Friday, November 20, 2020

[xxweghuj] 4000 generations of Roman numerals

Name a child the same as you, but increment a Roman numeral suffix: II, III, IV, etc.  This is common (at least in men).  The largest Roman numeral that can be written using regular letters (which is how names are required to be) is 3999:


Beyond that requires backwards C or lines above or arches around letters, none of which are legal for names.

4000 generations have not yet passed since the invention of Roman numerals, so this is not a problem, yet.

(Incidentally, the 1500th generation gets the Roman numeral suffix MD, which collides with the abbreviation for doctor of medicine.  The only difference is that the degree typically has a comma separating it from the name, while a Roman numeral suffix does not.)

Aside: What happens when a name is printed last name first?

We assume the degree is printed "Smith, Pat, MD".

"Smith, Pat V" is ambiguous because it could be Pat V Smith (a single-letter middle name like Harry S Truman) or Pat Smith V.

"Smith, Pat, V" leads to the above ambiguity at "Smith, Pat, MD".

”Smith V, Pat" does not lead to ambiguity, but I don't know if this is normally done.  Alphabetization becomes difficult if you want to keep all the Pat Smiths grouped together, but alphabetization is always difficult when there are Roman numerals.

It's unlikely that any particular person will have direct descendants 4000 generations from now (most recent common ancestor).  We probably need some mechanism in which the next Roman numeral can go to a neice, nephew, or cousin N-times removed, like royalty.  Or someone unrelated, like popes.

Or, is there anything stopping a parent from naming a newborn child today with the suffix MMMCMXCIX?  I don't think you need to be named the previous numeral to name a child the next one.  Then, that child would face this conundrum when naming their own child, one generation from now.

(Similarly, one could name a child today with suffix MD, or MCDXCIX = 1499.  The latter would credibly support a grandchild getting a suffix MD.)

Realistically (in this highly unrealistic scenario), the next suffix chosen after 3999 will probably be MMMM.  Then, every thousand generations, some parent will face a conundrum as to whether adding yet another M is acceptable.  It will be unary in ultra slow motion.

Continuing a theme of parents being evil, one could also name a child now with a sequence of Roman numeral characters unparsable as a valid Roman numeral.  How should the child increment that to name the grandchild?

Further thought: Apostrophe when written with a single curly close quote -- ’ -- looks vaguely like a backwards C and is permitted in names (O'Sullivan).  (Are apostrophes permitted in suffixes?  Are two or more apostrophes in a row permitted?  Are apostrophes permitted as the final character of a name component?)  (Incidentally, the Latin name for the backwards C, or the convention of using backwards C to express large numbers, is apostrophus.)

4000 = MI'' = MD'
1001 = MI
1500 = MD
4001 = MI''I = MD'I
5000 = I'' = D'
1 = I
500 = D
5001 = I''I = D'I
10000 = CCI'' = CM'
15000 = CCI''I'' = CCI'''' = CM'D'
40000 = CCI''I''' = CM'D''
50000 = I''' = D''
100000 = CCCI''' = CCM''

In the examples above, we have tried to avoid two or more apostrophes in a row for as long as possible.  Perhaps instead we should add non-Roman placeholder characters to break up consecutive apostrophes, but that would significantly go beyond the standard system of Roman numerals.

Perhaps numbers ending in an apostrophe are skipped, so the suffix increments directly from MMMCMXCIX (3999) to MD'I (4001).

If an apostrophe gets elided (in some text system that can't handle them in names), it can cause ambiguity.  When can they be inferred if elided?

The reuse of the characters C and I in apostrophus is yet another reason why Roman numerals are horrible.

Other possible solutions: Standardize values for letters beyond the current standard Roman numerals.  This will work until we run out of letters.  Standardize a letter to substitute for backwards C, perhaps A for apostrophus.  Or, spell out suffix numbers in words: Pat Smith The Four Thousandth (this will work until we run out of words for large numbers) or Pat Smith Four Zero Zero Zero (place-value works forever).

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