The Most Distinctive Surname In New York Is, Unsurprisingly, Jewish

Where do American Jews live, you wonder? Set your preconceptions aside: It turns out, based on a somewhat arbitrary analysis of last names, that a lot of them live in New York and New Jersey. (That, in case you missed it, was a joke.)

This information comes from mental_floss’s Simon Davis, who looked, this past fall, at publicly available data from the 2000 United States Census to understand just how much surnames, and the demographic groups they represent, differ by region. Working from a list of the top 250 last names nationwide, assembled using data from the Social Security Administration, Davis compared how popular each surname was by state to its popularity nationwide.

The result: A map of the country, with each state labeled with its most distinctive surname.

Unsurprisingly, that map hints at the demographic idiosyncrasies of some of the country’s regions. The southwest and California are characterized by Latino names — Lopez, Martinez, Sanchez, and Hernandez — while much of the northern midwest plays host to those of a distinctly Scandinavian background. (An astonishing six states boast “Jensen” as their most distinctive name.)

While only one state, New York, shows up with a typically Jewish surname as its top contender — the culprit is Cohen — Davis notes that New York and New Jersey also play host to a high proportion of Schwartzes and Hoffmans.

While the reasoning behind the experiment’s methodology is somewhat unclear — why 250 names? How would the results be different based on data from the 2010 Census, also publicly available? — it’s an entertaining glimpse at what gives different parts of the country particular panache. Here’s to oft-maligned, but blessedly persistent, New York values.


Talya Zax

Talya Zax

Talya Zax is the Forward’s deputy culture editor. Contact her at or on Twitter, @TalyaZax.

Recommend this article

The Most Distinctive Surname In New York Is, Unsurprisingly, Jewish

Thank you!

This article has been sent!