Hey, Vsauce. Michael here.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau right now, in America, there are 106 people named Harry Potter.
1 007 named James Bond and eight people named Justin Bieber.
They’re just aren’t enough names to go around. There are more than 300 million people in America but a hundred and fifty
thousand last names and five thousand first names is all you need to name 9 out of every 10 of them.
When are we gonna run out of names? Perhaps it’s already happened to you. If it hasn’t, when?
Ten years, twenty years, a hundred, a thousand. When will someone with your exact name become famous?
So famous in fact that your legacy changes forever to just being not the person people think of when
they hear your name. And for that matter, when will every reasonably
memorable pronounceable band name or brand name be taken? When will authors have no choice but to
just start reusing book titles? According to Rovi Corp, owner of AllMusic.com, the most used band name is ‘Bliss’, followed in order by ‘Mirage’, ‘One’, ‘Gemini’, ‘Legacy’, ‘Paradox’ and ‘Rain’.
In the past when fewer bands had already been created and
you couldn’t just Google up every single band, overlap was easier to
get away with and one word band names were plentiful.
But now, after years and years and years of band formation, well, we have ‘The Who’, but we also have ‘The What?’, ‘The Where’, ‘The When’, ‘The Why’, ‘The How’ and even ‘The The’. In order to stand out now,
and have your own unique name, you have to be a bit more creative. ‘O’, ‘Diarrhea Planet’ or ‘Betty’s Not a Vitamin’, which, by the way, is no longer true.
Betty became a vitamin in 1994. What about Twitter handles or email addresses? Have we already reached peak username?
We already find ourselves often having to use abbreviations, initials, numbers or just choosing something completely different. Will our children or our children’s children live in a world where the only remaining
Gmail addresses is are just random strings of alphanumeric characters? Are we approaching a name crisis? And if so, should we even call it a name crisis, lest we use up yet another precious name? Maybe you already share your name with
someone famous. But if you don’t, how long will it be until you probably will?
I mean, new famous people are popping up all the time faster now than ever before because of the
Internet and they are gobbling up top Google search billing.
Maybe it won’t happen until long after you’ve been dead but
shouldn’t the reservoir names, not taken by notable people, eventually run out?
Computer scientist Samuel Arbesman approximated how many famous people there are alive today and I think his calculation will be
helpful. You see, he points out that if we allow “famous” to simply mean “being notable enough
to have your own Wikipedia page”, well, because there are 700,000 living people with Wikipedia pages right now,
that means one out of every 10,000 people on earth today are famous. Assuming at the least
that that proportion remains constant since 255 people are born every minute, that means every hour a future famous person is born.
Their name destined to become primarily associated with them, not everyone else who shares their name.
All of those people will be relegated to disambiguation or the post-nominal, not the famous one.
Luckily, if you do the math, you’ll find that even at a rate of one future famous person born every hour, it would still take dozens of millennia for most of us to expect a future famous person with our exact name to emerge. Plus names change.
New ones become popular, others obsolesce, but for fun, let’s
not focus on names we popularly use and instead look at how many possible names there can be.
The Social Security Administration allows up to 36 letters for a complete name.
Now, including spaces, 27 letters filling 36 spots, with repetition allowed, means 3 sextillion possible combinations. That’s more than Earth has atoms.
So let’s refine our limits.
How many pronounceable names are possible?
For that, I say we look at what Randall Munroe, the author of the fantastic ‘What If?’ did
when asked about naming stars.
If you want to give every single star in the observable universe a unique but
pronounceable English name, how long would the names have to be? His approximation is really
fascinating. If we define unpronounceable word as a word that
contains consonant-vowel pairs, we can roughly figure that there
are about 105 different such pair possibilities. 105. That’s not too much different from 99. So, funny enough,
there are about the same number of consonant-vowel pairs possible as there are two-digit numbers, which means we could give every star in
the observable universe a sayable unique name with just 24 letters, the same number of
digits it would take to just number all of them.
So, the bottom line is we may each have to give up uniquely owning a word or name that’s common today, but the potential number of names
that can be made is really hardy.
In fact, before we run out of those our species will likely evolve to
communicate in a completely different way. Also, names aren’t just labels. A name on a screen, a username,
a handle, a screen name doesn’t always act exactly like its owner.
User names can travel more quickly and more widely than
flesh-and-blood people and do things that their puppeteers
wouldn’t normally do away from the keyboard.
It’s called the online disinhibition effect.
If you can’t see the people you’re interacting with
and they can’t see you, you’re all just online hiding behind
different names than usual, why hold back?
I mean, clearly such a system can’t be serious business.
On the Internet no one knows you’re a dog.
Why be nice or tell the truth?
The subreddit KarmaCourt investigates and uncovers people who may
think that the less face-to-face nature of the Internet makes lies easier to get away with. Like this person, who posted an image
suggesting that they’ve been single for a year but had users found out posted three months earlier a picture of my girlfriend’s cat.
These behaviors aren’t just what humans do when they can be anonymous or can hide behind different names,
these behaviors can also be caused by the names themselves.
Studies have found that the username you use can impact how you behave. Your own pre-existing stereotypes and
expectations of certain words, shapes, colors can be confirmed by your behavior, in the same way that studies have found
NFL and NHL players play more aggressively when wearing black uniforms. Studies have also found that the more sexualized an avatar is you make someone use,
the more conscious they will be of their own body image.
And the more an avatar resembles you, the more correlated you watching it exercise is with you being more likely to exercise more.
It’s called the Proteus effect.
The features of a cyberspace version of yourself,
a username and avatar can actually change you, the meat space “IRL” you.
Usernames and avatars then aren’t just handles attached to us. Psychologically, we often interact with them as if they’re friends, distinct beings we created. They help us out but they also can influence us, egg us on, dare us to do things we
wouldn’t normally do because they offer us protection, entertainment.
Some make us feel safe, professional, funny, dangerous, attractive.
We want cool ones. The cool ones make us look cool. As we go about our daily lives and vie for attention, we are more and more
frequently doing so with another name and exclusively
through that name only.
So, it becomes quite interesting that we’re not going to run out of them
anytime soon. In fact, they might run out of us first and may, in many ways, run us. And as always, thanks for watching.