nonetheless presented by Nobel laureates at Harvard, for "diverting millions of person-hours of work into the husbandry of virtual pets" by creating the Tamagotchi.

6. Tamagotchis weren't popular with teachers.

Some who grew up with Tamagotchi remember sneaking the toys into school in their book bags. The toys were eventually banned in some schools because they were too distracting and, in some cases, upsetting for students. In a 1997 Baltimore Sun article titled “The Tamagotchi Generation,” Andrew Ratner wrote that the principal at his son’s elementary school sent out a memo forbidding the toys “because some pupils got so despondent after their Tamagotchis died that they needed consoling, even care from the school nurse.”

7. One pet cemetery served as a burial ground for expired Tamagotchi.

Terry Squires set aside a small portion of his pet cemetery in southern England for dead Tamagotchi. He told CNN in 1998 that he had performed burials for Tamagotchi owners from Germany, Switzerland, France, the United States, and Canada, all of whom ostensibly shipped their dead by postal mail. CNN noted that "After the Tamagotchis are placed in their coffins, they are buried as mourners look on, their final resting places topped with flowers."

8. There were many copycat Tamagotchi.

The success of the Tamagotchi resulted in both spin-offs and copycat toys, leading PC Mag to dub the late ’90s “The Golden Age of Virtual Pets.” There was the Digimon, a Tamagotchi spin-off by Bandai that featured monsters and was marketed to boys. (There were also Tamagotchi video games.) And in 1997, Tiger Electronics launched Giga Pets, which featured real animals (and, later, dinosaurs and fictional pets from TV shows). According to PC Mag, Giga Pets were very popular in the United States but “never held the same mystique as the original Tamagotchi units.” Toymaker Playmates's Nano Pets were also a huge success, though PC Mag noted they were “some of the least satisfying to take care of."

9. Rare Tamagotchis can be worth a lot of money.

According to Business Insider, most vintage Tamagotchis won't fetch big bucks on the secondary market. (On eBay, most are priced at around $50.) The exception are rare editions like “Yasashii Blue” and “Tamagotchi Ocean,” which go for $300 to $450 on eBay. As Complex notes, "There were over 40 versions (lines) of Tamagotchi released, and each line featured a variety of colors and variations ... yours would have to be one of the rarest models to be worth the effort of resale."

10. A new generation of Tamagotchis were released in 2017 for the toy's 20th anniversary.

The 2017 re-release of the Tamagotchi in its packaging.
Bandai came to the aid of nostalgic '90s kids when it re-released a version of the original Tamagotchis for the toy's 20th anniversary.
Chesnot/Getty Images

In November 2017, Bandai released a 20th anniversary Tamagotchi that, according to a press release [PDF], was "a first-of-its-kind-anywhere exact replica of the original Tamagotchi handheld digital pet launched ... in 1996." However, as The Verge reported, the toys weren't an exact replica: "They're about half the size, the LCD display is square rather than rectangle, and those helpful icons on the top and bottom of the screen seem to be gone now." In 2019, new Tamagotchis were released; they were larger than the originals, featured full-color displays, and retailed for $60.

11. The original Tamagotchi’s sound has been immortalized in a virtual museum.

The Museum of Endangered Sounds is a website that seeks to immortalize the digital sounds that become extinct as we hurtle through the evolution of technology. “The crackle of a dial-up modem. The metallic clack of a 3.5-inch floppy slotting into a Macintosh disk drive. The squeal of the newborn Tamagotchi. They are vintage sounds that no oldies station is ever going to touch,” The Washington Post wrote in a 2012 profile of the museum. So, yes, the sound of that little Tamagotchi is forever preserved, should it someday, very sadly, cease to exist completely.