Articles/Essays – Volume 57, No. 1

Utah Naming Practices, 1960–2020

1. Introduction

You can tell you are from Utah if you are Jaxton, your mother is Sariah, and your grandparents are Alma and LaRue. Jokes such as this one, which center on the creative names many residents of the state of Utah in the United States give their offspring, abound.[1] It is not just the more modern varieties like Kaylee and Kaden that have caught people’s ears. In 1945, Henry Louis Mencken noted unusual names in the state belonging to the now uncommon LaNae, LaVelle variety.[2] More contemporary observers note the abundance of female names ending in -lee such as Ashlee and Kaylee.[3] The pseudo suffix -lyn, as seen in Kaylyn, is also common, as are the suffixes -den, –son, –ton, and –der that prevail in male names like Brayden, Jaxton, Grayson, and Zander.[4] The prefixes Mc– and Mac– are used principally in female names such a MacKenzie and McCall but they find their way into the occasional male name as well: McClain.[5] Another naming trend is the conversion of surnames into given names: Dustin, Colton, Skyler, Tyler, and Colby for boys, and Whitney, Haley, Courtney, and Madison for girls.[6]

The unique nature of names in the Beehive State has given rise to a number of well-visited websites. The (Original) Utah Baby Namer pokes fun at the naming trends in the state, while at the same time providing an extensive list of baby names for mothers- and fathers-to-be to choose from.[7] The other Utah Baby Namer takes a computational approach to naming trends.[8] The site owner programmed a computer with given names that are twice as popular in Utah than in the remainder of the country. The algorithm, which appears online, outputs a wonderful variety of novel names, many of which have a particular Utah flavor to them.

While some observers treat the naming phenomena in the state under the rubric of Utah names, others suggest that bestowing unique names is a practice limited to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and discuss them as Mormon names. Of course, about 55 percent of Utahns belong to the LDS Church, and the influence of religion is certainly present. However, most naming studies fail to distinguish the two groups, making it unclear whether the unique names in Utah are limited to members of the LDS Church or not. Also, the question of whether US members of the church outside of Utah follow similar trends has not been examined. The data used in the present study do not contain information about the name giver’s religion. For this reason, the names discussed are referred to simply as Utah names.

There are, of course, naming trends whose origins are related to the LDS Church. Jennifer R. Mansfield limited her study to Utahns who were members of the LDS Church.[9] She sorts names into a number of categories, some of which are religion-based. These include names taken from the Book of Mormon such as Alma, Nephi, and Moroni. Others, such as Dallin and Talmage are homages to Church leaders. Given the LDS Church’s emphasis on families and family history, many of Mansfield’s interviewees acknowledged having plucked baby names from their family tree. The experiences that missionaries have in foreign countries may account for some unusual names such as Utahns with foreign names (Alitaya) or names derived from distant places (Alaska).

African Americans are also known to use creative names as a form of ethnic identity marker.[10] Some draw a parallel between African American names and naming practices in the Mormon community.[11] They suggest that Mormon parents give their children names that are intended to identify their children’s faith. As appealing as that may sound, it does not hold up. Mansfield conducted interviews with Utahns in which she asked the interviewees about naming practices and their perceptions of Utah names. In those interviews, parents never identified the bequeathing of unique names on their children as a way of marking religious identity or cultural roots. Instead, the motive expressed by most was that “their particular combination of these sounds is fresh and unique to their baby and free from fitting into any types or being bound to any existing expectations.”[12]

The search for uniqueness in naming is not limited to Utah, however. One study of naming practices in the US came to a similar conclusion.[13] Many of the parents interviewed expressed the hope that their child would not turn out ordinary, but special. Their use of less common names was the parents’ attempt to endow a unique identity on the child from the outset of their life.

One drawback to the majority of studies on Utah names is that they are based on the authors’ own observations of names they have come into contact with. In contrast, Cleveland Evans’s study makes an important contribution by providing some quantitative evidence. He contrasts the names given to Utahns with those given to Coloradoans born in 1982, 1990, 1998, 2012, and 2021, drawing the data from the Social Security Administration. While he does find some Utah-centric names, he concludes that “the great majority of babies born in Utah are given names which would arouse no comment in the rest of the United States. . . . Even some of the more creative names found in Utah probably wouldn’t seem to be out of place in the rest of the country.”[14] Mansfield concurs with his conclusion.[15]

Although many have discussed Utah naming practices, it is disheartening to realize that most published works are founded on anecdotal evidence at worst, and very limited evidence at best. The most extensive study that examines naming practices with quantitative evidence is found on the Utah Baby Namer website.[16] The data appear to come from the Social Security Administration list, but the author’s methodology is not laid out explicitly. However, the author identifies seventeen names that were popular in Utah before catching on in the rest of the US: Evan, Brittany, Brent, Kent, Scott, Chad, Corey/Cory, Brayden, Jadon, Jaxon, Kaden, Beth, Bryce, Ryker, McKenna, and Brody. The author concludes: “Looking at the last 100 years in America, newly popular names have gotten popular in Utah an average of 5 years earlier than the rest of the country.”

The extant studies raise a number of questions that need to be answered. Can anecdotal observations stand up to scrutiny when they are tested against a large data set? How common are the creative Utah names people have given as examples of Utah names? What Utah names are not found outside the state? Is Utah truly a trendsetter as far as baby names are concerned? What characteristics comprise a Utah name? Evans compared Utah names to Colorado names in five different years, and this article is designed to expand on his work to comprise the entire country.[17]

The US Social Security Administration has kept a tally of baby names for many years.[18] Their current list only includes names with a frequency of five or greater and every different spelling is counted as a different name. The present study is based on a subset of this data consisting of the names given to children in the US between 1960 and 2020. As a first foray into the topic, the twenty most popular names given to children in the twenty-first century (2001–2020) were examined. The top twenty Utah names in each year were compared with the top twenty US names. Names that made the Utah list but not the nationwide list appear in table 1. Women’s names ending in –lee and –lyn appear here, as do men’s names ending in –son. The list is reminiscent of a wedding: something old (Eleanor), something new (Grayson), something biblical (Isaac), something Trekkie (Ryker).

2. Methodology for Comparing US and Utah Names

Some researchers studying Utah naming practices have identified characteristics purported to identify Utah names. Among them are the pseudo suffixes such as –lyn for girls’ names or –son for boys’. Once again, the question that needs to be answered is whether such observations hold up to empirical investigation. In order to get a sense of which names are popular in the state and when a name first appeared, a list of possible Utah names was needed as a point of departure. This was accomplished by comparing all Utah names in sequential two-year periods, for example 1978 and 1979. When a name appeared in 1979, but not in 1978, 1979 was considered the name’s first appearance. A better name for it would be quasi first appearance since some names may have occurred in the state prior to 1978, for example. However, these quasi first appearances highlight names that appear in Utah and provide a starting point for comparing Utah names with names in the rest of the US. The comparison between 1960 and 1961 indicated no new names in 1961, while there were new first appearances in 1962. In other words, the data for the present study is actually based on the years 1962 to 2020.

In order to make a comparison, the number of instances of each of the 12,809 unique quasi first appearance names in Utah was divided by the total number of each of those individual names in the US. The resulting percentage for each name in each year was averaged across the years 1962 and 2020. Any name that had an average frequency of 1 percent or more across that fifty-eight-year time span comprised the Utah names data set. Of course, this methodology only gleans more frequent Utah names and does not find a single name, for instance, that only occurs in the state and nowhere else.

US names with a frequency of one hundred or greater were extracted from the Social Security database for comparison. For the purposes of the study, it was not relevant when a name first appeared in the US. Names from the Utah data set were then eliminated from the US data set of names with a frequency of one hundred or greater. This comprised the US names data set. This resulted in five hundred female Utah names (table 2) and 1,764 female US names. On the other side, there were 474 male Utah names (table 3) and 2,416 male US names for a total of 5,154 names in the data set that was considered.

The US and Utah names were converted into a series of variables to make them appropriate for data mining. More specifically, they were transformed into bigrams and trigrams, that is, a series of two- and three-letter sequences. As an example, consider the name Brian. It is first surrounded by hash marks to delimit the beginning and end of the name (#brian#). Starting from the left, the first set of two letters is #b. The next bigram is made by shifting one letter to the right and choosing the next two-letter combination—br. The remaining bigrams are ri, ia, and, n#. The trigrams are formed in a similar way resulting in #br, bri, ria, ian, an#. This left-to-right alignment allows letters at the beginning of the names to be aligned for comparison. In contrast, right-to-left alignment allows name endings to be examined. These are made in a right-to-left fashion (bigrams: n#, an, ia, ri, br, #b; trigrams: an#, ian, bri, #br). Ten letters in each name were encoded. This resulted in a series of fifty-nine variables for each word along with an output variable that indicated whether the name belonged to the US or Utah data set. Two machine learning algorithms were applied to the male and female US and Utah data sets.[19]

2.1 Results of Utah and US Name Comparison

The idea behind using data mining techniques was to determine what set of trigrams or bigrams of letters distinguish Utah from US names. Neither algorithm was able to separate male Utah names from male US names based on any of the letter combinations. However, a number of variables were extracted for the female Utah names (table 4). What the letter combinations –ee, –ie, and –y have in common is that they all represent the sound [i]. Moreover, names beginning in Sha– are about twice as common in Utah names since there are twenty-three in Utah and only twelve in the US. Names beginning with Mc– are not found among US names with a frequency of one hundred or more.

3. Methodology for Utah Naming Patterns

While the data mining results indicate some initial patterns in Utah names, they have two drawbacks. First, they are based on spelling, not sound patterns, and second, they give no indication of trends across time. More specifically, they cannot address the question of what names become popular first in Utah, then spread in popularity in the rest of the country. In order to answer these questions, the 5,154 names used in the data mining were searched for in the total data set of 12,809 quasi first occurrence names. Of the 5,154 names, 930 were of such low frequency that they were not found among the 12,809, resulting in a smaller set of 4,224 names used to investigate naming patterns. For the analysis of these names, however, the measure of frequency was the popularity of the name per capita. The number of names given to children in each year from 1962 to 2020 was divided by the Utah and US populations. For example, in 2011 the population of Utah was about 2.8 million and fourteen Alicias were born, meaning that there were five Alicias per million in Utah. In that same year, the US population was 312 million and 1,201 children were christened Alicia in the country for a smaller 3.89 Alicias per million.

3.1 Results for Utah Naming Patterns

Consider all the variants of the name Brittany (i.e., Britney, Brittani, Brittanie, Brittny) in table 5, which only shows frequencies of one in one million or greater. Brittany first reached a one per million frequency in the US in 1971. As the table illustrates, in all of the variant spellings, the name first gained popularity in Utah, and then later it caught on in the rest of the country. It is important to note that the popularity of the name Britney was established in Utah before Britney Spears gained fame in the late 1990s. In any event, a similar pattern can be found for 337 names in which Utah was the trendsetter (table 6). It is important to note that not all names have a trajectory that spans several decades. For example, River appears in Utah at three per million in 2004, and the next year its popularity in the rest of the country reaches one per million. There are, of course, many names where Utah follows the national trajectory. Perhaps the best explanation for baby names to gain popularity in Utah and then spread outward is due to Utah’s high birthrate of about fifteen babies for every one thousand Utahns.[20] The overall US rate is 11.6 per 1000. Of course, particular names catch on first in many states before becoming prevalent nationwide. Only a similar evaluation of all fifty states would ultimately determine if Utah is actually the trendsetter.

3.2 Characteristics of Utah Names

The 4,224 name data set described above is an excellent source to examine Utah naming patterns in more detail. In addition to the trendsetter names in table 6, names were sought that had frequency of at least one per million in the state in any given year, but whose popularity did not reach that level at any point in the rest of the country between 1962 and 2020. This provides a set of 1,013 names that are common in the state, while at the same time excluding low frequency names in Utah. Only samples from these 1,013 names will be presented. Ethnic names appear in table 7. Spellings appear as they were found in the Social Security database.

The presence of Spanish and Polynesian names is not surprising since those groups represent the largest two ethnic minorities in the state. Scandinavian names are also expected; about 12 percent of Utahns claim Scandinavian ancestry, which is the highest density in the US.[21] These may be considered ethnic heritage names. The names of Arabic and Jewish origin are unexpected since only 0.2 percent of Utahns are Jewish, and the Arabic population comprises only 0.5 percent of all Utahns.[22] A number of these given names, such as Cohen, Anderson, and Monson, are originally surnames.

The majority of Utah adults are Christian (74 percent), and 55 percent are members of the LDS Church.[23] As a result, scriptural names are common in the state (table 8), some of which are given unique spellings. Biblical names are more common than names from the Book of Mormon. A few names may possibly be attributed to prominent figures in the LDS Church as well, such as Benson, Hinckley, Kimball, and Monson, the surnames of presidents of the LDS Church. Others may be homages to George Q. Cannon, Dallin H. Oaks, Lorenzo Snow, James Talmage, or Porter Rockwell.

Utahns are quite fond of converting surnames into given names, which is evident in the 145 names of this type that are frequent in the state (table 9). Other attested naming patterns include naming children after a variety of objects (e.g., Hawk, Jet, Lyric) and places (e.g., Rome, Seattle). While abbreviated names such as Matt, Ken, and Danny are often used in familiar settings, the given names that they are derived from generally grace the birth certificates: Matthew, Kenneth, Daniel. In Utah, however, thirty-two abbreviated names are often used as given names.

Four pseudo affixes appear in many Utah names (table 10). For example, thirty names end in –lyn or its variants –lynn, and –lynne. In a similar manner, given names ending in –son and –sen appear in forty names that are popular in the state. Twenty common Utah names are derived from Mc– and other alternate spellings such as Mich-, Mac-, Mak-, Mick-. Another 46 end in the r-colored vowel [ɚ] that is spelled -Vr (-er, –or, and –ur).

Data mining identified names ending in –ee and –ie as common patterns in Utah names. However, when the name’s phonetics are considered, the two most prevalent Utah naming patterns emerge (table 11). Of the 1,013 popular Utah names, 21 percent end in the vowel sound [i]. This vowel appears in forty names ending in –lee, –lie, and another 173 ending in [i] spelled as –ee, –y, –ey, –i, and –ie (table 11). The other pattern, which is attested in about 21 percent of Utah names, are those ending in a vowel followed by n (-Vn).

As the names presented to this point attest, Utahns are fond of applying uniquely spelled names to their children. This may be true elsewhere as well, but that comparison was not made here. In any event, the spelling variants in the Utah data set are principally related to the use of the letters ae, k, x, y, and z (table 12). The diphthong [eɪ], which is more commonly spelled with ay and a in English orthography, is represented as ae in thirteen names. The letter k replaces the more expected ck in names such as Mavrik, the ch in Malaki, the c in Klinton and Izak, and the [k] portion of x as in Maksim. The thirteen instances of x in table 12 are difficult to categorize, but the use of x seems creative in each instance. As far as y is concerned, the fifty cases of distinct spellings involve using it following a as in Jason > Jayson and Caleb > Kayleb or replacing another vowel such as the i in Brian > Bryan and Lindon > Lyndon. The twenty-two creative uses of the letter z all involve its use to replace s as in Izzabelle and Kenzington.

4. Conclusions

The purpose of this article was to examine some aspects of naming practices in Utah over the past sixty years with quantitative data. The study uncovered a number of names that are more common in Utah than in the other forty-nine states, and those names reflect the ethnic, heritage, and religious groups in the state. Is Utah the baby name innovation state? The idea that some names gain popularity in Utah before spreading to the rest of the country was supported for 337 names. What do unique Utah names have in common? A number of patterns emerge, including using surnames as given names, applying names that begin with Mc-, or end in –lyn, –son, and –er. Phonetically, there are two common characteristics of popular Utah names: they either end in the [i] vowel, which is written –ee, ie, or –y, or they end in a vowel followed by n. What about the name spellings in the state? Most of the spellings involve uncommon uses of the letters ae, k, x, y, and z. Some of the most characteristically Utah names combine these features. For instance, Oaklie is a surname ending in –ie. Konnor is a surname ending in –er with and unusual initial K– as well. Makenzi is based on a Mc– surname ending in –i that contains an unusual z.

Fashions and fads are always ephemeral, and this is true for names as well. This is evident in the lack of names like LaRue and LaVelle that were fashionable Beehive-state names for the pre-1960s generation. Only Ladawn appears in the present data set as a remnant of that trend. There is no doubt that future generations will eschew the naming patterns described here for whatever becomes the future naming trend.

Editor’s Note: For Tables, see PDF below.

[1] Cari Bilyeu Clark, “What’s in a Utah Name?,” The Original Utah Baby Namer, last modified June 5, 2017,

[2] Henry Louis Mencken, The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, vol. 2 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945).

[3] Jennifer R. Mansfield, “It’s Wraylynn–with a W: Distinctive Mormon Naming Practices” (Master’s thesis, Utah State University, 2012).

[4] Eric A. Eliason, “Nameways in Latter-Day Saint History, Custom, and Folklore,” in Perspectives on Latter-day Saint Names and Naming: Names, Identity, and Belief, ed. Dallin D. Oaks, Paul Baltes, and Kent Minson (Milton Park, UK: Routledge, 2013), 70–100.

[5] Cleveland Evans, “Contemporary Latter-day Saint Naming,” in Oaks, Baltes, and Minson, Perspectives on Latter-day Saint Names, 111–60; Mansfield, “It’s Wraylynn.”

[6] Evans, “Contemporary Latter-day Saint Naming.”

[7] Clark, “What’s in a Utah name?”

[8] “17 Mainstream Naming Fads We Stole from Utah,” Utah Baby Namer, accessed June 14, 2008,

[9] Mansfield, “It’s Wraylynn.”

[10] Rebecca Bateman, “Naming Patterns in Black Seminole Ethnogenesis,” Ethnohistory 49, no. 2 (2002): 227–57.

[11] Christy Karras, “Different Is Good for Utah Names,” Salt Lake Tribune, October 29, 2002; Don Norton, “Composite LDS Given Games,” in Oaks, Baltes, and Minson, Perspectives on Latter-day Saint Names, 101–10, “Names Reflect Cultural Origins,” Washington Times, May 13, 2003.

[12] Mansfield, “It’s Wraylynn,” 11.

[13] Hannah Beth Emery, “What’s in a Name? American Parents’ Search for the Perfect Baby Name” (PhD diss., University of California-Berkeley, 2013).

[14] Evans, “Contemporary Latter-day Saint Naming,” 142.

[15] Mansfield, “It’s Wraylynn.”

[16] “17 Mainstream Naming Fads.”

[17] Evans, “Contemporary Latter-day Saint Naming.”

[18] “Beyond the Top 1000 Names,” Social Security Administration (website), accessed December 14, 2021,

[19] William Cohen, “Fast Effective Rule Induction,” in Machine Learning Proceedings 1995, ed. Armand Prieditis and Stuart Russell (Lake Tahoe, CA: Morgan Kaufmann, 1995), 115–23; Geoffrey Holmes et al., “Multiclass Alternating Decision Trees,” in European Conference on Machine Learning, ed. T Mannila and H. Toivonen (Berlin: Springer, 2002), 162–72,

[20] “Birthrate by State 2021,” World Population Review, accessed December 29, 2021,

[21] “Utah,” Wikipedia, accessed December 29, 2021,

[22] Ira M. Sheskin and Arnold Dashefsky, “United States Jewish Population, 2019,” in American Jewish Year Book 2019, eds. A. Dashefsky and I. Sheskin (Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2020):, 135–231.; “Utah,” Yalla Count Me In, accessed December 30, 2021,

[23] “Major Religions Practiced in Utah,” World Atlas, accessed December 29, 2021,