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How Many People Do You Know? – The Johnson Formula

A formula to calculate the number of people you know by name

From “Surnames and Her-Names

Did you ever wonder how many people you know who are not related to you?  I mean personally, by name and on sight – people you are acquainted with and who know you.  Go ahead, reflect, then make a guess.  Is it a two digit number, three digits, or four?  When I asked one friend to guess, he estimated he knew several thousands of people, but I think only those running for office know so many.

Researchers at several universities say that the average American knows about 600 people. But there is no accurate way for you personally to find out exactly how many people you know. One reason is because the number is constantly changing, like your Christmas card list.  You meet new people and you forget others.  For example, it is unlikely that you can remember most of your grade school companions, provided you are not still in grade school.  But there is a way to estimate the number of acquaintances for the average person using the Johnson Formula.  So if you are average, you are in luck.

According to the 2010 U. S. Census Bureau data, approximately 5% of the population in the United States had the last names of Smith, Johnson, Williams, Brown, Jones, Miller, Davis, Garcia, Rodriquez, Wilson, Martinez, and Anderson. Assuming the same ratio today, a random selection of the population should yield about the same results, roughly one in twenty Americans with one of these surnames. Of course the distribution of these names may differ in various regions of the country but we will discuss the major regional exceptions in a moment.

The Johnson Formula

Calculate how many people you know

(Enter the numbers and click "Total")

 Do you know anyone
with the surname...
Number
of people
Smith
Johnson
Williams
Brown
Jones
Miller
Davis
Garcia
Rodriguez
Wilson
Martinez
Anderson
Click for
20 times "Total" is your Johnson Number

If you have a normal urban life you can use this ratio of 1:20 and the Johnson Formula to estimate the number of people whose eyeball has met your eyeball... people you know who know you.

Start by counting all your acquaintances who have the surname of Smith... excluding YOUR immediate family.  Think long and hard, reviewing all aspects of your life, including work, home, social functions, neighbors, and secret affairs.  If you know a Smith family and all of the family knows you, count them all.  Record the tally.  Then do the same for the other eleven surnames (Again, not your close relatives). Use the table here if you like.

Add up the twelve tallies, multiply by 20 and you get your Johnson Number, an estimate of the number of people you know personally.

If you are an introvert your answer is probably less than 400.  If you are a politician it is most likely in the thousands.  The average is anywhere from about 600.  If you are one of those people who cannot remember people’s names, your Johnson Number gives a good estimate of the total number of people who’s name you can remember.

If you are a Minnesotan do not fret that you are so unpopular – your Johnson Number may be low because so many northern Europeans settled in the area.  Your score also will not be accurate if you are a Quaker or live in southern Florida, New York’s Harlem, or south Texas.  In Cajun country you should substitute the name Broussard for Smith.  If you dwell in South Carolina your Johnson Number may indicate that you are an extrovert, but that’s only because of all those bloody Englishmen who settled there long ago.

For most us cosmopolitans, however, the Johnson Formula should give a ballpark figure of the number of people who would recognize our names in an obituary.


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