"Our Country!
In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right;
but right or wrong, our country!"

    --Commodore Stephen Decatur

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The United States of Jim

What's in a name?

While strolling the boardwalk (which, sadly, has since been obliterated by Hurricane Sandy) in Seaside Heights, New Jersey this past August, the Prolix Patriot was discussing an interesting question with his brother-in-law. Namely, what is the most popular given name in each state? Our theory was that in New Jersey, with such a strong Italian population, names like Joseph and Paul might be more popular. However, as the infographic above clearly shows, this is incorrect. In fact, like the rest of the Northeast--and indeed in the country overall--the most common name in New Jersey is John.

Across the Old South--with the exception of Florida--and into some of the Midwestern states, the most popular name is James. It turns out that the popular stereotype of backwoods good ol’ boys named Jim Bob is not without some basis in fact. Also, it may suggest that Jim Beam ought to be the true Southerner’s whiskey of choice, as a preference for Jack Daniels might implicate the drinker as some damn Yankee scalawag. At the very least this confirms the Prolix Patriot’s preference for the former.

Turning to the upper Midwest and the West Coast, the popularity of Michael as a first name is clustered in two regions which oddly, have very little in common from a cultural standpoint. The prevalence of Michael in Wisconsin and Minnesota makes some sense as the Archangel Michael is the patron saint of sailors and the Scandinavians are famous for their maritime heritage. It is less clear how this rationale would apply to the thoroughly land-locked states of Colorado and Nevada however.

Meanwhile, the popularity of Robert is centered in areas typically associated with rugged individualism and self-sufficiency such as the high deserts of the Southwest, the bucolic isolation of Idaho and Wyoming, and the granite mountains and dense forests of New Hampshire and Maine. Suffice it to say, if you’re in a fight, you probably want Bob to have your back. Finally, there is the outlier of the bunch. Although David is only the fifth most popular name nationally, it is the most popular name in Utah and North Dakota. These two states are ironically like the proverbial David against the Goliath of the rest of the country.

The Prolix Patriot does not present a similar map for female names because the result would be trivial. In every one of the 50 states, the most popular female name is either Mary or Maria. However, it is clear that there are regional trends in first names for men. Although in recent years there have been many fads with non-traditional names for both boys and girls, the names we see here are of timeless and enduring popularity so it will be interesting to see whether the map has changed at all several decades from now.

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