Crazy about Cartography

I just found one of the coolest websites in the whole wide world:  the World Names Profiler.

It’s an interactive map, and it allows you to search for the worldwide occurrence of any surname.  Type in "Asp," for instance, in the upper right corner — and it will show you where the highest concentrations of Asps are throughout the world (well, the statistics provided are mostly for Europe, North America, and Oceania).  After the search is done, you can zoom in to the national, regional (state), and district (county) level, to see which particular areas have the greatest occurrence of any given name.  Apparently, there’s only 3.8 Asps for every million Americans (and the vast majority of these seem to be centered in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota).  But in Sweden, it’s almost 100 times that!  The zoomed-in map of the Netherlands is totally void of Asps — so it must not be a statistically significant name (though I can personally verify that there are at least 5 of us living here).  There are a few, however, in the southern (French-speaking) parts of Belgium.  Odd, huh?

I may just enjoy it because I’m a bit of a map geek — but it might be worth your while to check the site out for yourself and see what comes of your own search…

Another feature on the site allows you to see the top forenames that go with a particular last name (in the case of people with the last name Asp, for instance the top first names are John, Per, Peter, Lars)… It’s also super-cool to do a search for the most popular first and last names in any given city (I think it’s supposed to be done through the "Area Search" link at the top of the page, but link is broken — so just do a search for any given name and then click on any of the "Top Countries," "Top Regions," or "Top Cities" to call up the Area Search page).  You can choose from wherever you’d like and find the most "typical" first and last name for that place.  It’s amazing to me… I’ve checked some of the cities within my own frame of reference — Amsterdam, Torino (Italy), Bowling Green (OH), Shelby (OH), Jamestown (ND) — and the results are spot-on.  I even tried it on my Dad’s hometown (Kerkhoven, Minnesota, i.e. a place with which I’m not so familiar) — and I amazed him, too, with the site’s accuracy.  To anyone who writes fiction (as I like to imagine that I do), this feature of the site could prove to be invaluable for helping to establish setting (one of my greatest difficulties, typically, is picking believable names for my stories’ characters).

The third major feature of the site is that you can also search the distribution of various ethnic groups throughout the world on the site.  Again, I can confirm that the site verifies things that I already know (like there are a lot of Swedes in Minnesota, a lot of Dutch people in western Michigan, and a lot of Turks in Amsterdam)… But I find it inexplicably fascinating to see how other people groups have spread throughout the world over the course of history.

The one caveat of the World Names Profiler is that the site is a bit slow (so if you click on a country from the big global map, for instance, you have to wait a second before the zoom-in happens), and — as previously mentioned — there are a few broken links on the site. But seriously, this is an amazing website.  Let me know if you find out anything interesting about yourself from the site…

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