Internet-Search-Friendly Names

When you name your child there are many considerations to take into account. For example, you should always check that your kids’ initials don’t embarrass them. For example, if the Goldsteins want to name their son Paz, because it means golden in Biblical Hebrew, the middle name shouldn’t be Isaak, or anything starting with I.

Contemporary culture adds another consideration: how easy would it be to find your child on the Internet? I personally find it extremely convenient to have a rare name, because my fans can find my webpage and blog just by googling me. Parents need to decide whether they want their children to be on the first page of the search engine or hidden very far away when someone googles them.

When I named my son Sergei, I knew that there was another mathematician named Sergei Bernstein. But I didn’t think about the Internet. As a result, I confused the world: is my son more than a hundred years old or did Sergei Natanovich Bernstein compete at Putnam?



  1. Gregory Marton:

    Perhaps internet search should become friendlier to people? :-)

  2. ObsessiveMathsFreak:

    The internet compounds an already existing problem: how best to choose a name so that someone is reasonably uniquely identified. Anglo Saxon parents typically fail miserably at this task, with names like John and Jack overused extensively. Anyway, I will try to think about this.

    Assume that we are trying to given a child a unique identification among a population of size N. (In a small town, perhaps a population might be 10,000 (I am from Ireland)). Let there be F first names, with P(f) denoting the probability of a particular name f, and let S and P(s) denote the same for surnames. Assume the probabilities for first and last names are uncorrelated. The child’s surname s is fixed at birth, so it shares this with on average N*P(s) individuals. Picking a particular firstname f, the child will share its name with N*P(s)*P(f) individuals on average.

    It is clear that parents with more common surnames automatically have a more difficult task than those with rare surnames. But the population size is confounds things. In a town of 10,000 with 50 first names and 50 surnames to choose from, on average 4 people share each name. But in a city of 10 million, 4000 people will share the same name–Disaster! Now the power of the internet, and the all seeking Google has pushed N up to 7 billion; meaning 28 million shared names on average. Woe betide large, homogeneous civilisations.

    I have no idea how many names and surnames there actually are in the world. But to avoid, say, more than 10 people on average sharing the same name, the parents of the world are going to need to be able to choose from about 700 million possible name combinations; but their surnames are fixed. To attempt a wild guess at overestimation, I assume there are 70,000 surnames in the world. Then, each parent would need a choice of about 10,000 first names, just to attempt to avoid more than on average 10 name collisions.

    Do baby name books supply this kind of needed selection? If not, and if my numbers are right here, I think the world is in for some confusion as search engine technology improves. Or else people will need to use middle names more often.