Baby Names – Regional trends

In my last post I discussed recent trends in baby names, focusing on why some have come into or gone out of fashion. Today I want to look at which names are regional, and speculate why that is. These tables might be useful for authors choosing names for their characters. I selected several boys’ and girls’ names that show marked regional preferences. See the table:

Name Sex Region States where most popular
Isaac M Mormon UT, NV, AZ
Clyde M Appalachia WV, TN, NC, KY
Anthony M Italian NY, NJ, RI
Lars M Scandinavian WA, MN, CA
Horace M South GA, AL, SC
Clifton M Deep South MS, NC, VA, LA
Noel M Big population states TX, CA, NY

The ethnic names are pretty easy to analyze for regional preferences. Similarly, Old Testament names are very popular among Mormons both for boys and girls. The other names show the regional preferences in the chart, but I’m not sure why. Clifton is an English name. It’s not very popular these days, but historically, it’s been a southern name for some reason. I remember the old song Wolverton Mountain and its fearsome character Clifton Clowers, which was set in Arkansas. I never thought of Horace as a southern name, but it clearly is one. Of course it’s the name of a Roman poet. The name Clyde is Scottish and that can probably explain why it’s popular in Appalachia where Scots-Irish settled heavily in early America, probably due to their mining experience. I have a pretty good idea why Noel is markedly more popular in the states with big populations. See notes of methodology below. The list of states in the table, by the way, are in the order of how popular the names are (or were, since the data covers from 1910 to 2017). Most of the regional preferences have moderated in recent decades, presumably due to travel being easier now and populations mix more.

Now for the girls.

Name Sex Region States where most popular
Gretchen F German/Scandinavian MN, IA, WI
Madonna F Upper Midwest IA, IN, SD
Aliyah F Arab? Spanish? NV, AZ, FL
Dolly F Appalachia WV,  KY, VA
Elaine/Elena F Elaine: Northern Half, Elena: SW Elaine: evenly distributed, Elena: NM, AZ, CA, TX
Annie F Deep South AL, MS, GA, SC, NC
Latoya F African-American DC, MS, LA

Gretchen and Latoya can pretty much be explained by ethnicity. I haven’t identified a reason for Madonna’s and Dolly’s regional trends. Aliyah is very popular among Arabs according to websites I visited, yet its preference is in largely Hispanic states. It must also be popular among Spanish speakers. Most surprising of all for me, however, was Annie. That name has a very pronounced popularity in the Deep South compared to the rest of the country, the most extreme regionality of any of the names I found, yet I was not aware it was a southern name. It was popular throughout all the South. Similarly Elaine was popular throughout the northern half rather evenly distributed, yet not at all in the South. Elena can perhaps be explained as a Spanish name, but I thought it was curious how these two near-identical names split the country on a north-south basis.

I tried to find non-ethnic names that showed regional preference, in some of the other areas, like the West, Florida, etc. My own name, Russ, does prefer the Northwest: WA, OR, CA; but it wasn’t as stark a difference as the names in the charts. Constance was strongly regional to New England (ME, RI, NH) up through the 1950s, but is rare now and evenly distributed.

A note on methodology. The data is from the U.S. Census, which releases baby names for every state every year. My data covers 1910 – 2017. The popularity numbers are based on percentage of babies with the name, not the count. Because the U.S. Census Bureau for privacy reasons only publishes the names which occurred five or more times in a year in each state I had to adjust the percentages. I was able to obtain the total number of babies (names not listed) born in each state each year and by comparing the totals of named babies to total babies I could determine accurate percentages for babies whose names appeared in all states. For less common names where some years they didn’t appear five times or more in some or all states, I have no data, or only data from populous states and those rankings are not accurate. That probably explains Noel. I found it surprising that in some states some years over half the babies born did not make the five minimum cutoff. Bear in mind, too, that the popularity varied over time and may not be accurate for the current day.

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