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.

Western Surname

On February 9, 2012 · 3 Comments

I have a small disconnect with the Twelve Mile Circle audience. I’m not much of a puzzle fan, and yet, my articles with challenges embedded within them often create the greatest amount of reader interest, page views and comments. I’m not beyond giving people what they want even though I profess to write 12MC primarily for myself, so I created a contest in the spirit of that sentiment. I’m not sure if it’s fiendishly clever, horribly difficult, overly simple or totally stupid. Enjoy this, or don’t enjoy this, or come back later in the week when I focus on an actual geo-oddity. Any of those is fine with me.

It’s map-based and the title of the article provides a clue. Provide the names of four people suggested by these distinct place names: Blackbutt Reserve; Ghana; Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and the block of S. San Pedro Street located between W. San Fernando and Post Sts., in San Jose, California. Another clue: each of them relates to a person with a surname that’s also a cardinal direction, West. You’ll need to figure out the names of those four individuals named West.

Don’t scroll any further if you want to try to figure it out on your own. I’ll begin to offer additional clues and walk you through the solutions as we proceed. All but maybe two or three of you probably don’t care anymore so feel free to blow directly past this line and keep reading if you like.

Blackbutt Reserve

View Larger Map

Let’s start with a simple example to show how the puzzle works. Blackbutt Reserve can be found north of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia. That’s not important. However, the map image I’ve provided does reveal the key. Notice a town called Adamstown. Blackbutt Reserve is WEST of Adamstown.

Adam West played Batman on the popular 1960’s television show of the same name.

Is everyone clear on the concept? The geographic place name provided as a clue will be (somewhat) west of the location that provides the person’s first name. Each of them will have West as their surname, and to make this easier they are all listed on Wikipedia’s West Surname page.


View Larger Map

This one should be easy now that you know how to solve the riddle. Ghana is west of what place? Right, the country of Togo. You already learned that every answer will be found on the Wikipedia page. Check the list and you’ll see that Togo West was the Secretary of the Army or the Secretary of Veterans Affairs during the Clinton administration.

This one may have been a bit unfair. I didn’t know much about Togo West either. I selected him solely because he shared a first name with a country.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

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It will be helpful to understand that Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is labeled on the Google map as Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park crosses international boundaries between South Africa and Botswana. The two components are South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park. Google chooses to use the South African name rather than the combined name.

This one should be solvable now. There aren’t very many places named on the map. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is west of… the administrative center of the Southern District of Botswana… population 40,000… wait for it… Kanye. You’ve got the hang of it now. Right, controversial rapper/singer Kanye West.

You don’t know how pleased I was to find a town named Kanye.

S. San Pedro Street between W. San Fernando and Post Sts., in San Jose, California

View Larger Map

Promise me you won’t hate me for this one. Several geek factors will need to click together simultaneously on all cylinders. I will absolutely buy you a beer when we meet in person if you’re able to solve this puzzle without cheating. You’ll also be my geeky hero.

This stretch of S. San Pedro Street runs along the western edge of the building pictured above at 55 S Market Street. It’s known as the Market Post Tower or the Gold Building. It also serves as the location of a major U.S. Internet exchange point, a place where Internet providers physically switch traffic between their networks. This particular building is one of two places in the western United States that comprises the Metropolitan Area Exchange, West. That means that much of the Internet traffic flowing to and through the western United States travels directly through this building. There’s a reasonable chance that any 12MC viewers reading this page from Asia passed packets through here.

Metropolitan Area Exchange, West is abbreviated MAE-West. Mae West (1893-1980) was also an actress and sex symbol from the 1930’s.

Feel free to use the West Surname page to create your own puzzling questions.

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