Directional Surname Frequency

On April 20, 2017 · 9 Comments

I spotted South Street in Manly, Iowa as I wrote Even More Manly Places. Ordinarily that wouldn’t generate much attention. For some reason I found it entertaining to see a South with an east and a west. One could go to East South or West South, although apparently nowhere southeast or southwest. Ditto for North Street, and a similar situation for East Street. Oddly, Manly didn’t seem to have a West Street. I’ve run into similar situations like this in plenty of other places and I always smile. I don’t know why I fixated on it more than usual this time.

I’m sure the street names all came from their geographic alignment throughout town. However, each of those could be surnames too, theoretically although not likely. I went completely down a tangent and started thinking about that possibility anyway, way too much.


Fortunately the United States Census Bureau published a file that offered hours, well minutes, of entertainment. Doesn’t everybody love leafing through a table of Frequently Occurring Surnames from the 2010 Census? Then I checked the etymology of directional surnames. They all seemed to relate to ancestors who lived in a particular direction away from a larger town or region. People named West lived to the west. You get the picture.

Frequency variations definitely existed.

  • West seemed particularly popular. It ranked as the 125th most frequent surname in the U.S., with nearly two hundred thousand instances. Variations trailed from there. Westerman ranked 6,620, Westman ranked 11,257 and Western ranked 11,395.
  • Next in popularity, and much farther down the list came North. It ranked 1,766th, with about twenty thousand people. Northern ranked 8,981.
  • East followed in 2,843rd place with about twelve thousand people. However the variation Eastman actually scored higher, ranking 2,162. Easterly trailed with a rank of 12,593
  • South fell at the back of the pack at 3,231, and eleven thousand people. Southern ranked 4,587 and Southward ranked at 23,120. Southward presented a bit of an anomaly. Every other directional surname aligned almost exactly with people who identified as white. By contrast, about a third of the people named Southward identified as African-American.

Then I hoped to find a place for each direction, named for an actual person with that surname rather than its geographic position. I already discussed the wonderful North, South Carolina in North AND South so I set north aside. I didn’t find a South anywhere, although that didn’t surprise me given the frequency of the surname. That left West and East.

More West

Czech Stop, West, TX
Czech Stop, West, TX. Photo by Angie Six on Flickr (cc)

I created a little game around the West surname a few years ago. That reflected its overall popularity. This time I searched for an actual West and I found it in Texas. The name could be confusing. West, Texas (the city) was not the same at West Texas (the region). In fact West, along Interstate 35 between Dallas/Ft. Worth and Waco, probably fell a little bit to the east of the West Texas region by most interpretations. Everyone seemed to have a different definition of West Texas. That didn’t help.

According to the City of West,

The Katy Railroad was laid between Hillsboro and Waco in the fall of 1881. The path of the railroad cut through land owned by Thomas West. Czech immigrants came to the area purchasing the rich lands to farm and start a fresh life in the new world. They also opened businesses sharing their European culture. By the 1890’s the Czech businesses flourished in West.

That legacy of Czech immigration still existed in West. Businesses such as the Czech Stop and Little Czech Bakery (map) combined both cultures and offered kolaches and barbecue. Kolaches, I learned, were a type of fruit pastry brought to the area by those immigrants. Residents also emphasized their cultural heritage each Labor Day with a Czech polka festival called Westfest.


Easton Neston east side 21 July 1985
Easton Neston east side on Wikimedia Commons (cc)

I couldn’t find a town of East, however I remembered a town on Maryland’s eastern shore called Easton. Unfortunately the name derived from its position east of St. Michaels. Oh well.

Other Eastons existed. Maybe that offered hope. I pulled a few threads on the history of Easton, Pennsylvania (map) and I found an intriguing if convoluted story. Thomas Penn, son of William Penn who founded Pennsylvania, married Juliana Fermor in 1751. The next year a growing town in Pennsylvania needed a name so Penn suggested Easton. Fermor grew up on an estate owned by her father, the 1st Earl of Pomfret, called Easton Neston in Northampton, England (map). The newly established town in Pennsylvania became Easton, in the newly established county of Northampton. That worked out nicely. Problem solved.

However it created another mystery in my mind. Easton Neston seemed to be a rather unusual name for an estate. Actually, it simply borrowed the name from a local church parish, which in turn borrowed the name from a town that existed there for more than a millennium. The town faded away over time although the parish remained, as did the estate. The only reference to its etymology seemed unreliable although I’ll still provide it: "Easton Neston in Northamptonshire gets its name from Old English Eadstanestun ‘settlement of Eadstan’, a personal name composed of the elements ead ‘prosperity’, ‘riches’ + stan ‘stone’."

It sounded good enough to me.

On April 20, 2017 · 9 Comments

9 Responses to “Directional Surname Frequency”

  1. KC Jeff says:

    Here in the Kansas City metro we have Easton, KS and Weston, MO. Thus Weston is easterly and Easton is westerly.

  2. Joe says:

    The St. Louis area has a couple of odd direction combinations, although none are the result of directional surnames…

    Driving Ballas Rd from South to North would take you on the following road names in order:
    South Ballas Rd
    North Ballas Rd
    South New Ballas Rd
    North New Ballas Rd

    Florissant Rd has a similar sequence, also going from South to North:
    Florissant Rd
    South Florissant Rd
    North Florissant Rd
    South New Florissant Rd
    North New Florissant Rd

    Thus, where it crosses I-270, a driver can choose to either go north on South New Florissant Rd or can choose to go south on North Florissant Rd.

    While all of the above are one stretch of road, it should not be confused with the similarly named West Florissant Ave. Of course, West Florissant Ave is to the east, not west, of Florissant Rd.

  3. Rhodent says:

    In Raleigh, North Street, East Street, South Street, and West Street indicate the original boundaries of the city as it was laid out in 1792. North and South obviously run east-west (and thus there is an E. North St., W. North St., E. South St., and W. South Street), and East and West run north-south (creating N. East St., S. East St., N. West St., and S. West St.).

    But for true amusement check out Southport, North Carolina. West Street (there’s no North, South, or East Street) runs east-west, which means that there is a W. West St., and even more absurdly, an E. West St.

  4. Fritz Keppler says:

    In New Orleans/Orleans Parish the only directional prefix is North and South (for those streets which don’t change their name completely after crossing the divisional Canal Street). Yet these streets follow the curve of the Mississippi River rather than the compass, and are for the greater part of their alignment more in an east/west direction. Even at Canal Street they run in a generally northeast/southwest direction.
    In Jefferson Parish just to the west of the city, some of the east/west aligned streets bear the names of major streets in the city, with the prefix West. This naming convention dates only from the 1960’s, however.

  5. David J says:

    Part of the relative popularity of the surname West (and related names) may come from the fact, that this direction is also called west in German and Dutch. So some immigrants from those countries could have had names related to this direction. None of the other directions are the same in translation as far as I know.

  6. Tre Baker says:

    I’m still embarrassed about how long it took me to figure out that the East Parkway in Memphis runs north/south. I drove up and down it one afternoon, wondering why I wasn’t getting any closer to my destination in east Memphis.

    Never mind that it intersects with Southern Avenue, an east/west street.

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