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Singapore Math

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Are You a Number?

There is no dearth of books offering advice on what you might call your baby (and even your dog or cat), many of them focusing on the meanings of names. How many of you actually know the meaning of your own names?

Recently, I posted these “Apple people” on Twitter (@MathPlus):

I. Pad Born 11 November 1944; died Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, 30 August 2009.
I. Phone Born Romania, c.1881 (Bronx, New York, 1920 US census).
I. Pod Baptized Whatfield, Suffolk, 20 May 1638.
I. Tunes Married Durham, 1874.

Of course, we can’t discount the possibility that some names might have been recorded thanks to a mistake on the part of a registrar who misheard, or have been transcribed from a half-legible census return. For instance, a number of mainland Chinese fleeing the Communists for a better life had their names “mutilated” by the natives of the countries they landed in.

My Bogus Surname

The Chinese character for my surname translates into “Chew” or “Kew” [depending on the dialect], but an Indian chap of yesteryear mis-registered my father’s surname as “Yan” instead. The aftermath of such an error had only led to anger and frustration; and imagine how much wasted money and time that represent in having to explain why the Chinese and Romanized characters don’t match. Changing your name by deed poll simply can't undo a faux pas of that nature!

In Praise of Numbers

Many of us had read about or met people with names like John Smith, Jr. and Tom Bacon II, where some numeral or abbreviation is being appended to a name, but have we ever come across folks whose names are a number itself? Here are a baker’s dozen of such “numerical characters.”

Zero Queen, born Cleverland, North Carolina, USA, 10 September 1888; died Elbert, West Virginia, 9 April 1954

William No. 1 Harris, married Islington, London, 1896

William No. 2 Harris, married Maria A. Trent, Islington, London, 1913
Harry Two Smith, married Derby, Derbyshire, 1900

Three Worthy, born 1 June 1907; died Linden, Alabama, USA, April 1981

Four Souls, born 16 April 1907; died Box Elder, Montana, USA, July 1984

Five Bumball, born Pennsylvania, c.1840 (Jackson, Missouri, 1920 US census)

Six Hix, born South Carolina, c.1898 (Waterloo, South Carolina, 1910 US census)

Number Seven Fell, born Alton, Hampshire, 1879

Eight McClurg, born Iowa, c.1879 (White Breast, Iowa, 1880 US census)

Nine Sparks, born 18 July 1939; died Jackson, Montana, USA, 25 August 1995

Ten Hipkiss, born Birmingham, Warwickshire, c.1898 (Birmingham, 1911 Census)

Eleven Moore, born 11 July 1900; died Coalgate, Oklahoma, USA, January 1982

Twelve Ripley, born Illinois, 1887 (Ora, Illinois, 1900 US census)

Thirteen Sneed, born Tennessee, c.1882 (Tipton, Tennessee, 1920 US census)

As expected, there are also names for Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen, Eighteen, Nineteen, and Twenty. And names like Thirty, Forty, Fifty, Fifty Six, Fifty Nine, Sixty, Seventy, Eighty, and Ninety. Should you decide to organize a Math Trail, aimed at visiting cemeteries to locate these “numbers,” get a copy of Russell Ash’s latest humorous book, Frou-Frou, Frisby & Brick for your references.

Fractional Names, Anyone?

Even christening “fractional names” on babies hasn’t been spared:

Tenth (⅟₁₀)
Tenth Lily West, baptized Bedminster, Somerset, 22 June 1880
Eighth (⅛)
Eighth Hendricks, born Texas, c.1909 (Robertson, Texas, 1910 US census)

Fifth (⅕)
Fifth Jesse, born 14 November 1909; died Sacramento, California, USA, 16 March 1999

Quarter (¼)
Quarter Harris, baptized St Andrew Holborn, London, 1 May 1823

Half (½)
Half Robinson, born Banbury, Oxfordshire, 1859

In Love with Power-ful Names

If you want to lay flowers on the tombstones of multi-digit numbers, here are some Powers of Ten:

Hundred (102)
Hundred Evans, died Greene, Alabama, USA, 1 January 1949

Thousand (103)
Thousand Poindexter, born Louisiana, c.1888 (Gibson, Louisiana, 1920 US census)

Million (10⁶)
Million Airth, born Ontario, Canada, 4 June 1869

Billion (10⁹)
Billion Pride, born c.1898 (Brooklyn, New York, 1930 US census)

Trillion (10¹²)
Trillion Cummings, born Mississippi, c.1907 (Kirkville, Mississippi, 1910 US census)

Zillion Long, born 16 March 1899; died Petersburg, Virginia, USA, October 1977

Infinity (∞)
Infinity Hubbard, born Georgia, c.1839 (Tippah, Mississippi, 1850 US census)

The Whys of Numbering a Name

As author Russell Ash remarked, could those numbers-names be due to some after-effect of an epidural? Maybe those bizarre naming decisions are merely the result of the tensions and euphoria of childbirth. Or, could those names commemorate a roulette win, or serve as a reminder of the sequence of one’s offspring from a previous unregistered polygamous marriage? My hypotheses are as wild as yours!

Promoting Name-calling via Name-giving

I recalled a couple in my previous fellowship group had christened their newborn after some biblical personality, which was difficult to pronounce, not to say, remember. Much as the parents might think they’re being clever and original (or even spirit-conscious), I wonder whether they had considered the correlation between bullying and the name they had bestowed upon their baby, when he began formal schooling. Talking about name-calling, how bad can it get for those who are a “number”?

Profiting from Numbers-Names

The last thing we want is to be treated as a mere digit or statistic in society or at work, much less being negatively associated with some number. Meanwhile, I’m seriously thinking of registering some trademarks (One Two™, Two Three™, Googolth™, Googolplexth™, Aleph One™, etc.) in anticipation of odd couples wising to numbering their babies. Like domain names, mathepreneurs could creatively turn these trademarked numbers-names into decent profit.

Ash, R. (2010). Frou-Frou, Frisby & Brick: The book of unfortunate baby names. London: Headline Publishing Group.

© Yan Kow Cheong, March 4, 2011.

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