Nameless Horror

by Kieran Healy on October 22, 2006

Via the “common-as-dirt PZ Myers”: comes “this site”:, which alleges it will tell you how many people in the U.S. share a name with you. The results are not encouraging.
Logo There are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Now, I am in Australia at the moment, so technically this result might be true and the database technology underlying this website disturbingly powerful. However, there are reasons to suspect otherwise. The thing also claims that there are zero people in the United States with the first name “Kieran.” In fact, of the seven Crooked Timber bloggers normally resident in the United States, six supposedly have non-existent names. Now, I can see why no-one would choose to name their child “Harry” or “Brian” or “Scott,” but thanks largely to my charisma and charm as a blogger, increasing numbers of parents are choosing to name their sons after me:

The results may, however, explain why so many Americans insist on mispronouncing my name as “Kiernan,” just as English people insist on spelling my surname “Healey.”



ogged 10.22.06 at 7:24 pm

It tells me that there are 376,461 people in the U.S. named Harry. It has a very strange way of presenting results. Look in the box directly under where you enter the name.


will u. 10.22.06 at 7:35 pm

“There are 3,686,614 people in the U.S. with the first name William.
Statistically the 6th most popular first name.
99.72 percent of people with the first name William are male.”

There are over ten thousand women named William in the US?


Ali Soleimani 10.22.06 at 7:37 pm

If you read the site’s info, their data only covers reasonably popular names. Roughly 10% of the population, those with the least popular first names, are not included. Similarly, the 10% of the population with the least popular last names are not included.

Using the Pareto principle that suggests on the order of 80% of names in the US will not show up.

What’s more, they also assume the distribution of first and last names is independent. Yes, I’m serious. (Limitation of their data source.) This presumably leads to significant underestimation of popularity for nearly all names. And names from minority ethnic groups in the USA will be massively underrepresented.


John Emerson 10.22.06 at 7:38 pm

Apparently 10% of Americans have last names not listed, and 10% have first names not listed, presumably totalling 18% having one or the other not listed and 1% having both not listed.


Kieran Healy 10.22.06 at 7:40 pm

It tells me that there are 376,461 people in the U.S. named Harry.

Sorry, I meant full names.


kid bitzer 10.22.06 at 7:53 pm

I’m outraged. It tells me that there are zero people in the US named “kid bitzer”. That’s slanderous.

And as for the handle I sometimes use when blogging, it says there is only one person in the US with that name. Which I can well believe.

(I am a bit surprised that there are also zero people with the first name ‘kid’. I figured there would be scads of people with my first name!)


dearieme 10.22.06 at 8:05 pm

Dearie Me
There are 0 people in the U.S. with the first name Dearie. This name is not found in our database, this means the name is relatively uncommon.

There are 630 people in the U.S. with the last name Me. Statistically the 41520th most popular last name. (tied with 3253 other last names)


Anderson 10.22.06 at 8:11 pm

7 of me, supposedly. Including, from my past googling, the football coach at a high school where a notorious shooting-spree took place.


Joey 10.22.06 at 8:24 pm

The thing also claims that there are zero people in the United States with the first name “Kieran.”
That’s absurd! Surely we’re all familiar with the oeuvre of Kieran Culkin who, alas, has lived in the shadow of his brother Macauley…right?


Ashish George 10.22.06 at 8:32 pm

It says there are no other people with my name, but there are at least three other people on Facebook with my name.


kvenlander 10.22.06 at 9:32 pm

One of my kids doesn’t exist according to this. Neither does our last name. Oh well.


Thompsaj 10.22.06 at 9:49 pm

As one of 13,246 with the same name, I’m overcome with quite the opposite, though no less disturbing, horror as those unique commenters. I’ve thought of this in the past, that googling my name is really of no use, as there are people who share my name, and are close in age, even in my medium sized city.


will u. 10.22.06 at 10:27 pm

Aww, this thing is no fun. This restriction to common names means I can’t see if there’s anyone named “Awesome McGuy” or “Rex Strong”


lemuel pitkin 10.22.06 at 11:38 pm

There are, however, 8,999 Lemuels and 1,530 Pitkins, albeit none in combination. I would have expected the relative frequencies to be the other way round.


Henry (not the famous one) 10.23.06 at 12:33 am

On the other hand, can anyone duplicate this freakish result: when I inputted the first and last name of my co-worker Dolly Gee, it reports that “there are 23,997 people in the U.S. with the first name Dolly” and “23,997 people in the U.S. with the last name Gee”?


Henry (not the famous one) 10.23.06 at 12:37 am

Postscript to #15: I meant, of course, to get a similar match with other names. You can, of course, duplicate the result by inputting “Dolly” and “Gee.”


Matt 10.23.06 at 2:06 am

Just remember, in the end, there can be only one. (I guess Kieran’s already won his version of the game.)


chris y 10.23.06 at 2:54 am


The last name Dearie exists in the States, however. I recently discovered to my astonishment that the singer Blossom Dearie worked under her real name.


Harald Korneliussen 10.23.06 at 3:41 am

I refuse to believe that there are no Haralds or Korneliussens in the USA, this base can’t be very correct.

We’ve had a service for this in Norway quite some time, but it refuses to report exact numbers if they are very low (for privacy reasons). So, you won’t know if there are no Healys of just less than seven. It’s here.


Harald Korneliussen 10.23.06 at 3:47 am

Some tidbits from the norwegian base (they have improved it a lot since last time): Graphs for the popularity of the names Even and Odd.


Jacob Christensen 10.23.06 at 4:32 am

There are 64 of me in the US and 12 in Norway. Unfortunately SCB in Sweden doesn’t allow searches for “First name” + “Last name” but I wouldn’t be surprised if I was the only me in Sweden.

When I visit my native Denmark, I am in the company of 543 Jacob Christensens. And the number is increasing! (Given that I am 41, that is a little surprising).

World domination is just around the corner.

Oh, and by the way: There are 503 people in the U.S. named George Bush, but only one Hilary Clinton.


George 10.23.06 at 4:42 am

The site tried to install a couple of security programs when I ran the search. According to Symantic it is a bit of a scam. They do a security ‘sweep’ (without permission), locate an exagerated risk, then try to sell you the program to remove the risk.


bad Jim 10.23.06 at 4:42 am

There are 4,991,477 people in the U.S. with the first name James.

Statistically the 1st most popular first name.

99.7 percent of people with the first name James are male.

So, 54k with roughly my name, but only 32 identified as “Jim” (surname). My late father might have been surprised, or the grandfather he was named after.

In the places I’ve worked the name “Jim” has been so common as to be useless as an attention-getter. In practice you’d just walk up to someone and tap them, or, in meetings, look at them meaningfully and use “you”.

It could be worse. There was a marketing meeting in our conference room with two outside consultants and three employees, all but one young woman named Mike. And that was with my brother and a purchasing agent to spare.

Despite the immediate name-space collision, I am yet, using two more signifiers, uniquely identified in one or more data bases, such that my inventions are recognized, my card charges are paid, I’m allowed to fly, but PayPal … may profit by other examples.


bad Jim 10.23.06 at 4:48 am

“All named Mike but one woman” would have been clearer, “All but Denice named Mike” more concise.


Seth Edenbaum 10.23.06 at 9:25 am

The thing says there is no one else in the US with my last name.
So my family must all be dead.


John Emerson 10.23.06 at 9:29 am

I tried to find my two favorite saga characters (two brothers) in the Scandinavian databases. I found a few Grims but no Glums.


SamChevre 10.23.06 at 9:42 am

It says that there is one of me, but neither my father nor 2 of my brothers (whose first names are less common than mine) exist.


Rich B. 10.23.06 at 9:53 am

There are 247 of me, which is probably among the worst-case scenarios. My name is common enough that if you “Google” me you get several other people, but rare enough that everyone else I went to high school with and Googles me thinks that they are all me.

Among the more common, I am a small business owner, a Theocon who writes articles on why Jesus doesn’t want liberal legislation, a controversial gay seminary student, and the administrator of an obsessively huge Lord of the Rings fan-site.

I am, in fact, none of those four things, but a shockingly large number of people who haven’t seen my in 20 years assume that I am one (or more) of these people.

One can only wonder what potential employers have thought of me, and have been tempted to start my own web-site to extol my moderation and say, “Please feel free to employ me knowing that I am neither a gay-right-activist nor a right-wing-activist!”


not max power 10.23.06 at 10:01 am

Amusingly, there are no fewer than 4 people called Max Power, apparently for real.


harry b 10.23.06 at 10:13 am

0 for Bob Dylan. Quite a lot of Robert Zimmermans. I know 1/5th of the people named Thomas Glueck.


Jacob Christensen 10.23.06 at 10:16 am

Just a follow-up: According to the site, there is only one (1) Alan Berliner in the US.


-> #22: I didn’t encounter any odd behaviour (Info for geeks: Firefox/WinXP). McAfee’s SiteAdvisor doesn’t have any data on the site – yet. The page doesn’t provide any clues about who runs it. Maybe a job for a Philip Marlowe of the internet? (There should be 9 of those available and 249 Raymond Chandlers to do the prose)


harry b 10.23.06 at 10:38 am

but, rich b, you seem to feel no need to assure a future employer that you are not a LoR crazy. Why not?


clint 10.23.06 at 11:11 am

Their methodology must read like the intro to a particularly poorly written exam question in an intro stats class.

Something like: There are 300 million people in US. Based on crappy old estimates there are X people with the first name Max and Y people with the last name Power.

a. Identify the probability someone will have the first name Max
b. Identify the probability someone will have the last name Power
c. Assuming first and last names are independent, calculate the joint probability of having the name “Max Power”
d. Based on the joint probability in (c), approximately how many Americans are named “Max Power”?

hmm, maybe I should use this next time I have to teach intro stats.


neil 10.23.06 at 11:22 am

This is a load of crap. It says there are 0 people with my name when I happen to know there are at least 2.


abb1 10.23.06 at 11:39 am

Abb1 is unique.


Dan Goodman 10.23.06 at 1:21 pm

For more accuracy, try and give the state/province as “all states.” This phone and address lookup site also covers Canada. (And yes, it lists those with unlisted numbers — offering to get the information on them for a small fee.)


Kent 10.23.06 at 1:45 pm

It tells me that there is only one person with my name in the US. I know that this is false, because when I google my name, I can find another one. Apparently he was a high-school football player a few years ago.


Dan Karreman 10.23.06 at 5:40 pm

Nope, just me in the whole world. But then I have umlauts over the a in my surname. And I personally now all the Kärremans.


d 10.23.06 at 8:05 pm

I wish this were true.


Salted Peanut Lover 10.23.06 at 8:23 pm

Fully 414 parents with surname of Cox named their son Harry. Go figure.


engels 10.24.06 at 12:27 am

There are 0 people in the U.S. named Donald Rumsfeld.

There are 28 people in the U.S. named Donald Duck.


bad Jim 10.24.06 at 3:39 am

Engels, I prefer your world to mine.

Back when I was a student, the Berkeley phone book had a listing for B. Traven, on Parker, as I recall.


rea 10.24.06 at 5:08 am

Sigh. I don’t exist, it says . . .


engels 10.24.06 at 12:05 pm

I think #33 is right, as it would explain results like this:

There are 5,241 people in the U.S. named James James.


Jacob Christensen 10.25.06 at 11:05 am

-> Engels: As a matter of fact, a search on the WhitePages returns no less than 69 listings of Donald Duck.

I cannot rule out the possibility that one of them uses the surname Rumsfeld as his nom-de-guerre.


(In Denmark, the Donald is known as Anders And but according to Danmarks Statistik, no-one of that name lives in Denmark. The closest match is one (1) Anders Andersen).


stuart 10.25.06 at 11:08 am

For those wondering 33 was right as the site says:

Q: Why isn’t it more accurate?

A: There are a number of possible sources of inaccuracy:

First and foremost, the program is based upon a convenient fiction. Without getting too technical, the program makes the assumption that a person’s first and last names are independent of one another. What this means is it assumes that the probability of a person having a particular first name is the same no matter what last name they have. It isn’t.


spencer 10.25.06 at 2:05 pm

Yes, technology. I’m 64 years old and this says there are 6 people named spencer england in the us.

But once in my senior year of college in 1964 we were talking about names in an all night bull
session and I made the claim that my name was unusual. One thing led to another and we decided to find another spencer england. It took one phone call to information in New York to find a spencer england.

That was a lot more fun then using this site.

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