Connecting Names with xkcd’s Name Dominoes

Written by Amy Franz

When I stumbled upon xkcd’s Name Dominoes, I got really excited about the ways we can connect famous people by their names. (I wish I had thought of this idea!) XKCD website

I wondered what would happen if I put connected names through Ethnic Technologies’ E-Tech software, which identifies ethnicity based primarily on names. What more could I learn about these famous names?

Here are my favorite takeaways from the xkcd name domino dataset.

Stage Names vs. Real Names

If a person chooses to don a stage name during their celebrity, it has the potential to misrepresent their actual ethnicity. Such is the case with the examples below, which is fascinating since their celebrity names are an homage to their real names!

Man Ray, a renowned Surrealist artist, sports a surname that is shared among English, African American and Indian ethnicities. In reality, his name is Emmanuel Radnitzky, which is a markedly Russian Jewish surname.

The same can be said for Jack Ruby, the man who famously shot John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. Ruby is a predominantly French last name, but his real name, Jacob Rubenstein, is also Jewish.

Shared Names

Grace Lee and Grace Lee Boggs are connected to each other on xkcd’s Name Dominoes. These names are nearly identical, but the celebrities have different backgrounds. Grace Lee is Korean and Grace Lee Boggs was Chinese. If the dominoes were arranged differently, Grace Lee could be connected to Robert E. Lee, for example, who is English.

Professional boxer Oscar de la Hoya and fashion designer Oscar de la Renta share not only their first names but also structure of their surname, which denotes family lineage. Though both Spanish dominant, they come from different Hispanic cultures. De la Hoya is Mexican and de la Renta was Dominican.

First Name as Last Name and Vice Versa

When you cross ethnicities, first names are sometimes last names and vice versa.
Illustrious cellist Yo Yo Ma and Blues singer Ma Rainey are connected first name to last. Ma is a French-born Chinese man, as indicated by his family name and Rainey was African American. While Ma can also be Chinese first name, in Ma Rainey’s case, it is a nickname. It is a shortened form of “mother”, since she is dubbed the “Mother of the Blues”.

When we connect like names, it’s easy to think they are the same, and that the people using them must have similar backgrounds. These few examples are a little window into name diversity and multiculturalism.