Saturday, February 07, 2009

Where are the Spragues?

I often run into people who, upon hearing my last name, ask if I’m related to so-and-so other Sprague they know.  Usually the answer is no.  Our family has been in the country since Pilgrim times, so it’s not a terribly rare name, and now there’s a new web site, Dynastree,  that shows name frequencies graphically and statistically. I typed in ‘Sprague” and found this:

  • There are about 30,000 of us spread across the U.S. 
  • We’re the 1210th most common name in the U.S.
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Distribution of the surname Sprague
Distribution of the surname Sprague

Where does your name come from?

Unfortunately the map is deceptive, since it appears not to correct for the population of each state.  Since California and New York are the largest states, that means just about any name is likely to show red in those places.  Here’s what I got when I sorted to find the top ten states where the name ‘sprague’ is highly frequent.  “Common-ness” tells you how common the name is;  for example In Maine, we are the 175th most common name, even though there are only 507 of us there.

State Common-ness People
Maine 175 507
Vermont 248 157
Rhode Island 416 115
New Hampshire 438 195
Oregon 600 245
Michigan 602 369
Nevada 714 74
Washington 752 331
New York 783 833


The “common-ness” metric still isn’t perfect (I’d rather get a number like frequency per thousand), but it’s much closer to my experience, with many Spragues in the Northeast, and a surprising number in Oregon and Washington.  Here on Mercer Island, there’s only one family of us in the phone book, which feels about right.

I’m not sure I want a name that is super-common.  On the other hand, it would be nice not to have to remind people that we’re pronounced “SPRAYG"  (rhymes with vague) and not “SPRAHHHG” (like the linguistically unrelated city in the Czech Republic).

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