Neil's News

Surname Extinction

23 November 2012

Parents typically fail to assign UUIDs[?] to their offspring, instead relying on an inadequately sized pool of traditional names. Furthermore, parents are phenomenally poor at creating randomness, resulting in gross biases in the name selection process. The inevitable result is widespread collisions. My grade eight class had three students named Sean, and three students named Chris. These collisions are mitigated by the inheritance of a surname.

Unfortunately surnames have their own issue: they go extinct. The Galton-Watson process[?] posits that over time surnames will disappear one by one until everyone has the same surname. This can be seen clearly in China were 9,000 names have gone extinct and 22% of the population are Wong, Lee or Chong.

The process of this imbalance is not the usual positive feedback loop (such as the "rich-get-richer, poor-get-poorer"). It is instead a random walk -- next to a cliff. The only force acting on the system is that once a name randomly stumbles to zero it is gone and can never recover. I wrote a Python script to explore this effect. Below is a graph of surname frequencies over time:

The solution is simple. Upon marriage, instead of the wife taking the husband's surname, both spouses should take the less common of the two available names. Unless that name is Cocks or Shufflebottom. But unless something is done, everyone in the world will likely be a Wong. Which defeats the purpose of having a surname in the first place.

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