What Is New York’s Most Distinctive Surname? Hint: It Starts With A ‘C’

Analyzing data from the 2000 U.S. Census, mental_floss’s Simon Davis discovered that Cohen is New York’s most distinctive surname. If that news has prompted you to wonder at the apparent preeminence of Jews on the East Coast, not so fast: An unscientific analysis of U.S. Census data from 2010 shows we’re likely far less popular than conspiracy theorists might imagine.

How so? Well, a single name in the 2010 top 100 stands out as being possibly Jewish: Sanders. But wait! Famous for its attachment to former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the name is more commonly thought to have Anglo-Norman origins. So that’s a no go; despite Sanders’ resemblance to roughly every Upper West Side man of a certain age, he’s apparently not quite as Jewish as we’d thought.

Leaving Sanders aside, the first unabashedly, typically Jewish last name to make the 2010 national list is Jacobs, the 260th most popular last name in America.

Davis’s original analysis — and again, he was working with the data from 2000 — established the most distinctively popular surname in each state by comparing that state’s independent list of most frequently-occurring surnames to the top 250 last names on the 2000 national list. On that list, Cohen comes in 320th, meaning it would have been excluded from the list of nationally popular names Davis employed. (On the 2010 national list, the name dropped to the 351st spot.)

In Davis’s analysis, then, the popularity of the name “Cohen” in New York is a result of the fact that the name is not among the country’s 250 most popular surnames. What does that tell us about how many Cohens are actually in New York? Basically, that there are more there than there are in the country at large. This, to repeat our insight from our original article, is probably surprising to exactly no one.

One non-Jewish insight from this investigation that might be surprising: In 2010, the name Mason (169) is followed directly by that of Dixon (170). If you thought the Mason-Dixon line was a thing of the long-ago past, you’re thankfully right. In a certain set of data, though, it sneakily lives on.


Talya Zax

Talya Zax

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

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What Is New York’s Most Distinctive Surname? Hint: It Starts With A ‘C’

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