When churnalism and immigration scare stories collide

Here's the scenario. You are the PR person for a company who provides information - credit checks, market research, that sort of thing. Your company has recently helped produce a facility that allows people to track how popular their name is across the world, and you want to get coverage in the UK press. Your research shows that nine of the top ten most popular surnames in the UK have stayed in the same order of popularity for 100 years, and that all top ten names are British. How do you get a puff piece published?

At this point I should do a 'Fighting Fantasy' style list of choices where if you get the answer wrong you find out you've been hit in the face by a goblin, fallen into a pit with an eye-monster or hidden ninjas have shot you up the bum with blow-darts, but I'm not that creative. I'll just tell you the answer:

Play up how much more popular some names that aren't of British origin are than they were 100 years ago.

Hurrah for you if you picked that. You get the magic doo-dah thing and a golden whatjamacallit of Khalamandoon and you return home a hero. Or something.

A puff piece from Experian (that's Experian) has found its way into a number of newspapers today. Rubbish articles include 'Who's catching up with the Joneses? How the Ahmeds and Singhs could soon be among Britain's most common names' in the Mail, 'Britain's most popular surnames: Singh and Patel catch up on Smith and Jones' in the Telegraph and 'Zhang is fastest growing surname in Britain' in the Mirror. It hasn't been up for long, so the story might still find its way into other papers or change as the day progresses. Be alert.

We're told all sorts of cherry picked stuff in all three articles, although the Mirror's is the least alarmist. 'Zhang' has risen by over 4,000 percent since 1996 (gee, wonder what happened post 1996 that might have led to an increase in the number of people in the UK with Chinese surnames) but we're not told how many it's gone up from or to. We're told the percentage raise in the number of Singhs, Shah, Ahmed and Ali since 100 years ago, but not the percentage raise in any British originated surnames.

The Mail includes a table of the 99 most popular names in the UK (originally, it only had the top ten names on it, but it's since been expanded). It doesn't have a spiffy graphic like other Mail stories that want to show how the influx of foreigners has changed the face of the country, and it is tucked away at the bottom of the article. But all the foreign names are emphasised in bold so we can identify the brown people.

These shocking figures show that the Ahmeds and Singhs, who are allegedly catching up the Joneses are - gasp - the 77th and 73rd most popular names in the UK. They're literally snapping at the heels of the Joneses - the second most popular.

The Mail includes some lovely misdirection, switching in a couple of paragraphs from the percentage rise for some names in 100 years to the rise in other names since 1996, and ending with this:
Then, just below Russell and above Reid, come a string of new arrivals - Singh, Ali, Hussein, Begum and Ahmed, each with a little of 50,000 adults so named.
How new are these additions? How long have they been in the top 100? I remember my nan being amazed at the number of Patels in her West London phone books, and she died in 1982.

All in all, the people with 'foreign' names on the Mail's top 99 table make up 5 percent of the total, and adding them all together only gives a couple of hundred more than the number of people called Smith. But, in the Mail at least, the work has been done for some commenters. My favourites:
I actually find this news really depressing.
Click to rate Rating + 4

- johnnyboy, Birmingham, 24/3/2009 15:50
It makes me shudder.
Click to rate Rating (0)

- sylvia ross, bradford, 24/3/2009 15:53
Are we supposed to be surprised by all this?? This was an obvious conclusion 10 - 15 years ago!

By the way, It's a wonder number 16 on the list hasn't been removed by the PC brigade isn't it? Heavens forbid someone should be offended by it!

No doubt the headlines tomorrow will be some guy has been offended and is now claiming 100k because his feelings have been offended!!

This surname will be outlawed for sure at some stage.

Wake up number 10 for goodness sake, it's 1 minute to 12 - after that it's over!
Click to rate Rating 2

- Gary Rose, UK, 24/3/2009 15:48
Oh, ho ho ho! See, the name he's on about is 'white'. Isn't that hilarious? The surname will be banned for offending people because it includes the word 'white'. I think I might have an embolism from the hilarity. And finally, this:
Well said Mr Jones - I presume you'll be going back to Wales where you belong.

I am surprised the journalist hasn't noted the fact that all the names from 90-99 are, in fact foreign. It only goes to show how well the Irish community have integrated themselves into the population and continue to make a positive contribution to this country - along with all those Patels, Singhs etc.
Click to rate Rating 1

- topsy, Bedford, 24/3/2009 16:03
Yeah, Mr Jones! Get out of the UK and back to Wales! And I bet he's right. I bet the journalist hasn't highlighted the Irish names because Irish people are brilliant at integrating and not because Irish people aren't brown or because it's unclear how many of these people originated from one of the four countries in the UK. But of course, topsy's not up to speed with which countries constitute the UK. Bless.

Anyway - well done, Experian PR person! You got yourself in the crap papers!

Via 'The Enemies of Reason' and 'I am calm'.


Chris Baldwin said...

I tried to comment on that story on the Mail website, but as always I shouldn't have bothered.

Helen Highwater said...

Comments to those articles are always more fascist and uninformed than the articles themselves. It's a triumph of... something.

I've recently been poking about in some Facebook groups who wank on about St George's Day (and of course, let's keep our eyes peeled for St George's Day articles in the right wing press in the next few weeks - I can't wait for the stupidity to be unleashed!). "We want St George's Day even though it offends people" apparently. Lots of comments saying "Proud to be English." "English for life." Unlike... erm... St George....

Yakoub said...

Now don't be knocking St.George. I've got a loverly picture of 'im on me wall - purchased in BULGARIA. Yep, an Orthodox Christian icon coz they have a George in Bulgarian Orthodoxy. Not as fab as my Bulgarian three handed Mary, but remember - never ask what the third hand is for (it's actually for stranging tabloid hacks caught hanging around the pearly gates trying to get a line for their "Immigrants flood Heaven" story)!