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.


Frequency

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


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.

King of Prussia

On November 10, 2016 · 1 Comments

I’ve been fixated on the origins of unusual town names the last few days. First I unraveled the mystery of Snowflake; now I took aim at King of Prussia. A bunch of questions came to mind. Why would someone name a place King of Prussia? Did it refer to a specific king? Why not just name it after the guy instead of referring to him so generally?

The Town


US Route 422
US Route 422. Photo by Montgomery County Planning Commission on Flickr (cc)

I found King of Prussia in Pennsylvania, in an exurb of Philadelphia (map). The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia described a dynamic place,

Twenty miles northwest of downtown Philadelphia, where the Pennsylvania Turnpike converges with the Schuylkill Expressway, a sleepy rural town clustered around a colonial-era tavern expanded massively in the twentieth century to become the region’s largest employment hub outside of Center City Philadelphia.

That could have described perhaps a thousand other places in the United States too, although only one had the strange name. King of Prussia began as an inconsequential village only to be engulfed by the sprawl of a larger city, then transformed into an economic power in its own right. That still didn’t explain its name.


The King


Friedrich Zweite Alt
Friedrich Zweite on Wikimedia Commons. In the public domain.

It didn’t take long to track down the King of Prussia in question. It did refer to a specific Prussian king, Frederick II, often called Frederick the Great. Nobody seemed to know why he got the nod in Pennsylvania and various theories floated about the Intertubes. The area went by Reeseville when the original Quaker settlers moved there in the early 18th Century. The name flipped to King of Prussia sometime during or right after the Revolutionary War. Many Americans thought highly of Frederick II because he supported the Revolution from its earliest days. Also, it may have been a gesture of thanks to General von Steuben of Prussia who trained the Continental Army at nearby Valley Forge. Either way, the name probably arose from patriotic sentiments of local residents as the United States fought for and gained its independence.


The Inn



However, the town did not really get its name from the Frederick the Great. Not directly, anyway. In an odd twist, the name actually came from a local establishment, the King of Prussia Inn.

The original Inn was constructed as a cottage in 1719… The cottage was converted to an inn in 1769 and was important in colonial times as it was approximately a day’s travel by horse from Philadelphia… General George Washington first visited the tavern on Thanksgiving Day in 1777 while the Continental Army was encamped at Whitemarsh…

The Inn (map) remained a local fixture and lent its name to the surrounding area, which also came to be known as King of Prussia. Despite its historical significance, the King of Prussia Inn sat abandoned for much of the last half of the 20th Century, trapped on a traffic island on US Highway 202. The state of Pennsylvania moved it to its present location in 2000. After an extensive restoration, it became the home of the King of Prussia Chamber of Commerce.


The Mall


A cathedral to Consumerism aka King of Prussia Mall
A cathedral to Consumerism aka King of Prussia Mall.
Photo by Thomas Mathie on Flickr (cc)

Most people today, if they knew anything about King of Prussia, probably associated it with its oversized mall. This behemoth housed more than 450 stores in a footprint stretching nearly 3 million square feet. That put it in second place in the United States behind only the Mall of America in Minnesota. From humble inn, to village, to suburb and mega-mall, King of Prussia underwent crazy changes during its history.


The Prince


The View from Craig
The View from Craig. Photo by Joseph on Flickr (cc)

I didn’t discover any other "King of [wherever]" locations in the United States. However I did find a prince, the Prince of Wales in Alaska. Sure, I expected Prince of Wales to appear in the Commonwealth of Nations — and indeed the name appeared all over — although I didn’t expect it in the U.S. Nonetheless, Alaska offered the Prince of Wales–Hyder Census Area, which also included Prince of Wales Island. The island’s largest settlement at Craig (map) included 1,200 residents.

A king ranked above a prince, I supposed.

Counting West Virginia, Day 2 (Progress)

On October 20, 2016 · 2 Comments

The rain that began the previous afternoon continued all night. It lifted, however, just as we began the first full day of our adventure. I probably would have headed to Pittsburgh’s two famous funiculars, the Duquesne Incline and the Monongahela Incline had I been alone. However I had my older son with me so I made a concession. He loved zoos and I wanted him to enjoy the trip too.

Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium


Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium

I can take-or-leave zoos although I admitted that the one in Pittsburgh was better than many we’ve seen. We arrived just as the gates opened at 9:00 am, the very first people admitted for the day. We toured the grounds mostly by ourselves that first hour. Many of the animals got their first meal right around opening so we managed to see most of them awake and active. The zoo also featured an aquarium, one of the few in the nation including both attractions in the same park. Naturally we saw every single exhibit in excruciating detail. I never complained as I kept up my best Good Dad behavior. I knew I’d bore him later with some of my geo-geek sites. We finally ran out of animals after about four hours.

My son felt happy to add another zoo map to his growing collection.


Onward to the Panhandle



Now I could focus on the real meat of the adventure, heading towards West Virginia’s northern panhandle to capture some new counties. I’d planned a short, simple drive for the day since I knew the zoo visit would consume a big chunk of it. First we hit Brooke County as we entered West Virginia on US Route 22. Then the highway took a slight northern jog near downtown Weirton, just nicking Hancock County before crossing back into Brooke and shooting across the Ohio River into Jefferson County, Ohio. I snagged three new counties in about five minutes. My elapsed time in Hancock lasted less than thirty seconds. It still counted!

I’ve been thinking about reader Brad Keller’s comment on my recent Northern Panhandle of West Virginia article. He said he’d heard that Weirton (map) might be the "the only city in the US that touched both the Eastern and Western border of their state." Reader January First-of-May offered Juneau, Alaska as another possibility, an option that I also considered. The Cairo, Illinois suggestion, however, hadn’t come to my mind and I thought it might be legitimate. I also thought of Laughlin, Nevada (map) bordering on California and Arizona. If I wanted to cheat I might also suggest the city of Washington in the District of Columbia. The boundaries were made coterminous in 1871, so by definition Washington touched all of the District’s borders.


Wheeling Our Car Down to Wheeling


Wheeling West Virginia Suspension Bridge
Wheeling Suspension Bridge
via Google Street View, October 2015

We remained on the Ohio side of the river on Route 7 — part of the Ohio River Scenic Byway — until to just outside of Wheeling. We crossed back into West Virginia, choosing to drive over the historic Wheeling Suspension Bridge (map) rather than using the standard Interstate Highway crossing. It was the largest suspension bridge in the world when constructed in 1849. Obviously the original designers didn’t envision vehicles heavier than horse-drawn wagons when they built it. That meant tight traffic controls in modern times: no trucks, buses or trailers. Cars needed to maintain 50 foot intervals. Traffic lights at either end restricted the number of cars on each pass. We crossed without any trouble in our little sedan.


Independence


West Virginia Independence Hall

The day went so well that we had time stop at West Virginia Independence Hall (map), a place that I mentioned previously. This time I could use one of my own photos in the article. Visitors guided themselves through the building although the docent offered a suggestion: start in the basement, take the elevator to the third floor and work back down to the first. That sounded fine so we started in the basement with an introductory video recounting how West Virginia became a state in 1863. I knew the story already so I spent more time paying attention to the actors than the events portrayed. The video must have been filmed in the late 1970’s because the hairy, bearded men all looked like the Bee Gees circa Saturday Night Fever. The women all sported poofy manes of that same era. The production values reminded me of a vintage episode of Little House on the Prairie. What was it about again?

The rest of the tour unfolded much more routinely. The third floor recreated the original courtroom where leaders of the day discussed their break from Virginia. The second floor contained an exhibit of various Civil War battle flags, and the first floor held all of their permanent exhibits. The restoration faithfully replicated every detail. Despite its historical significance, the building was allowed to fall into total disrepair in the Twentieth Century. It became a decayed hulk by the 1960’s. The restoration took decades, finally completed only a few years ago.


Articles in the Counting West Virginia Series:

  1. Let’s Begin
  2. Progress
  3. The U
  4. Oddities

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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