BYU professor figures out what sets a Utah name apart from the rest of the country

Jun 5, 2022, 10:12 AM | Updated: 5:06 pm

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

Up until now, the uniqueness has been mostly anecdotal—with many a video on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram poking fun at names you’ll only find in Utah.

Mom-to-be Emily Harris has come across some of those as she and her husband have considered what to name their future son.

Two weeks before his due date, the nursery was set for Baby Harris. But they still hadn’t decided on his name.

A 38-week pregnant Emily described how it’d been a huge process looking at names, trying to find something unique that they didn’t feel was too far out there.

“My husband at one point said, ‘Cave,’ and I was like, ‘Cave?! That is not a name!’” Emily exclaimed with a laugh.

Some names, like ‘Cave,’ were an obvious no. She said family and friends were quick to jump in with suggestions, and she found most of them to be along the lines of ‘Braden,’ ‘Kaden,’ or ‘Hayden.’

Emily has a large family from Utah and indicated that she’d heard it all when it comes to names—especially those that are Beehive State specific.

“I guess the joke always is like if you add a million Y’s to the name, like that makes it a Utah name,” Harris said, chuckling.

Not just a joke, it’s science—if you ask BYU linguistics professor David Eddington. Over the winter, he decided to take a deep dive into Utah names to figure out exactly what kind of names are most popular in Utah that isn’t used anywhere else.

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

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

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

Utah name patterns

While some of the patterns he found wouldn’t be surprising to anyone from or who has lived in Utah, the study did reveal some interesting bits of info.

He said Utah names often end in similar ways, such as “lyn,” with names like Dallyn, Breklyn, Annalyn, Azlyn, Scotlyn, etc.

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

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

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

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

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

Which brought Eddington to another finding, that Utahns commonly swap out certain letters to switch up name spellings.

The most common examples include using a “k” instead of a “c” (for example, Kache instead of Cache), and ‘x,’ instead of “ck” (like Jaxon vs. Jackson), or substituting a ‘z’ for an ‘s,’ like 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 “un” like Grayson, or Tyson, or Brayden,” Eddington said.

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

Along those lines, many names in Utah begin with the “Mac” or “Mc” prefix. So, think Macady, Mckaylee, Michaella (or Mickayla, Mackaela), Mckinsey, Mackay, or Mackenzi (also spelled Mckenzy, Mckensie).

Here are the top five popular uniquely Utah names, according to his study:

Girl Names:

  • Mckell
  • Mccall
  • Oaklee (spelled three different ways)
  • Oaklie
  • Oakley

Boy Names:

  • Mckay
  • Dallin
  • Hyrum
  • Rulon
  • Stockton

And while many names in the Beehive State may be just a Utah thing, Eddington found that Utah has also led the way in national name trends.

He compiled a list of over 300 names that appeared to start in Utah decades ago and spread out 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 names reflect culture,” Eddington said. “And it just pops out as, ‘This is Utah.’”

Baby Harris came early, giving mom and dad a surprise. Emily and her husband still hadn’t fully decided on a name until they had to sign the papers to leave the hospital.

Now fresh home from the hospital, an overjoyed mom and dad are preparing to roll out Baby Harris’ name to the rest of the family.

They held their sweet little boy in his nursery, after spending their first night home.

“You’re going to meet so many people today,” Harris said, looking down at her swaddled, sleepy baby. “Grandma, and grandpa, and Oma.”

His name has been sworn to secrecy until Baby Harris meets both of their big families.

And while Emily said it’s unique, she did stay away from adding a “y” or ending in “ee.”

They can’t wait to see how he grows into it.

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

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BYU professor figures out what sets a Utah name apart from the rest of the country