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.

Capitals Aligned

On October 2, 2012 · 11 Comments

A query landed on the Twelve Mile Circle from a search engine as they often do. Our anonymous visitor was curious about "capital cities interstate." It took me a little while to figure out what he really wanted to know. I believe he was curious to discover the small number of U.S. state capital cities that are not served by Interstate Highways, a topic covered previously. That’s my guess and that’s where the search engine pointed him so hopefully all went well.

That got me thinking about the query differently. What if I took it literally? Let’s imagine a scenario where someone wished to visit state capitals on a long-distance trip. I don’t know, maybe our traveler wanted to create a photo collection of state capitol buildings or something — don’t be judgmental, people do that! — and for some reason he wanted to remain on a single Interstate Highway the whole time between points. Which Interstate Highway connects the most state capitals?

I didn’t conduct an exhaustive examination so I can’t guarantee that these are the absolute best results. I think they’re pretty good though.

View Larger Map

Interstate 80 seems to be the most optimal example to me. Five state capitals can be found along its length: Des Moines, IA; Lincoln, NE; Cheyenne, WY; Salt Lake City, UT; and Sacramento, CA. This can be accomplished with 27 hours of driving over 1,724 miles (2,774 kilometres). I’ll add a little caveat at this point. The highways I examined may not always plow directly through each city. Sometimes they provided a bypass in close proximity while skirting the city center. Thus, whether a highway actually serves a city depends upon one’s tolerance to proximity. The Interstate 80 example seemed to be the cleanest one with minimal bypassing based upon my quick eyeballing.

View Larger Map

I found another example in the crowded northeast corridor along Interstate 95. I wasn’t too surprised. States tend to be smaller with capitals located near the Atlantic coast, an artifact of colonial times when ships were a primary means of transportation. Five state capitals aligned again: Augusta, ME; Boston, MA; Providence, RI; Trenton, NJ; and Richmond, VA. Boston might be the ringer here. I-95 bypasses the city core by several miles (map). I can sense an opportunity for someone to claim that I-95 doesn’t really run through Boston. Perhaps one could also add the national capital, Washington, DC to this list. I know, it’s a slippery slope. All of these capitals could be claimed during a 747 mile (1,200 km) trek. Under the absolutely best conditions it would require 14 hours of pure driving hell. This is not a journey for the timid.

View Larger Map

I’m going to call Interstate 35 a four-plus example. There are definitely four state capitals: St. Paul, MN; Des Moines, IA; Oklahoma City, OK; and Austin, TX. The "plus" pertains to Topeka, KS. Topeka isn’t located on I-35, however, it’s found on a spur of that highway with the designation I-335. I might let that one slide except that it’s a fifty mile (80 km.) spur. It doesn’t have sufficient proximity, in my opinion, for me to count Topeka as being located along I-35.

There were three other Interstate Highways that I found with four capital cities along their routes.

  • Interstate 20: Columbia, SC; Atlanta, GA; Montgomery, AL and Jackson, MS
  • Interstate 40: Raleigh, NC; Nashville, TN; Little Rock, AR and Oklahoma City, OK
  • Interstate 70: Columbus, OH; Indianapolis, IN; Topeka, KS; and Denver, CO

I-20 seems to offer a particularly good return on investment. The total driving distance would be a relatively compact 624 miles (1,000 km) along a nice route without the nail-biting traffic found in the northeast. I discovered a US Highway that also fit the bill. US Route 50 connects Annapolis, MD; Jefferson City, MO; Carson City, NV and Sacramento, CA.

Looking at pairs, which two are the closest together?

  • Interstate 95: Boston, MA to Providence, RI (50 mi/80 km)
  • Interstate 93: Boston, MA to Concord, NH (68 miles/110 km)
  • Interstate 89: Concord, NH to Montpelier, VT (118 miles/190 km)

Another non-interstate, US Route 13, also does remarkably well with Dover, DE to Trenton, NJ (113 mi/182 km)

And the most frustrating? Denver, CO and Harrisburg, PA are both on Interstate 76. Hartford, CT and Boise, ID are both on Interstate 84. However, one cannot drive contiguously using the same highway between the pairs. The segments, despite common numbering, are separated by thousands of miles.

This was a fun albeit completely unproductive way to spend an entire evening.

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