This article reviews whether Leon is a typically African American first name.
I used census records from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to see how historically popular the name was in black communities.
The more recent censuses don’t publish full names for privacy reasons. So, I had to look for alternative sources to evaluate the popularity within the last twenty years.
The short answer is that Leon has become a typically African American name in recent years. However, it wasn’t a popular choice for black parents historically.
Was Leon A Black Name In The 19th And Early 20th Century?
To review whether Leon was common amongst African Americans in the 19th and early 20th centuries, I looked at three federal censuses.
The 1870 federal census was the first after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. This was the first census that recorded all African Americans.
There were 5,199 people named Leon in the 1870 census.
The 1870 census takers marked residents as either white, black, or mixed.
When I’m researching African Americans in the 1870 census, I always include the latter two categories. The census takers were not always correct in how they categorized non-white residents.
There were 407 residents recorded as black and 150 as mixed. The exclusively black proportion was about 8% and the two categories were 11%.
By 1900, the total number had grown to 5,199 residents.
The mixed category was dropped in this census. The black percentage was still at about 8%.
By 1940, the total number had jumped to a little over 145 thousand people. With nearly twenty thousand black residents, the black percentage had grown to 13%.
My conclusion is that Leon was not a common name amongst African Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Leon In The 1960s and Early 1970s
A research study used mortgage applications from 2007 to identify the breakdown of first names by ethnicity.
We can guess that most of the applicants were aged from thirty to fifty. So, the numbers represent people born in the 1960s and early 1970s.
There were 693 people named Leon who applied for a mortgage. This was the ethnic breakdown:
- White: 73%
- Black: 20%
- Asian & Pacific Islands: 4%
- Hispanic: 3%
Compared to the historic census numbers in the previous section, the black percentage was a little higher.
However, it was still only one-fifth of the total.
Is Leon A Typically African American First Name Currently?
Several online archives have collected thousands of high school yearbooks from the early 1900s up to 2016.
I used Ancestry.com for my research. First, I ran name searches on three southern states with a significant black population:
I used different time frames between 2006 and 2016. I wanted to find at least ten students with the name. That meant I had to use different starting points for different states.
The table below is the summary of my review.
The column headed “Leon” was the total number of students with the name that I found across the schools with uploaded yearbooks.
There were no girls in the search results. Two students were Hispanic.
As you can see, the name Leon was far more likely to belong to African American students in these three states.
My conclusion is that Leon has become a typically African American first name in recent years.
What about Leons in New Hampshire?
To balance this survey, I also looked at a state with a low black population.
I searched the New Hampshire yearbooks from 2006 to 2016 for anyone named Leon.
There were only two results from the available yearbooks! One student was black and the other was white. They were both in the same school!
Why were there so few schools in this survey?
Of course, there are more than twenty-one schools in Louisiana (there are 558 to be exact).
But many schools don’t have yearbooks available online.
The second column in the table shows the number of schools that came up in the results when I searched for the name Leon.
It’s also possible that a school has a yearbook online but has nobody by the name of Leon. That means the school doesn’t get counted in this survey.
The challenge of using high school photos
If you’ve looked at historic census records in the U.S., you’ll know that ethnicity is one of the questions that people are asked.
This means that the census archives can be searched by ethnicity as well as specific names. However, I could only search the high school yearbooks by student names and school locations.
So, how did I identify African Americans from people of other heritage?
Well, the recent high school yearbooks have photographs of the students. I did it by eye.
I’m not going to be right with every pick. So, treat these numbers as an estimate.
If you’re looking for analysis of a similar name, check out our article on whether Leroy is an African American name.
I did similar reviews of other “on” names i.e. names ending in “on”. Check these out: