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Whats in a (last) name ? April 25, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, sport, weird.

My questions get more and more general as you go down each paragraph ?

What is the probability that a cricketer is better known by his first name than his last name ? In other words (and taking a frequentist view of probability), of all the cricketers you can think of, how many are referred to by their first names instead than last ? ( Forget about people known by their complete names for once – like the Waugh twins). Why is it disproportionately skewed towards last name ? ( Arguing that it is what is written on their shirts ( do they ??) is not an answer – you would have to say why do they choose to do that ( if they do so ). Is it because their last names are more rarer than their first names – ( Rahul/Sachin ) ? Not a compelling argument. Is it true of other sports as well ?

Arguably full names seem the norm applied to Bollywood stars. Why ? Is it because the damn place reeks of in-breeding and nepotism to such an extent that that if you just say “Kapoor”, it could refer to a person or her/his son/spouse/daughter/dad/mom/uncles/aunts/grandparents?

How about celebrities in general ? Politicians ?

What about your friends ? How do you predominantly refer to them in conversations with third parties ( other friends ) ?

Why do people have first and last names at all ( sometimes they have 6/7 – check this guy ) – to decrease the probability that 2 people have the exact same name ? Show respect/affiliation towards city/town/dad/mom ? Why not country ? Is it because the idea of a country is itself so new whereas the sense of belonging towards smaller community is so much older ?

I want answers to all these questions right now ! πŸ˜€ ( because the last time I asked Sandeep Shetty about this cricketer’s names, he just said that I am weird providing no anecdotal/empirical evidence to prove his ‘claim’ πŸ˜‰ )



1. Achala - April 26, 2007

You left out one. Why do people have names at all? πŸ™‚

2. Sharath Rao - April 26, 2007

…so that some members of humanity can talk about other members in their absence πŸ™‚

3. Abhinav - April 26, 2007

I lose track of the topic here:

( because the last time I asked Sandeep Shetty about this cricketer’s names, he just said that I am weird providing no anecdotal/empirical evidence to prove his β€˜claim’


Elucidate please.

4. Aswin - April 26, 2007

Interesting post indeed!

It would be really interesting to see if there are more ‘Sharath’s in india or more ‘Rao’s . Though Rao might be an obvious choice at first, when you think that Rao is merely regional, but ‘Sharath’ is more national, the figures might seem to be a lot closer.

Surnames tend to be region based in India – DSouza/Hegde/Kini are heavy in Mangalore, but rare elsewhere. However, First names like ‘Arjun’, ‘Ramesh’, ‘Rahul’ are extremely common throughout India.

When you make a National side, you are picking from different regions, and you will end up with unique surnames. Not necessarily, but the probability is low. But you will end up with many ‘Ajay’s or ‘Ram’s as this is a national phenonmenon and not regional.

In your reasoning that surnames are not rare, I believe you are forgetting that the National side is made of ppl from different regions across india and hence unique surnames are more likely than unique first names.

5. Aswin - April 26, 2007

As for the rest of your post, I think its all about being ‘family’ πŸ™‚ … you want something common between you and your child, or your kin. If all we had were single names, we would be related to our family in no way other than blood.

Its sort of a ‘bonding factor’ .. like between two strangers, you might feel closer to another Rao than say a Kumar… just because you think you somehow share some ancestry/culture.

The statement ‘I know him on a first-name basis’ says something very crucial to your discussion. First name implies personal relationship, surname implies professional. And I think that is universal across all cultures

6. Aswin - April 26, 2007

*correction* in my first post – Not necessarily but the probability is HIGH.

7. Sharath Rao - April 26, 2007

Aswin, we are infact in agreement – lastnames are more salient than first names ( theoretically ) because of the nature of the composition…so we are likely to have more variety in surnames in the cricket team. Hence I mention “Is it because their last names are more rarer than their first names – ( Rahul/Sachin ) ? Not a compelling argument. ” …but yeah, I was doubtful about how well that explains it. But now that you mention, the theory holds more water than I intially thought it did.

But your second comment about ‘family’ or blood relation, thats interesting. I guess you know Erwin on first-name basis and on last-name basis ( whatever that means ) as well πŸ˜€

8. Sharath Rao - April 26, 2007

I mean next time unsuspected try talking to him as ..”Nice to meet you Mr. DSouza” or something πŸ˜€

9. Sharath Rao - April 26, 2007

And Abhinav, that was just pulling one of my friends’ legs – and of others – who evade the question by questioning the motives/incentives/sanity of the questioner πŸ˜‰

10. Abhinav - April 27, 2007

Haha. Ok I understand now.

I love to analyze names of people because they tell so much about them. Especially for Indians.

The last name can indicate the place of ancestral origin, or roughly the region. The first name may provide some clue as to what must have been going on in the mind of the name-giver as he/she must have chosen it for a yet unnamed child. Also, the way names are spelt can give a few clues.

Let me elaborate.

Let’s take the name Sharath Rao. Sharath is spelt with a ‘th’ instead of a ‘d’. So I know straightaway that you are from the south of the vindhyas:)

Now Raos are found in many parts of India. But in the Southern half, they are mainly from Andhra and Karnataka. And Sharath (or Sharad) means winter in Hindi. So I guess you were to be named with the letter ‘S’ and perhaps you had a calm, composed personality as a kid, so you got named Sharath.

That’s how names can tell you a lot about Indian people:)

And even in other cultures. I was reading a book about Chinese names, and despite them sounding all alike, significant variations can tell you about the particualar ethnicity, dialect group etc. etc. of the person.

So, to answer your question, there’s a lot to the last name than meets the eye.

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