As I mentioned on the front page of this site, one way of encoding a name is by its frequency in some canonical lists, such as a former US census. By itself that is a terrible way of doing it. It reflects popularity only. My middle name Pardoe could be encoded as 80085 because it is the 80085 most common surname in some old US census. Geographically, the name Pardoe is most associated with the village of Ombersley in Worcestershire, England. The very next name in the frequency list at 80086 is Paraluelos, which has some entirely different origin, unknown to me.
A much better way of translating names into numbers would be to record the latitude and longitude of Ombersley, the place where it was most commonly found, plus perhaps the geographical coordinates of the place in Shropshire where it was first recorded.
Unlike the example of recording names by their frequency in a census, this produces a useful entry in a vector space of names. It could be used to find names common to nearby places. However, the word ‘common’ suggests that this is again ultimately based on name frequency. Those four coordinates would nevertheless be much more useful than the previous single coordinate.
I believe it possible to a set of coordinates which would make an effect way of placing a name in a name space. It will not be easy to do. For example, my last name, ‘Wilson’, was common in Worcestershire, but also in Scotland. How would one deal with this matter? Possibly one could have two sets of four coordinates, one for the Worcestershire Wilsons and one for the Scottish ones. It is not clear how these would be combined, but I believe there is some practical way of doing so.
Regardless of the technical details, I think that some way of placing names in name spaces would make it much easier to define an individual. For example my last two names and those of a great many of my ancestors and their descendants, Pardoe Wilson, together make it clear that I come from the Worcestershire Wilsons not the Scottish ones. On the other hand there are some Douglas Robert Wilsons. Robert was a relatively rare name in Worcestershire in earlier centuries, but common in Scotland. The chances are that a Douglas Robert Wilson from the 18th or 19th century was one of the Scottish Wilsons.
Expressing this in mathematical form is difficult, but I believe the powerful method of Recursive Exhaustion would make it quite possible. I’ll explain this in a later post.