The Curious Nature of Names

When looking at the names of candidates for assembly elections in India, we found something curious. Here is the list of names, and how often they occur.

Om Prakash478
Ashok Kumar411
Ram Singh362
Raj Kumar294
Anil Kumar271
Amar Singh248
Mohan Lal235
Ram Kumar224
Babu Lal218
Ram Prasad213

There have been 478 people named “Om Prakash” that have contested in elections. 411 Ashok Kumars. And so on.

It’s natural that many people share the same name. Some of these names are popular. That wasn’t what surprised us.

What surprised us was this plot of the rank and frequency, which is nearly a straight line.

This is a log-log plot of rank versus frequency. The rank of the name on the X axis. The number of times the name occurred on the Y-axis.

What this means is that top name is as much more popular than the 2nd as the 2nd is more than the 3rd, and so on.

We find this pattern everywhere

Here is the same plot based on names that appear in Bollywood movie credits

The relative popularity of Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Shakti Kapoor, Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi and so on are very close to a straight line.

This is a plot of student names in the Tamil Nadu.

Again, nearly a straight line.

Why is this?

Popularity breeds popularity

Our theory is that people’s choice of names is not unbiased. Popular names tend to be more favoured.

Another way of looking at it is this. Say I know 10 people.

  • 4 are called Asha
  • 3 are called Bindu
  • 2 are called Chitra
  • 1 is called Divya

There’s a 40% chance, all things being equal, that I will name my child after Asha.

We don’t know if this is all that affects our naming. But it does appear a strong factor.

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