Michael Meier of The Q Filmcast tweeted out, “What are the chances of attending a meeting with 3 guys named Michael and 1 guy named Miguel?… Seriously, WHAT are chances??” This is like the ultimate invitation to me. It combines the things I most love: movies, math, and showing off. So I tweeted back, “Sadly, I can do that calculation for you…” What I actually meant is that I am a superior human being who of course can do that calculation, but I still have memories of grammar school beatings over such matters.
This is actually a trivial statistics problem, but it isn’t all math so stick with me. What’s more, I am fairly drunk, so who knows what’s coming. (I always maintain the right to edit drunk articles after the fact, but they are always posted along with something like, “Edited to conform to non-drunk standards.” Anyway, here we go.
Start with the assumption that one of the people in the meeting is Michael Meier. There is a 100% chance that any meeting he attends will include someone named “Michael.” So we’re really just dealing with 2 guys named Michael and 1 guy named Miguel. Let’s start slow. What are the odds that Michael is going to have a meeting with just one other guy and he is also going to be named Michael? The odds are whatever the odds are that any random person is going to be named Michael. It turns out that Michael is a really popular name. It has gotten less so over the last 100 years, but it is still really popular. I’ll come back to this. But just understand, the odds of two people named Winnifred meeting up are a hell of a lot less than two Michaels meeting.
So let’s make that percentage—the fraction of people in the United States with the name Michael—the variable M. So if the odds of two Michaels meeting up is M, the odds of three Michaels meeting up would just be M×M. Now let’s make the percentage of people named Miguel be m. In that case, the probability would be M×M×m. Pretty simple, right?
I asked Michael if there were more than four people in the meeting and he said there were not. That was great news! The statistics for 4 Michaels out of a group of 5 people, while higher, requires more math than any of my readers would have put up with. And at this point, I suspect your eyes are glazed over anyway.
When I first made my claim to being able to do the calculation, my only concern was whether I could find statistics on names in the United States. Not only did I find statistics, I found an absolutely fabulous website that uses the last census data to tell you how many people have various names: How Many of Me. It is really cool and you can spend a lot of time on it. Did you know there are ten people in the nation named Bill Clinton? But there are 227 named William Clinton. There are four people named Paul Krugman. There are 387 people named Michael Meier. There are only two people named Frank Moraes and the other is my dad, so suck it!
So I plugged Michael into the database and it turns out there are 4,191,129 people with that name in the US. But Michael is one of those names. I am absolutely sure that at least one of those “Michaels” was really a “Mike.” So I added that: 301,520. But as we all know, any of them could be Mickey (Perhaps a mouse?) or Mitchell (Perhaps Joe Don Baker in disguise?) or something else. But let’s leave it at Michael and Mike. That’s 4,492,649. The current population of the United States is roughly 313.9 million. That means that 1.43% of all Americans are named Michael or Mike.
The great thing about statistics is that it is never that simple, regardless of what you are talking about. You could include the phases of the moon and it is still not that simple. For example, this was a meeting of all guys. There are not a lot of women named Michael. (Note: I named my female chicken Fred, but that’s why people often think I’m “difficult.”) What’s more, people are not evenly distributed. If there were a meeting at a Catholic church, it is likely that there would have been more Michaels and Miguels around. On the other hand, if you were at a Klan meeting, the odds of a Miguel being there are pretty small.
Speaking of Miguel, there are 193,608 of them in the United States. I would have thought there would have been more. There are more Jesuses in America than Miguels. This may explain all the differences of opinions between the different Christian sects. (This is the part of the article where you think, “Yep. He wasn’t lying about being drunk!) Anyway, that means that the chances of you just to run into some person and their name being Miguel is 0.062%. So actually, it’s the Miguel who really makes this an unusual event.
So let’s put it all together:
That is about a 1 in 8 million chance. So it is not common. But exactly how many meetings does Michael have during a year? And how many Michaels are there who might have such a meeting? (A lot as I’ve already discussed. People like me really take the fun out of coincidences!) And notice, this is not four Michaels, it is four sort of Michaels. Actually, it’s three sort of Michaels, because we’ve already established that Michael is absolutely positively going to be in attendance at all the meetings he is in attendance at.
Let me just end by stressing that we are making grand assumptions here. Michael is located in Nashville, TN. Here in California, I personally know two people named Miguel. So I assume that the percentage of people with the name Miguel in Tennessee is much lower than it is here and thus much lower than it is nationally. But regardless, it isn’t a miracle or anything. It isn’t like he had a meeting with three people named Jesus who seemed to have an unlimited supply of booze.
According to the database, there are less than 1,587 people with the first name of Dweezil. I don’t know what that “less than” means; it doesn’t show up when searching for Michael. And most concerning of all, there are (according to the database) exactly 1,587 people with the first name Moon. Is there perhaps a Zappa family bug in the database? No! It is just that when the database can’t seem to find anyone, it says “less than 1,587.” I’m still not clear about the number for Moon. I would think there would be people named that. There are 11,109 people named Sun and 4,761 people named Sunshine. There appear to be no people named Korrok, which raises an interesting question, “Why has the Q Filmcast not done probably the best film I’ve seen in the last year, John Dies at the End?”