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Tomp

This surname map of london is similar addresses some of the issues you have ...
http://spatialanalysis.co.uk/2011/01/24/mapping-londons-surnames/

... each surname is positioned on top of an area of roughly equal population.

The presentation method seems to work better at city scale where population is - very roughly - evenly distributed at least by comparison with the whole of the US.

Gary

What I would want to do in the interactive version is "hide/highlight all names that are shared across more than xx% of all states." Ideally be able to specify xx as well.

This would let you focus on the names that are distinctive, or that are found in lots of places. What state doesn't have Smith & Jones? That fact is on the chart but impossible to find. Also would think that state boundaries would be useful at some level... since the data is cut that way.

John Roth

I'm confused by your point #2 in the needs to improve list. I'd think that, if surnames have anything like a power law distribution, using a percent cutoff wouldn't affect the number of surnames very much.

Spatialanalysis

I provided the data and helped create the map. I have posted some of my thoughts on the above suggestions here: http://spatial.ly/fG8axi

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