Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Map of the Week-What's in a Surname?

The latest issue of National Geographic includes this interesting map showing the most common last names (according to phone directories) by state.

The map is color coded by origin of surname with the most common blues indicating the United Kingdom (England, Scotland and Wales.) By clicking the map above you can zoom to a more readable level of detail. Here is the north to northeast part of the country.

Way up in Maine there are some French (via Canada) names. New England has some Irish names, New York and New Jersey have Spanish and a touch of German in Pennsylvania. Out in the Upper Midwest the brown Scandinavian and orange Germanic names are much more common.

Now for a short critique: By only using the most common names, a level of diversity is missed. For example, Asian names appear almost exclusively in California and Hawaii. The lack of state boundaries makes some distinctions difficult although the map looks cleaner without them. The by state format also has the effect of pushing the New York metro area Hispanic names out into the central part of the state where they are probably less common. Finally, a cartogram would have been more appropriate for this presentation, especially given the need to fit an equal number of names into each state. This format required most of New England to be considered as one state. A cartogram would have helped solve that and some of the other problems.


Michael5000 said...

Kinda fun. Kinda cumbersome. What it shows best at a glance is population density. And it looks like they lowballed Texas pretty drastically on that count.

Dug said...

Yeah something weird happened over in Texas. I think they lost their Andersons and Williamses. As it is it looks smaller than Louisiana.

your brother said...

I thought that the Upper Peninsula would have Peterson as prominent because it was my impression driving through there that every business was Peterson-owned.