A bit of a random side-show while I’m working on the next post in my series about God.
Today I needed to write an explanation of how different people would interact. I started, as I often do, by naming them. So Suzie would say to Bob, such and such, and Bob would contact Esther to have her do such and such. I suspect we all do that a fair bit.
During a coffee break, it occurred to me that I spend too much time
- Thinking up names.
- Making sure I don’t have an obvious gender bias.
- Making sure they’re distinctive enough to not confuse things.
So I enrolled my wife with a challenge. Help me standardize the names I use for random people. Adding to the above criteria I have another.
- For the sake of fingers, names should be short.
Because (for reasons I won’t got into) I don’t write in a word-processor, but in a text editor, it would also be convenient if the names are the same length, so they take up the same space.
So, after a cup of coffee, a few Jaffa Cakes, and some searching through baby names websites, we have the definitive list of generic people names:
This list has 13 male and 13 female names (some names can be used for both genders – the predominant gender is used). And, if you use them in order, they will almost always give you as near to a 1:1 ratio as you could get. Some of the spellings aren’t the most common spelling for a name, but they are all common in their own right. The names are (obviously) all 4 letters long, and no two have just one letter difference. I’ve taken some care to remove obvious homophones (such as Bill and Gill) which could confuse things in a phone call.
What I didn’t do is to weight the occurrence on the list by ethnicity. I thought of this, but it turns out to be very complicated to do, since there just aren’t enough names to add this additional criteria. I have (perhaps halfheartedly) tried to use non-European names. But then again there’s a bit of a problem. Since I’m mostly communicating with Western, English-speaking readers, names they have to read twice or struggle over would be counter-productive. So the list is, unfortunately, biased towards my ear.
Fifteen fun minutes in the middle of an otherwise grindy day.