John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A data scientist ranks the city's top 20 names for cabbies.
If you ever want to meet a guy called Mohammed in the Big Apple, try hailing a taxi. The first name is incredibly common among the city's medallion-bearers, serving as a salutation for about 15 out of every 100 cabbies.
We know this thanks to Seth Kadish, a 31-year-old data scientist who's ranked the 20 most popular first and last names for New York City taxi drivers. Using open data on 52,131 active cabbies, Kadish found that the top five names are, in order of frequency, Md (an abbreviation for Mohammed), Mohammad, Mohammed, Muhammad, and Mohamed. The most widely appearing surnames, meanwhile, are Singh, Rahman, Islam, Ahmed, and Khan.
Kadish initially embarked on his moniker mission to explore names in his native Portland, Oregon. "There's been a lot of debate about Uber in Portland lately, and it got me thinking about how the demographic of drivers of cars for hire could change with the introduction of Uber drivers," he emails. "So I wanted to compare the names of Uber drivers to licensed taxi drivers, but Uber doesn't publish those data (of course). So I was left with only the NYC taxi driver names. "
Kadish assumed the most common names would ring of foreign lands, but says he was "surprised" to see a number of popular American entries in the top 20, including John, Joseph, Michael, David. And he has more to add about popular first-and-last name pairings on his blog, Vizual Statistix, such as why there are so few Mohammed Singhs:
The heat map below the bar graphs shows the frequency of first and last name pairings. This hints at the diversity of first or last names in some countries compared to others. For example, Singh is the most common last name, but none of the most common first names are paired with it; it is traditionally a last name in India, but due to the diversity of first names in India, none of them are in the top 20. The most common first name paired with Singh is Balwinder, which is the 52nd most common first name. Conversely, Jean (the French version of John) is the sixth most common first name, but is not associated with any of the top 20 last names. Francois, the most common last name paired with Jean, is not even among the 100 most common last names.