Tag Archive: same name

Irish Roots

(Submitted by reader Bobby Goldstein)

[EDITOR NOTE: Bobby requested that the names and dates of his grandfather’s name be anonymized for this post.]

I recently learned that because I have a couple of grandparents who were born in Ireland, I can get dual citizenship. This is pretty exciting to me, and so I’m doing the research and retrieving documents for folks who were born more than 100 years ago.

I knew my grandpa pretty well, and I knew his birthdate, and what county he was born in. The helpful woman at the consulate suggested I start by contacting the parish churches. So I started emailing parish churches in County Roscommon, and I got a hit. One church DID have a John O’Smith born on 1901-10-11. We emailed back and forth and they sent me a link to the government website where I could, and did, order a birth certificate. After I ordered it, I went back and looked at the emails from the church – they had a different birthdate for him, and I just hadn’t noticed – he was born JANUARY 11, not October 11. Everything else checked out, including BOTH parents’ first names.

I checked with some relatives, and they all thought it was plausible that either Grandpa had gotten his birthdate wrong somewhere along the lines, or that someone had mis-transcribed the birth month.

But then I heard from a different parish church in the same town, and they had a John O’Smith born in 1901 on OCTOBER 11. Also, on the second one, while the parents’ (i.e. my great grandparents’) first names were the same, they had a different birth name for my grandmother.

So I called the records office, and there were 2 people born with the name John O’Smith in 1901, and I’ve got the birth certificate for the wrong one.

Now, John O’Smith is not that rare a name, and while Athlone is not a huge city (population 20,000 now, I have no idea what it was in 1901), it’s not tiny, so that part of it seems like not that big a coincidence. But:

  • Both were born on the 11th of the month
  • They were the ONLY 2 John O’Smiths born that year in the county (I THINK they said the county. Might have been the town)
  • Both of them had a father named Patrick
  • Both of them had a mother named Brigid

I know that in cases like comparing Lincoln and Kennedy, you see so many coincidences because there are so many potential coincidences, and so you can cherry-pick. But, here, I can’t cherry pick. I only know so much about my grandfather’s birth. And yet just about everything (except birth month and mother’s maiden name) matches up.

How about that?

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 207. Take a look and leave your comments below.

This isn’t really as much like Lincoln/Kennedy as it is like most of the other name stories that we get. There is certainly some hindsight bias involved (in the Lincoln/Kennedy comparison, we notice the things that match and not the myriad of things which do not), but we should still be impressed with the number of things which are the same. Except that we shouldn’t.
I don’t have a good source of name frequencies in Ireland to quantify this, but being of Irish decent myself and having paid some attention to my own family tree, I can say that these names are indeed extremely common. What’s more, individuals born in the same year are much more likely to share a first name than those born apart because name popularity follows a trend. Some, like [John], Brigid, and Patrick are extremely common and timeless names most likely honoring a family member. Since the individuals share a last name, it is highly likely that they were related somehow, increasing the probability that the name would be shared.

Similar Soldiers

(Submitted by reader Robert Wilson)

I joined the Royal Australian Air force in 1972. During the ’70s recruitment was high, so it was not uncommon to have  flights of 20(ish) trainees graduating each week or so. On my first pay parade (we all got paid in cash after a lengthy line up) we all stood at-ease awaiting our name to be called out.

When the paymaster shouted out our names, family name first, first name last, we would then snap to attention and march forward for our pay.

This is how it went:

“Wilson, Robert”…. two of us stepped forward!

No problem thinks the paymaster as he glances down at the pay slip and announces, “Wilson, Robert, William”

The both of us stood firm!

He then read out the 6 digit ID number, and we were separated by less than 100 numbers if memory serves (numbers are issued sequentially which just means we joined about the same time).

So, what are the odd of having identical names, and joining the air force within weeks of each other?

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 200. Take a look and leave your comments below.

It’s not easy for me to put numbers on the probability of this happening because name frequencies in Australia were hard to find. However, I did find that the names “Robert” and “William” were as popular there in the 1960s (I assume that the author was between 17 and 25 when he joined) as the were in the U.S., where they took the 5th and 7th spots, respectively. As we’ve seen in past episodes, “Robert” is an enduring name; it was the #1 name for baby boys for decades and has not left the top 100 in more than a century. In the 1960s, “Robert” was the first name in 14,000 boys for every million born and “William” in every 10,000. There is no readily-available source to determine the probability that “William” would be chosen for a middle name, so the first name frequency will have to serve.

The surname name of “Wilson” is also a very common one, but it is difficult to determine just how common it was in Australia at that time. Today, “Wilson” is ranked 5th, occurring in 5,037.98 of every million people. This has probably changed a bit since the 1960s, but it’s our best estimate.
So, 140 of every million boys with the first name of “Robert” will have the last name of “Wilson”, and 1.4 of those will have the middle name “William”. This means that, for every 10 million men this author will meet around his age, 15 will probably share his full name.
The probability of joining the Air Force so close together adds a degree of complexity and to do it justice would require more accurate information about the distributions of these names across ethnic groups and as well as the distribution of ethnic groups in the military. Without that information, my best guess is the probability that another man in a selection of 100 will have this name, given that the author does, which is about 1 in a million.

(Submitted by reader Matthew McGrath)

Earlier this evening I had a powerful craving for some pizza.

It was 8pm and rainy on a Thursday evening, so I thought I’d order a pizza from a restaurant down the street. After ordering using their fancy website, I got a call several minutes later from a rather confused employee of the restaurant. She asked me why I decided to place two separate orders: one delivery and one pick-up. I replied that no, in fact I just ordered the one pizza to be delivered and nothing else.

Thinking it was a computer error, she confirmed both orders and realized that the following had occurred: two separate, unrelated people named Matthew McGrath decided to order a pizza. Both chose the same restaurant, and both chose not to call but to use the online order system. Both submitted their orders at exactly the same time and both live within a 5 mile radius of the restaurant in question. Weird.

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 196. Take a look and leave your comments below.

This story falls into the category of “difficult to calculate” due to a lack of information, but again, it brings up an interesting human behavior. The fact that someone with his name lives within a 5-mile radius is not very surprising. When I was a child and we lived in an area with a fairly low population density, there were 2 people within that distance with my father’s name; one even shared his middle name and was retired from the U.S. Navy (my father was active duty at the time). The odds of ordering pizza at the same time is another question. The information we would need in order to estimate, even generally, the odds of this include:

  • The location, population, and number of pizza places available in the area which deliver.
  • The year, which we would need in order to determine how common the author’s name.
  • The proportion of pizza orders which were made online at that time. How often the author orders pizza.
  • Some information about pizza delivery trends – do more people order pizza when it’s raining? What are the peak ordering times? The more orders a place receives, the more likely this is to happen.

What I find interesting is how many “same name” stories we encounter. Surely there are interesting coincidences every day, but people are more likely to notice events that involve something as personal as their own name. Most of us have lived with our first names our entire lives. We write it, say it, and hear it more often than any other name in the universe. So even though our names are not unique to us, they sometimes feel as if they are and they are extremely personal.