Thursday, January 23, 2003

Glengarry Glen Ross

Eugene is excited about this list of name frequencies collected by the Census. I think it’s pretty cool, too. But in looking at it closely, I noticed something slightly misleading about it: alternate spellings of the same name are listed separately. Naturally, I noticed this because I looked up my own name in the list. “Glen” is the 188th most common male name in the U.S., at 0.094% of the male population. But “Glenn” is the 117th most common male name, at 0.167% of the male population. Adding these together, they constitute 0.261% of the male population, making Glen/Glenn the 68th most common male name (between Bruce and Brandon). Of course, that’s assuming that all the other names are distinct. But if we combine Shawn (92nd) and Sean (94th), we find that Shawn/Sean comes in 42nd.

And then there’s the problem of nicknames or related names. William comes in 5th, Billy comes in 73rd, and Bill 159th. Combining them, they jump past Michael (4th). But that’s not accounting for all the Mikes out there.

Since this is Census data, I assume that seeming nicknames might be the actual names on birth certificates. So arguably, these are not people with the same name after all. But on the other hand, many of the people categorized under the standard names may go by the nicknames. Given the subjectivity of deciding what constitutes the “same” name, I can’t fault the Census for taking the objective spelling-only approach.

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