The isonymy structure of the 48 states of the continental United States of America was studied using the surname distributions of 18 million telephone users, distributed in 247 towns. The shortest linear distance between nearest neighbor towns included in the sample was 12.0 km. The largest distance was 4,577 km. The number of different surnames found in the whole analysis was 899,585. Lasker's distance was found to be significantly but weakly correlated with the geographic distance, with r = 0.21 ± 0.01. A dendrogram of the 48 states was built from the matrix of isonymy distances: it divides the US into several clusters, in general correlated with geography. A notable exception is California and New Jersey, which cluster together. Wisconsin is separated from all other states. An important cluster is formed by Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Arizona, together with Illinois and Florida. It was observed that Hispanic surnames are among the most frequent in Illinois, as they are in New Jersey and California. No main distinction among the states clearly attributable to surnames of French origin was detected; however, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine which have a considerable number of these surnames belong to the same northeastern cluster.
From the present analysis, the great mobility of the US population emerges clearly, and it seems relevant that the practical absence of isolation by distance is seen also considering only small towns. It appears that groups of different origin are well-mixed over the whole area of the United States. The values of isonymy indicate that the south-central area of the USA has the highest level of inbreeding. In fact, the heterogeneity in surname composition is greater in the coastal areas, particularly on the East Coast, than anywhere else in the USA. Am J Phys Anthropol 114:109–123, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.