Sunday, May 31, 2009

Asians taking over Melbourne's phone book

In the latest edition of Melbourne's residential phone directory, the White Pages, Smith is still the most common surname listed; there are around 7000 of them, more than twice the nearest competitor.
But a change is brewing! In second place is that Vietnamese favourite, Nguyen, while Singh comes in at third place.

Indeed, in the inner city and northern suburbs, there are more Nguyens than Smiths. While in the more affluent beachside suburbs of the inner southeast, the Anglo names are still dominant.

While the prevalence of Nguyens says something about Melbourne's large Vietnamese community, it actually says more about the dominance of the name itself among Vietnamese. Approximately 38% of people in Vietnam are named Nguyen, with Tran the next most common at 11%.
Despite its frequency (Nguyen is the 7th most common name Australia-wide), it is funny that most people don't know how to pronounce it. "New-an" is the most commonly heard attempt, although I've heard the rather pathetic "Na-goo-yen" before too. "Ng-win" is a better approximation, but not easy for Westerners to wrap their tongues around.

The dominance of Singh also relates not just to our growing Indian population, but about the frequency of the name itself among Indians. Virtually every Sikh male is named Singh (the female equivalent is Kaur), and it is common among non-Sikhs as well.

Here is the top 20:
1 Smith
2 Nguyen
3 Singh
4 Williams
5 Brown
6 Jones
7 Wilson
8 Taylor
9 Lee
10 Anderson
11 Tran
12 Johnson
13 Thomas
14 White
15 Martin
16 Ryan
17 Thompson
18 Young
19 Walker
20 Chen

Honestly, I'm surprised that Lee only came 9th - not only is it a common Anglo surname, but very common among Chinese and ubiquitous among Koreans. Perhaps if we included its variation Li, it might move up the rankings substantially, especially if we include Lai, Lie, Ly, Le and Lay, some pronounced differently but all spelled the same in Chinese.

So while the above list says much about the makeup of our society, there are some things it doesn't say. For example, since the White Pages lists only home numbers and not mobile numbers, how much does it represent who is actually out there? Given that a person named Nguyen, Tran, Singh, Lee or Chen is more likely to live with his or her parents for a longer period than a Smith or Jones, does that effect the names' frequency? Just a thought.

Anyway, I was curious to see how my social circle matched with the White Pages' most common names. I did a quick check on my Facebook friends list - strangely, there were no Smiths! Damn, I need to hang out with more white people. No Singhs either!

I feel bad somehow.

However, there were 8 Lees, 8 Ongs, 6 Chens, 6 Wongs, 5 Nguyens, 4 Lims, 4 Trans and 3 Hos (as in the surname Ho, don't get it twisted). Yep, the Yellow Peril is definitely coming, and its started with my Facebook profile.


  1. Frankly, the White Pages may be just a bit race oriented, perhaps it should be changed to Yellow or Brown Pages, just a thought!

    But bottom line is that the Ongs Rule!!

    Very cool lah,
    Shereen Tze-Ling ONG

  2. Good point Shereen... maybe it is a racist conspiracy - WHITE Pages indeed! Can't believe I didn't pick that up.