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What's in a congregational name?

The ten most common elements of a Unitarian Universalist congregation's name.
By Christopher L. Walton
Summer 2012 5.15.12

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What names are most common among the 1,054 member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association? The graphic above shows the ten most common elements in a UU congregation’s name, based on newly compiled data for 2012.

Most common: “Unitarian Universalist” appears in 756 congregations’ names, not counting 26 that call themselves “Unitarian Universalists.” (The graphic condenses the phrase as “UnitUniv.”) Some congregations continue to identify with one of the UUA’s predecessor traditions: 167 are “Unitarian,” 61 “Universalist.”

More than half (593) include the name of the city or town. Another 71 use a regional name (such as BuxMont in Pennsylvania or Orange Coast in California), while 42 identify themselves by county. Other site-specific names are popular: 49 are named for local geography (Foothills, High Plains), 34 for a valley, 23 for a river or other body of water, and nine for some other local landmark. Seven are named for the street they’re on.

Almost half (474) use the word “church.” Just over a quarter (273) say “fellowship,” while 146 use “congregation,” 104 “society,” and 58 “parish.” Thirty-four use “community.”

Nineteen percent (195) are “First” this-or-that, including 51 “First Unitarian” congregations. There are also six “Second,” one “Third,” and two “Fourth” congregations.

A handful of congregations add a theological term, with “All Souls” (22) the most common. (Three of the ten largest congregations in the UUA are named All Souls.) “Hope” and “Unity” each appear three times; one congregation is named “Spirit of Life.”

A few use an individual’s name. Only five people have more than one congregation named after them: Ralph Waldo Emerson (five), William Ellery Channing (four), Thomas Jefferson (four), Thomas Starr King (two), and St. Paul (two, for the apostle, not the city).

Three are named for women: Olympia Brown, Dorothea Dix, and Mary Bradford. Four are named for twentieth-century figures: Bradford, A. Powell Davies, Don Goodloe, and James Reeb.


Graphic generated by wordle.net using data prepared by Christopher L. Walton.

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