China: More People, Fewer Names
In China, meanwhile, the government is cracking down on uncommon names. From today’s Times:
Seeking to modernize its vast database on China’s 1.3 billion citizens, the government’s Public Security Bureau has been replacing the handwritten identity card that every Chinese must carry with a computer-readable one, complete with color photos and embedded microchips. The new cards are harder to forge and can be scanned at places like airports where security is a priority.
The bureau’s computers, however, are programmed to read only 32,252 of the roughly 55,000 Chinese characters, according to a 2006 government report. The result is … at least some of the 60 million other Chinese with obscure characters in their names cannot get new cards — unless they change their names to something more common.
Even more interesting is this bit about Chinese surnames:
By some estimates, 100 surnames cover 85 percent of China’s citizens. Laobaixing, or “old hundred names,” is a colloquial term for the masses. By contrast, 70,000 surnames cover 90 percent of Americans.
Here is a list of the 1,000 most common surnames in the U.S. There is much less variance among Latinos: 4 of the top 15 names are Hispanic (Garcia, Rodriguez, Martinez, and Hernandez). That’s the kind of thing that makes Andy Rooney unhappy.