Whatever Happened to Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate?

The subject of names is something I’ve been thinking about a little here and there since we arrived here, and last week’s post on immigration prompted me to do a little research. The reason is that the British seem to be thrillingly predictable in their choice of names. But while anecdotally, this is certainly true, I decided to have a closer look at this. So I took my company’s address book, and just picked out all the first names. While there are only about 500 people working in my office, there are other offices in the UK, and a lot working for the outsourcers, some of whom have people in India. Contractors and consultants are also included. In total, there are 4,967 people on the list. Doing a quick weed-out of similar names and nicknames (Allan vs Alan, Dave vs David, Andy vs Andrew, etc), I came up with 1,330 different names.

Now, on average, that works out to between 3 and 4 people per name. The standard deviation is 9.2, and while I’ve forgotten nearly all my statistics, that tells me that you probably wouldn’t expect many names to come up more than 40 or 50 times. But here’s the table of the top male and female names:

 Males Females
David 127 Claire 66
John 97 Catherine 49
Stephen 91 Karen 48
Paul 82 Nicola 42
Andrew 77 Jennifer 41
Christopher 69 Susan 41
James 63 Louise 36
Mark 61 Laura 34
Ian 57 Alison 42
Robert 47 Deborah 33
Michael 45 Gillian 33

Let’s look at the female names first – apart from Claire, there’s not too many surprises there. The top 11 woman’s names account for 9% of the total (and since females make up approximately 46% of the total, that’s 20% of all females).

For males, the figures are 16% and 30%. That’s right – nearly one third of all men have one of 11 names. And one in 20 is called Dave.

Now, the link to last week’s post is that immigration has had a huge influence on the diversity of names. Among the Indian, Pakistani and Chinese immigrant population, you seldom get the same name twice (the obvious exception being Mohammed variants). Out of the 900 names that occur only once, fully two-thirds are of obviously immigrant origin (and I’m not counting the weird Irish and Welsh ones). If you take these out of the equation, the male figure of 30% above moves up to 43%. That’s right – nearly half of British men have one of the 11 names above. And one in 16 is Dave.

Which explains

a) The use of “Dave” as a generic term for someone whose name you don’t know,
and
b) The existence of a TV channel called Dave

and goes to show that

a) British parents obviously give more thought to naming their daughters than their sons,
and
b) Mrs McCave must have been British.

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