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China: More People, Fewer Names

Go ahead, complain all you want about living in America — but at least you can name your kid whatever you want, whether it’s Temptress, Yourhighness, or even Marijuana Pepsi.
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.