Sunday, May 30, 2010

The List

I am sometimes accused of expressing OCD-like tendencies. I label lab equipment by group and store apparatus in an organized manner. I don't think I could function otherwise.

And I was a numismatist at an early age. That and philatelism are clear indicators of OCD predilections. I prefer to embrace my OCD rather than to deny it or apologize for it. I think of it instead as a hereditary gift from my grandmother, passed on to me through my mother.

Anyway, I made a list. A list I often thought to make, but never did. A list that some regard as a cry for help.

While listening to NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday a few weeks ago, I heard a story about the three American hikers detained in Iran. And the name of the fourth (undetained) hiker jumped out of my radio: Shon Meckfessel. I thought I had had a Shon Meckfessel in my physics class once upon a time. And how many Shon Meckfessels could there be in the world?

I dug around on the interwebs and in my own Excel spreadsheets (used for grading purposes), and found him. Turns out he was also the founding bassist for Sacramento's Cake, but moved on before they got big.

A week earlier, a coworker at Rio recounted a run-in with one of my former students. He presented a perfectly good description, including the first name (Jason), but was disappointed when I couldn't recall the particulars of this student. I pleaded that over the course of my career, I had taught over 3000 students, and fall short of having distinct memories of each of them that I can search with success on short notice.

So I finally made the list. Of the names of every student I've ever taught at Rio. All 3239 of them.

It was mostly a simple task. Copying and pasting lists from my Excel spreadsheets. But some went so far back that they cannot be opened by Excel anymore. That's right Microsoft fans, Excel 200x cannot open Excel 1.x files. Apparently I was supposed to have converted them back in the days of Excel 4.x and am forever hosed since I didn't do so. Microsoft offers no converters/translators. A friend was able to open them using high-tech trickery. But I also did a decent job of picking those names out from an old Tesoro (yearbook).

Now I can say, with a degree of confidence, that I have taught over 30 Jasons. And more than 60 Michaels. Neither of those names challenge the enduring popularity of Jennifer; I've taught more than 70. And what about Mary? I had two my first year ('86-'87), and five ever since. A 10:1 Jennifer to Mary ratio!

Onesies? Aanand, Ragashree, Karthikeyah, Sohini, Goodwin, Jori, and Lonicera, to be sure. But also Allen, Ann, Fred, Hank, Harry, Helen, Hilary, Irene, Janet, Joan, Lynne, Raymond, Seth, and Valerie. (Each name on the first list was flagged by the spell check. None on the second list were.)

When I ask friends/family/colleagues for the most popular family name, they strike out with guesses such as Smith, Jones, and the like. This is true even of those who work at my school! My own sense was correct: the most common family name has been Kim (26). But even Kim is eclipsed if you combine Lee, Li, and Ly (28). Indeed Lee/Li/Ly beats Smith and Jones combined.

I posted the list through the back windows of my classroom. I highlighted all current students in yellow. I highlighted students who are now teachers at Rio in blue. A handful of students find the list mesmerizing.

Likely just those with OCD.


Carol Peterman said...

The first glance at a new class roster and your brain will instantly start filtering for new names, additions to the Jennifer count, or shifts in the leading sir name trend. Future students will be nothing more than delicious data!

Dean Baird said...

Yeah, my brain is too simple for all that. By the time I get the new rosters, I'm just hoping to connect names and faces. That takes considerable effort. It's only around this time of year that I get all "reflective."