Are violent felons, particularly murderers, more likely to have the middle name Wayne? That’s the rumor that’s been swirling around true crime circles for some time now. When I first heard this, I immediately dismissed the idea as non-sense. Wayne isn’t exactly an uncommon name and, statistically speaking, the likely explanation is that a wide population in general had the same middle name.
Thinking back to murderers who I was familiar with and who also happened to have the middle name Wayne, two people come to mind: John Wayne Gacy and Elmer Wayne Henley. We cover a lot of stories of murderers here, so two names fitting the trend out of the dozens of others who didn’t wasn’t enough to convince me that this theory held any water. Still, I thought the story was interesting enough that I decided to dig deeper. Maybe not all murderers baring Wayne as a middle name were nationally known serial killers?
I began by attempting to track down the original source of the theory. Though he may not have been the original origin, Chuck Shepherd’s website News of the Weird was the earliest documented source of the rumors that I could find. According to Chuck, sometime in the early 1990s he noticed a trend of people who committed some of the most heinous crimes had Wayne as a middle name. As a result, he began publishing his list in 1996. Since then, his regular readers have submitted names and his list has grown to include 223 convicted killers.
Ten years later, an author by the name of Steven D. Levitt published an article for Freakonomics, which also speculated that a high number of violent crimes were committed by men with the middle name Wayne. He was able to back up his claims by reporting that a Texas woman with the unusual hobby of collecting her local newspaper articles that documented criminals baring the middle name Wayne had passed on her collection to him. Between February and September 2006 she amassed a list of 20 names. Keep in mind that not all of them were strictly killers and some of them may have later been acquitted of their pending charges. Never-the-less, the list is impressive considering the short time span the woman managed to collect these articles.
The lists from both authors piqued my interest and gave me some hope that maybe there was something to the theory, that has otherwise been limited to online message board discussion and strange facts people passively share among friends. I still wasn’t thoroughly convinced though, and I took my investigation a step further.
Let’s Math it Out
Finding statistics for the number of people with the middle name Wayne proved to be slightly difficult, but I was able to track down one survey conducted by the website namenerds.com. According to their collected data, out of the 1,348 people surveyed, 11 had the middle name Wayne.
using the equation P = People With Wayne As Middle Name / Total Survey Participants:
P = 11 / 1348
P = 0.0082 * 100 (Multiply by 100 in order to convert to a percentage)
0.82 percent of the survey participants had the middle name Wayne.
Of course the survey conducted by Name Nerds is by no means a comprehensive census and there’s no way to determine if the survey was taken by a diverse sample of subjects, as naming trends tend to change from generation to generation. These calculations also assume that everyone who answered the survey resided in the United States, though this is probably not the case.
According to Chuck’s list on News of the Weird, there are (at least to his knowledge) 223 convicted murderers with Wayne listed as their middle name. Of those listed, 30 of them were noted as being deceased, leaving us with 193 convicted murderers with the middle name Wayne. I did not personally check to confirm that the remaining 193 murderers were, in fact, still alive and Chuck also notes that there are some deaths he may have missed along the way. But giving Chuck the benefit of the doubt, we’ll assume that all these guys are still kicking around in some maximum security prison somewhere, choking down their nutraloaf.
Chuck says he started his list in 1996, but the census displaying the number of convicted murderers incarcerated each year compiled by the USBJS only recorded data between the years of 2001 and 2013. In order to account for the years we’re missing data for, I took the average of convicted murderers per year and I was able to determine that there were approximately 2,369 people convicted each year, meaning that from 1996 until 2016 there were somewhere in the ballpark of 47,380 murderers incarcerated within the past 20 years.
Those numbers are generous and do not account for any inmates who may have been exonerated during that time, people who were convicted prior to that time frame, people who have died, or who were otherwise executed. That number was also not adjusted to reflect that 2016 is not yet over, but for the sake of this article, we’ll assume that those numbers can still offer us a valid snapshot.
Plugging those numbers into the same equation as listed above, we arrive at the conclusion that
0.41 percent of convicted murderers have the middle name Wayne.
Having no other basis for comparison, I cannot arrive at the conclusion that murderers are more likely to have the middle name Wayne, but when our calculations based on what data we have available reflect that roughly half of the population having Wayne as a middle name has been convicted of murder, it certainly makes you wonder.