BYU Professor Discovers What Sets a Utah Name Apart From the Rest of the United States

Estimated reading time: 5-6 minutes

PROVO – Utah is certainly known for its unique names, and now a BYU professor has the data to prove the patterns.

Uniqueness so far has been mostly anecdotal – with plenty of videos on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram mocking names you’ll only find in Utah.

Mum-to-be Emily Harris met some of them as she and her husband considered what name to give their future son. Two weeks before her due date, the nursery was set for baby Harris. But they still hadn’t decided on his name.

Harris, 38 weeks pregnant, described what a huge name-searching process it had been, trying to find something unique that they didn’t think was too far off.

“My husband said at one point, ‘Cave’ and I was like, ‘Cave?! That’s not a name!'” Harris laughed.

Some names, like “Cave”, were an obvious no. She said her family and friends were quick to come up with suggestions, and she found most of them to be “Braden”, “Kaden” or “Hayden”.

Harris has a large family from Utah and said she’s heard it all when it comes to names, especially those specific to Beehive State.

“I guess the joke is still like you add a million Ys to the name, like that makes it a Utah name,” she laughed.

Mum-to-be Emily Harris, 38 weeks pregnant, and her husband have been pondering the name of their future son.
Mum-to-be Emily Harris, 38 weeks pregnant, and her husband have been pondering the name of their future son. (Photo: Lauren Steinbrecher, KSL-TV)

Not just a joke, it’s science – if you ask BYU linguistics professor David Eddington. Over the winter, he decided to dig deep into Utah names to figure out exactly what types of names are most popular in Utah and not used anywhere else.

“That’s what I do, I’m a professional nerd,” Eddington said with a laugh.

He spent a few weeks gathering data from the Social Security Administration database that keeps track of the names of everyone in the country, dating back to 1960.

Eddington then used machine learning algorithms to sort names unique to Utah against name data from the rest of the country.

Utah name patterns

While some of the patterns he found wouldn’t surprise anyone from or who lived in Utah, the study revealed some interesting insights.

He said names in Utah often end the same way, like “lyn,” with names like Dallyn, Breklyn, Annalyn, Azlyn, Scotlyn, etc.

Many nouns also end in “ie” or “ee”, or “lie” or “y” and he said they all produce the “ee” sound.

The study lists dozens and dozens of names that end like this, like Jovie, Bryndee, Hadlie, Aisley, Bentlee, Swayze, and Wylie.

“Also, names that end in ‘uh’ like Riker, Tanner, Hunter,” Eddington said, of another trend he found.

Speaking of Riker, a little side note that Eddington found fascinating. He said he recently read that Utah is known to be a Star Trek-obsessed state.

“And where does the name ‘Riker’ come from?” He asked. He chuckled as he replied, “Star Trek.” The name is also commonly spelled, “Ryker”.

BYU linguistics professor David Eddington took a deep dive into Utah names to figure out exactly what type of names are most popular in Utah and not used anywhere else.
BYU linguistics professor David Eddington took a deep dive into Utah names to figure out exactly what type of names are most popular in Utah and not used anywhere else. (Photo: Lauren Steinbrecher, KSL-TV)

Which led Eddington to another discovery, which was that Utahns commonly swap certain letters to change the spelling of names.

Common examples include using a “k” instead of a “c” (e.g. Kache instead of Cache) and “x” instead of “ck” (like Jaxon versus Jackson), or the substitution of a “z” for an “s”, as with Kenzington.

And, as Harris alluded to, adding a “y” instead of an “i” is hugely popular. So instead of Allison, you might see Alyson, or Kayleb, instead of Caleb, or Kaycee, instead of Kacey.

“For male names, it’s pretty common for Utah names to end in ‘one’ like Grayson, or Tyson, or Brayden,” Eddington said.

Utahns often use surnames, Eddington found, for example, Monson, Hinckley, Beckham, Benson, Bowie, Jagger, Kenadee, and Preslie.

In this sense, many surnames in Utah begin with the prefix “Mac” or “Mc”. So think Macady, Mckaylee, Michaella (or Mickayla, Mackaela), Mckinsey, Mackay or Mackenzi (also spelled Mckenzy, Mckensie).

Here are the five most popular names in Utah, according to his study:

Girl names:

  • McKell
  • McCall
  • Oaklee (spelled three different ways)
  • oakley
  • Oakley

Boy names:

  • McKay
  • dallin
  • hyrum
  • Rulon
  • Stockton

And while many names in the Beehive State are just a Utah thing, Eddington found that Utah also led the way in national naming trends.

He compiled a list of more than 300 names that seemed to start in Utah decades ago and spread to the rest of the country in popularity from there.

One of those names is Brittany (or Britney, Brittani, Brittanie, Brittny). Other names include Aubrie, Shantell, Cody, Marshall and Skyler.

“I think the names reflect the culture,” Eddington said. “And it comes out like, ‘This is Utah.'”

Baby Harris arrived early, giving mom and dad a surprise. Emily and her husband hadn’t quite decided on a name until they signed the paperwork to leave the hospital.

Now fresh from the hospital, a thrilled mum and dad prepare to bring Baby Harris’ name to the rest of the family.

They held their adorable baby boy in his nursery after spending their first night at home.

“You’re going to meet so many people today,” Harris said, looking at her swaddled, sleeping baby. “Grandmother, and Grandfather, and Oma.”

His name was sworn to secrecy until Baby Harris met their two great families.

And even though Emily said it was unique, she avoided adding a “y” or ending with “ee”.

They can’t wait to see how it will grow.

“I think it’s just the perfect name for him,” the new mom said. “I can’t imagine him doing anything other than making us very, very proud.”

Pictures

Lauren Steinbrecher

Lauren Steinbrecher is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and multimedia journalist who joined KSL in December 2021.

More stories that might interest you

About Joyce Hill

Check Also

The Salt Lake Tribune wins top honors in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Utah competition

The Salt Lake Tribune’s reporting, editing and photography have been honored by the Utah Chapter …