What is in a name? Behind each one is a choice, a story, a personality and potential. Cal Poly’s 2021 newly released Directory research gathered data on which names are most common amongst Cal Poly students.

Ryan, Emily, Jack, Matthew and Lauren are the top five most common first names among students. Sharing a name can establish a sense of camaraderie at a university of over 20,000 students.

“I feel like my name definitely suits me and would not change it for anything,” said business administration junior Matthew Houlihan. “I even have a best friend named Matt, as well, and it honestly is sweet.”

Houlihan and his best friend tend to go by their last names when around friends, so as not to confuse people.

Studio arts junior Lauryn Sugai said that whenever she hears someone call out her name, she doesn’t respond, because she knows there are so many Laurens out there. Whenever she meets someone who also spells Lauryn with a ‘y’, she feels a sense of camaraderie, Sugai said.

“Sometimes I look at [my written name] and wonder, are these six symbols together, me?” said Sugai.

Sugai’s middle name is Akimi. Chosen by her grandmother, Sugai said it is cherished for its cultural and familial significance, and, tucked away between her first and last names, this name feels more personal, she said.

Computer engineering junior Kyle Anderson said that he thinks the strong stereotypes surrounding his first name are funny, because he feels so distant from them. 

When people hear the name Kyle, he said, they tend to think of “sort of an ‘average white guy’ in a fraternity.”

“There’s the whole drinking Monsters and punching drywall thing that I think couldn’t be further from me,” Anderson said. “I’m generally pretty calm and I haven’t ever had a Monster.”

First names beginning with the letter ‘J’ are most common at Cal Poly — more than 2,250 students have names that begin with the letter ‘J’, with ‘A’ names just behind. 

“I think it’s funny that ‘J’ names for guys are always slandered all over Tik Tok, but I don’t think ‘J’ girl names are as attacked,” business administration senior Julia Fish said. 

Fish said she loves her name, because it ties her to her mom and carries a special story behind it.   

“My mom was named Maya because she was born in May, so she named me Julia because I was born in July,” Fish said. 

In comparison to U.S. data for babies born between 1995 and 2002, names like Matthew, Jacob and Michael are more popular at Cal Poly than they are nationally, while other common names for this age group, such as Emma, Kyle, Ethan and Julia are more popular nationally than at Cal Poly. 

Sociology junior Ethan Lee said it’s funny that his name is considered so common, because his parents aimed to name him something that “wasn’t super basic.” Lee said his parents chose Ethan for its biblical significance.

“The sociologist in me wonders if [I love my name] because I truly think it suits me, or if I’ve just become used to the name because that’s what people have called me my whole life,” Lee said. 

About 2,000 students’ last names begin with the letter ‘S’, while last names beginning in ‘M’ or ‘C’ are close runners-up. 

The most common last name at Cal Poly is Lee, followed by Smith, Johnson, Nguyen, Garcia, Kim, Wong, Miller, Brown and then Anderson.

“I have met so many other Smiths since coming to Cal Poly, probably around 15-20,” experience industry management sophomore, Reagan Ryder Smith said. Smith inherited her last name from her mother, whose family counters the popularity of their last name with unique middle names, Smith said.

According Smith, having a common last name and sharing it with so many other students gives her something to talk and laugh about with others, but the name’s abundance sometimes takes away from its significance to her.

Music freshman Shannon Wong’s surname originates in China, where it can be transliterated from Cantonese to mean either “King” or “yellow,” she said, depending on the Chinese character used. To Wong, the name feels so common, it doesn’t phase her much to meet another person who shares it.

Cultural histories and desires instill meaning into each deliberate letter of a name. Names wield the power to impart certain impressions. To History freshman Tobias Lee, the history behind it is why he values his common surname.

“My last name connects me to all my family; it is a recognition of who I want to be,” Lee said. His family name is a reminder of the example Lee’s family members lead, he said, of “goodness and kindness.”

With more than 20,500 entries in the directory, more than 8,750 of Cal Poly students are seniors. 

Harrison Kirk and Jordy Roth contributed to this story. 

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