Just as the map of a coast looks exactly like a coast, regardless of the scale, you may find heterogeneity and yet very clear patterns in a society of one billion, one million or one thousand people. As a pebble laying on a shore, at the maximum scale, every individual is unique and an exception to the group.
There may be geological explanations on how a pebble was formed, why it should lay there on a shore with million other neighbouring pebbles. They may look about the same, or differ greatly in shape and size. Located in a same place, they will share a common history : the effect of the wind, of the sea. Each will have its unique story : a stronger wave breaking it apart or the temporary whitening by a seagull. It might come from a different beach, brought here by pure chance by a family on vacation (children do that, pick up one object here and leave it there). How long will it take before this pebble looks like its neighbours, from the same effects of air and water ? Will it ever become totally alike?
Human beings are not stones : they travel, breed, evolve, adapt and modify their environment as part of their adaptation to it.
Human beings have names. Many people share the same name and yet they are distinct people. Different DNA, different families, different personal experiences, different places make them what they are: not only distinct, but also different people. And yet, a name tells a lot about who you are. Though many factors will influence naming (sexual, geographic, ethnic, religious, cultural, social,…), it is ultimately a manifestation of freewill : to give a name and (still rarely) to change names.
Take a list with ten names : do you see patterns ? Not from the list only, but from your memory, your knowledge of a particular language or a particular region, you may have an opinion on what this list might be about. You will remember other individuals you knew with similar names and feel emotions. You may accordingly take decisions (right or wrong) : go or not go to a meeting, dress differently, read in advance about a particular topic, … If you analyse the names of a group of a hundred people -or more with the help of a computer- you will see patterns emerging, from the list only without the help of your memory.
The onomastics mille-feuille or even better the « onomatic mille-feuille » – a wordplay with onomastics and automatic – is a visual representation of name patterns recognized automatically on a given population at a given scale. It is laid out according to one independent known attribute in abscissa (such as a city, region, country), with colourful layers of onomastics classes as a percentage of the population in ordinate (for a given city, region, country). As an illustration, this is the « onomatic mille-feuille » of the Olympic athletes since 1896 with in abscissa, the country -which is a known attribute. Some countries, such as Japan or Mongolia, look very homogeneous. Some other countries, such as the former Soviet Union, seem very heterogeneous and will stack many different onomastics classes : Russians, Ukrainians, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Lithuanians, …
Where is the fractal?
The fractal lays in the possibility to focus on a specific onomastics class, seemingly homogeneous, change scale and recognize the same picture : another finer grained « onomatic mille-feuille ». For example, on the picture above, we could drill down on the onomastics class most closely related to the Russian athletes. Processing a larger list of Russian names from all places in the Russian Federation, will produce this other picture:
And we would discover a similar picture is we changed scale again to focus our attention on the Tyva Republic : another finer grained « onomatic mille-feuille ». And so on …
Until we get to a very small group of people. Or just one name, the name of one individual – distinct, different, unique. Like a pebble on a shore.
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