Catherine vs. Katherine, State by State, 1910

In a comment on last week’s post about Providence’s baby name rankings from 1867, Diane brought up an interesting point: the list includes dozens of babies named Catherine, but not a single one named Katherine.

Curious, isn’t it?

Since I don’t have the 1866 and 1868 Providence rankings done yet, the next-oldest set of comparable data I have is the 1910 Rhode Island list from the SSA state data. So I used this data to check out the Catherine vs. Katherine preferences of not just Rhode Island, but all 50 states (plus Washington, D.C.).

Turns out that Rhode Island really did have a strong preference for Catherine. Of the 42 states that welcomed at least 5 baby girls with one name and at least 5 more with the other, Rhode Island was the state with the strongest preference for Catherine:

State % Catherine % Katherine Winner?
Rhode Island 82% (31) 18% (7) C
Maryland 76% (100) 24% (31) C
New Jersey 75% (158) 25% (53) C
New York 73% (521) 27% (191) C
Pennsylvania 73% (568) 27% (210) C
South Dakota 73% (16) 27% (6) C
Wisconsin 70% (56) 30% (24) C
Indiana 68% (71) 32% (33) C
Illinois 67% (184) 33% (91) C
Massachusetts 65% (184) 35% (97) C
Ohio 65% (161) 35% (87) C
North Carolina 65% (60) 35% (33) C
Missouri 64% (85) 36% (48) C
Florida 62.5% (25) 37.5% (15) C
Mississippi 62% (32) 38% (20) C
Kentucky 61% (79) 39% (51) C
Georgia 60% (57) 40% (37) C
North Dakota 60% (21) 40% (14) C
Minnesota 60% (46) 40% (31) C
Connecticut 60% (41) 40% (28) C
Oregon 59% (10) 41% (7) C
Nebraska 59% (17) 41% (12) C
South Carolina 58% (31) 42% (22) C
Vermont 58% (7) 42% (5) C
Montana 58% (14) 42% (10) C
Michigan 58% (74) 42% (53) C
California 56% (53) 44% (41) C
New Hampshire 56% (9) 44% (7) C
Louisiana 55% (27) 45% (22) C
Arkansas 54% (19) 46% (16) C
West Virginia 52% (32) 48% (29) C
Virginia 52% (62) 48% (57) C
Alabama 51% (37) 49% (36) C
Kansas 50% (20) 50% (20) tie
Iowa 47% (32) 53% (36) K
Wyoming 45% (5) 55% (6) K
Washington 45% (19) 55% (23) K
Oklahoma 43% (18) 57% (24) K
Texas 42% (50) 58% (70) K
Colorado 41% (18) 59% (26) K
Tennessee 40% (43) 60% (64) K
Maine 38% (13) 62% (21) K

Five other states and Washington, D.C., only welcomed at least 5 baby girls with one of the names, so I calculated some minimums:

State % Catherine % Katherine Winner?
D.C. at least 86% (28) ? C
Delaware at least 76% (13) ? C
Idaho ? at least 56% (5) K
Hawaii ? at least 64% (7) K
Arizona ? at least 64% (7) K
Utah ? at least 69% (9) K

Alas, Rhode Island no longer loves Catherine as much as it did in decades past. These days, Katherine is the winner. The switch happened during the early 1970s.

Which of these two versions of the name do you prefer?


13 thoughts on “Catherine vs. Katherine, State by State, 1910

  1. So do you think the early spelling preferences (C vs. K) extend from different immigrant populations in certain areas? English vs. Irish, for example?

  2. Wow, thanks for doing this analysis! It’s fascinating that citizens of RI not only preferred the C- spelling, they preferred it by a huge margin over the next state. I looked up notable women of RI, and found Catharine Littlefield Greene (1755-1814). Her spelling is not actually the same, but it does start with C. I wonder if parents were still inspired by her memory a hundred years later?? Seems a little unlikely. Also interesting that most nearby states were also strongly for C, but when you go north, Vermont and New Hampshire were more evenly divided, and Maine was strongly for K.

  3. I expected Swedes, Norwegians, and Germans to prefer the Katherine spelling as K- is much more common than C- in those languages. But the majority of immigrants from those countries were in the Catherine states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois, as well as the Northeast.

    The only major immigrant group in Maine was from Canada, and you might think they would prefer Catherine because it is the French spelling. But Maine was the strongest K- state!

  4. My initial theory would have been immigration as well, but the data doesn’t really fit that theory. Scandinavian-heavy states preferring the letter C? Hm…

    katherine states, 1910

    The K-states are mostly western/frontier states — perhaps that means something? (I included Kansas as a K-state on that map, even though it was technically a tie.)

  5. K was a rare initial letter for names in the late 19th/early 20th c. Other than Katherine and its spelling variants and short forms (Katharine, Kathryn, Kate, Katie, Kay etc.) there were NO common girl’s names beginning with K at that time. Since Catherine was the norm in all older and heavily populated parts of the country, parents in the lightly settled areas might have felt less conservative and more inclined to use the “less popular” or “exotic” initial K.

    But Maine is certainly an outlier on that map, especially when you consider that it was the strongest Katherine state.

  6. K/Catherine derives from the Greek name ?????????? (Aikaterina), and various spellings have been used over the years to translate it into English and other languages.

    For instance, the Italian St. Caterina of Siena is usually translated Catherine in English, but there is a parish called St. Katharine of Siena in Pennsylvania, and several called St. Katherine of Siena.

    Likewise, St. Catherine (??????????) of Alexandria can also be found mentioned as Katherine and Katharine.

    Without a doubt, Catherine was traditionally the more popular English spelling, but Withcombe (1976) states that the spelling Katherine was first recorded in England in the year 1196.

    It’s quite difficult to make a claim that any of the three oldest spellings (Catherine, Katharine, Katherine) is “more legit” than another. When you get to Kathryn, Kathryne, et al, then you have a case.

  7. Right, Kathleen was an English version of the Irish Caitlin. It’s interesting that the spelling Cathleen has never been very common!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *