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.

North AND South

On December 4, 2012 · 6 Comments

It seemed like a typographical error, a town named North. That shouldn’t be an issue ordinarily although it looks very strange when the town falls within the boundaries of South Carolina, making it North, South Carolina. I swear I didn’t know about this video before I found North on a map completely by accident. Give it a watch. The geography portion lasts until around the fourth minute and it’s pretty entertaining. I laughed more than a few times.

The part about North being south of the South Carolina capital and southeast of Due West is priceless.

View Larger Map
Indeed, North is south of the South Carolina capital (Columbia) and southeast of Due West

Clearly the Town of North isn’t north. In fact, just eyeballing it, North appears to be very near the center of the state. Nonetheless the town seems to appreciate its unusual name and even uses the motto, "All points lead to North, South Carolina." So what is going on here? Certainly it’s not about the geography of the location. I’m going to imagine that most readers have already figured out a plausible theory. The obvious explanation would be that the town was named for someone with the surname North. That is indeed the case. As noted in the town history,

The Town of North was founded ~ as many small towns in South Carolina ~ as a result of the railroad. John F. North, George W. Pou, and Sampson A. Livingston donated 100 acres to create a rail depot and town on the South Bound Railroad Company’s new rail line. Mr. North was influential in bringing the railroad to the area, so the town is named after him ~ North, South Carolina.

That same webpage includes a photograph of a historical marker, also noting that John F. North was a Confederate veteran. That must have been an interesting situation. I’d imagine someone named North fighting for the South might have found himself on the receiving end of at least a little teasing or hazing. The only thing worse, I suppose, might have been someone named Yankee or Lincoln.

View North, South Carolina in a larger map

The town shape also fascinates me for the obvious reason. North is primarily a circle with a diameter of exactly one mile. That is a shape found commonly a little farther to the south in the adjacent state of Georgia. I’m intrigued to uncover at least this one instance in South Carolina. I’ll have to see if I can figure out whether this is common to the region or whether it’s a coincidence. Two knobs also become visible. Generally this happens later in the evolution of a town as it annexes adjacent parcels. The northern knob — which I suppose one could call northernmost North — seems to include a used car dealership. The eastern knob incorporates a few extra houses.

Notice the large runway just outside of town. That’s the Air Force’s "North Auxiliary Airfield." with a 12,000 foot runway. Compare that to the diameter of the town! It’s operated by the 628th Civil Engineer Squadron in support of "C-17 Globemaster III aircrew training and proficiency training." C-17’s are very large airplanes used for military transport. The airfield isn’t one of the better-known facilities though. As the website notes, "the only permanently assigned personnel at North Auxiliary Airfield are roughly one dozen firefighters and one civilian grounds keeper."

That’s a lot more than I expected after spotting an oddly-named town along some random point on a map.

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