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The Most Distinctive Last Name In Illinois Is Probably Not What You Think

By Stephen Gossett in News on Oct 5, 2016 8:03PM

Andersonville Water Tower / Flickr / user TheeErin

Hispanics, Polish, Irish, Lithuanian, Czech, Chinese: the list of ethnicities and nationalities with deep roots in Chicago runs on and on. But if you blow that focus out larger, to the state level, you’ll find that the five most distinctive last names in Illinois—that is, those that occur most often compared to the nation as a whole—are all of Scandinavian or German descent.

The No. 1 most distinctive name in Illinois is actually “Carlson,” according to analysis conducted by Simon Davis, who writes the "Post Mortem" column for Vice and published his findings in Mental Floss. Here’s the top five:

1) Carlson
2) Schultz
3) Larson
4) Meyer
5) Becker

To determine the most distinctive surname, Davis used Social Security Administration data to find “the difference between the state and national prevalence of each of the top 250 last names nationwide.”

The full nationwide map is fascinating. For example, Illinois shares Carlson as winner with another state, but it’s all the way across the country, in Connecticut. Other states that share a distinctive name tend to cluster, such as the western stranglehold of Jensen, which spans Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska. (In fact, given that so many states share a “most distinctive” winner, perhaps “by region” is the more appropriate phrasing than “by state.”) To that end, it's hardly surprising that German and Scandinavian names should heavily impact Illinois' makeup. But given the high levels of immigration from those areas to so many Midwest states, beginning around the 1800s, it's a bit surprising to see the names stand as so "distinctive."

Mental Floss