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.

Manly Places

On April 6, 2017 · 7 Comments

Where does the highest ratio of men live? An unknown visitor to Twelve Mile Circle posed that question in a recent search query. I didn’t learn why s/he wanted to know because I didn’t have a means to contact said person to ask. Nonetheless it seemed like an interesting query and I’d never considered it before. Maybe I should take a closer look.

I only examined the United States because I could find the data easily, and I’m too lazy to look for more. Perhaps I’ll search more broadly some other day. For now however, let’s stick to the U.S. where women outnumbered men by about 5.2 million during the 2010 Census. There were 0.97 men to every woman for a bunch of different reasons. For instance, men did stupid things and managed to kill themselves accidentally at greater rates than women. Sometimes I wonder how I survived my teen years, as an example. They also lived fewer years on average, just as a matter of physiology.

The national ratio shouldn’t surprise anyone. However, a few places actually had more men than women, sometimes a lot more. I found a number of sources that I could consult including the Overflow Data website (with 2014 Census estimates). The results took me to some unexpected places.

Prison Counties

Eden Fall Fest
Eden Fall Fest. Photo by mirsasha on Flickr (cc)

The top counties, the ones with the highest ratio of men, seemed rather counterintuitive to me. Why, for example did Concho County, Texas have 2.32 times more men than women? It didn’t seem any more or less of a testosterone magnet than other counties nearby. Then I noticed a comment on the Overflow Data website I mentioned earlier. Concho didn’t have a lot of residents so an anomaly could skew the ratio without a lot of effort.

That’s where the Eden Detention Center — named for the largest town in Concho — came into consideration (map). It housed 1,400 men in a low security prison facility run by the Corrections Corporation of America on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Half of the men counted in the Concho County census were serving time behind bars, incarcerated. Take those guys out of consideration and the ratio of men to women in Concho practically converged. Also, was I the only person who thought that Eden might be a terribly misleading name for a prison?

The same situation existed in Crowley County, Colorado, with 2.31 men for every woman. Crowley held the title for the highest ratio of men during the 2010 Census although it fell to second place with the 2014 estimate. It also contained a Corrections Corporation of America facility, this one housing medium security prisoners through a contract with the state of Colorado. The Crowley County Correctional Facility made room for about 1,800 prisoners.

Greensville County had the highest ratio of men to women in my home state of Virginia, at 1.58. Once again, a prison bore responsibility. The Greensville Correctional Center was run by the Virginia Department of Corrections. This maximum security prison also housed the state’s Death Row.


Fishing Boats in the Harbor
Fishing Boats in the Harbor. Photo by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr (cc)

Alaska seemed the obvious choice to me, where more men would live than women. It didn’t disappoint either. The Aleutians East Borough and Aleutians West Census Area came in right behind Concho and Crowley. Aleutians East registered 2.24 men to women and Aleutians West hit 2.01. The economy of the Aleutians depended on fishing in some of the most rugged waters of the world, the Bering Sea. One of its biggest towns, Sand Point, had a thousand residents and a harbor that held 150 boats (map). That implied a lot of manly men heading out to sea every day.

The Aleutians attracted burly characters like those on Deadliest Catch; adventurous men attracted to the mystique of the Last Frontier. One woman described the situation vividly, saying "I once spent the better part of a year working in a fishing village in the Aleutian Islands, and the men of the Alaskan bush country were as surly as werewolves." Long ago it became cliché to describe Alaska’s overabundance of men with a simple aphorism: The odds are good but the goods are odd.

A funny thing began to happen in recent years, however. The ratio started to normalize. Sure, Alaska still contained a higher ratio of men to women than any other state in the nation although the imbalance fell to 1.08 in the latest Census. A crazy ratio still existed in the Aleutian Islands although the next borough on the list barely cracked the Top 50. The State of Alaska examined the situation and issued a report. It noted that an even split existed in Sitka, and men barely outnumbered women in Skagway, Haines, Anchorage and Juneau. Those were major population centers. This foreshadowed continuing convergence of the ratio.

Boomtown Counties

Oil Rig
Oil Rig. Photo by Lindsey G on Flickr (cc)

I thought boomtowns might score high too, and they did, although not as high as I expected. I figured Williams County, North Dakota might serve as a solid proxy. That’s the location of Williston (map), at the epicenter of oil extraction in the Bakken formation. The population of Williams County increased by more than 50% between the 2010 Census and the 2015 estimate. Those dirty, difficult oilfield jobs attracted lots of men. They came for high wages under dangerous situations and brutal winters. It also created an oddly skewed economy where the median annual income for men hit $50 thousand and where women made only half as much.

Even so, there were "only" 1.19 men to women. That surprised me.

Highest Religious Affiliation

On December 18, 2012 · 4 Comments

I’ve been spending a little time on the Religion Census 2010 website. It includes a wealth of maps and numerical tables which I’m sure to draw upon for future articles. A few data extremes came to the forefront of my mind immediately as I leafed through some of the reports.

First, this shouldn’t be confused with the 2010 Decennial Census conducted by the U.S. government’s Census Bureau, although it can be a nice companion to those data. The Religion Census taps a different source: "Each participating religious body supplies the number of churches, full members, adherents, and attendees for each county." This can lead to some interesting geographic anomalies which the website freely acknowledges, "It is possible for the number of adherents to exceed the county population. This may occur when congregations in one county draw large numbers of adherents from neighboring counties."

Duly warned, I turned to one of the Religion Census 2010 reports on "Counties Where Each Religious Body Has the Highest Proportion of Adherents in the Population," which they used interchangeably with the term "largest population penetration."

Southern Baptist Convention

No location comes close to beating King County, Texas for its completely monolithic religious affiliation. The number of people reportedly affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention in the county equated to 343.7% of the population. Let’s bear in mind that King has one of the smallest populations in the nation, a condition that did not go unnoticed by 12MC previously in Not Quite Obscure Enough. It doesn’t take much to skew the numbers.

Only 286 people lived in King in 2010, making the Southern Baptist Convention population less than a thousand. I found evidence of one and possibly two congregations within the county. The figure seemed plausible assuming they drew from neighboring counties and perhaps hadn’t weeded their list of members and adherents in awhile. I think the larger point would be that anyone traveling to the county seat in Guthrie or stopping at the Four Sixes Ranch would stand a very high chance of interacting with someone affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Two interesting and unrelated facts I encountered about King County while trying to learn more:

  • It’s alleged to be "the most anti-Obama county in the U.S. based on the 2012 election (includes footage from within the local Baptist church!)
  • One of its four settlements is called Grow. That may be the most wildly optimistic name in existence because the village remains stuck at around 70 residents after a hundred years.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

View Larger Map

It’s easier to point towards a source for Madison County, Idaho’s high percentage of LDS adherents, which equates to 100.8% of its county population. First, Madison was settled originally by Mormons as they migrated west in the Nineteenth Century. One would expect a high percentage of LDS adherents due to historical circumstances. Second, Brigham Young University–Idaho (formerly Ricks College) is located in the county seat of Rexburg. The LDS church owns BYU-Idaho which had 16,773 students at the beginning of the 2012/2013 school year.

Madison County includes a healthy population of nearly forty-thousand residents, many of them LDS affiliated. Swell the church rolls with non-resident LDS students who attend services locally during the school year and it’s logical to see how the Mormon population could exceed one-hundred percent. I’m surprised it’s not higher.

Catholic Church

View Larger Map

This one perplexed me a little. I figured the highest penetration might be found somewhere in the southwestern United States with a large Hispanic population. I bet I could find the answer in "History of Rolette County, North Dakota: And Yarns of the Pioneers" which, unfortunately, was published too recently to be seen in the public domain. It will remain a mystery unless some wise 12MC reader can track down an answer.

I found several congregations and even a convent although I wondered if those would be enough to push a Religion Census total to 100.0% of the U.S. population census total for the county. The combined total of Catholic affiliations in Rolette would have to hit 13,937. That seemed a bit high to me although I don’t have anything to support or dispel it.

A couple of other unrelated facts about Rolette County came to light:

  • It has a tiny practical exclave which I’ve highlighted on the map, above. One could probably wade across the pond so I’m not sure whether this passes the threshold of a bona fide geo-oddity.
  • The U.S. side of the International Peace Garden can also be found within the county. Don’t lose your identification while you’re at the garden, though! You’d be trapped in a weird topiary purgatory for the remainder of your life if I interpreted the website correctly. A pickpocket could cause serious mischief here.

Amish Groups, undifferentiated

SOURCE: Ted Ingraham on Flicker via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

I’m going to take writers prerogative and jump down the line several positions to the "undifferentiated Amish Groups" due to their uniqueness. Reflexively one associates Amish with Pennsylvania, particularly the Lancaster area, and yet it demonstrated its greatest penetration in Holmes County, Ohio. Adherents to undifferentiated Amish Groups equaled 41.7% of the Holmes County population of more than forty thousand. That’s a lot!

Holmes county spotlights its Amish residents as a means to attract visitors. It also offers advice to those unfamiliar with Amish practices: "Buggies travel at 4-5 miles an hour, so when you are traveling at 40 or 50 miles an hour, you can come up to a buggy almost before you know it. Slow down, be careful at the top of hills (they say you can tell a Holmes County driver because he slows down at the top of the hill), and take care not to frighten the horses."

There are a number of other religious bodies with high concentrations of membership that you should feel free to explore on your own.

  • Non-denominational Christian Churches: Kiowa County, Colorado (map); 78.7% penetration
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: Nelson County, North Dakota (map); 74.8% penetration
  • Orthodox Church in America: Lake and Peninsula Borough, Alaska (map); 70.1% penetration
  • American Baptist Churches in the USA: Arthur County, Nebraska (map); 68.3% penetration
  • Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ: Daniels County, Montana (map); 66.8% penetration
  • Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod: Traverse County, Minnesota (map); 53.5% penetration
  • United Methodist Church: McLennan County, Texas (map); 44.2% penetration
  • Episcopal Church: Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area, Alaska (map); 38.4% penetration

I wish I had time to examine the Episcopal connection to Yukon-Koyukuk, in particular.

Many of these counties have small populations which make it easier for religious groups to register significant population impacts. It’s not relegated to rural areas, either. Virginia — with it’s odd system of independent cities considered county-equivalents — figured prominently in several religious groups. One area, the City of Fairfax, in a highly diverse area of Northern Virginia recorded the greatest population penetration for four distinct groups.

  • Coptic Orthodox Church: 13.3% penetration
  • Conservative Judaism: 7.4% penetration
  • International Churches of Christ: 1.6% penetration
  • Metropolitan Community Churches, Universal Fellowship of: 0.6% penetration

With a city population of only 22,565, that would mean that about 135 adherents from a single congregation of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches within its tiny boundaries (map) was enough to skew the percentage.

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