Quick, open a new window on whatever device you’re reading this on and type the last name of the famous Texas actor whose hero is himself ten years from now and whose catchphrase is “all right, all right, all right.”
How did you spell it?
If you correctly spelled it as “McConaughey,” consider yourself in an unusual club. About 37 percent of people who attempt to type Matthew McConaughey’s name get it right, according to a study of misspellings from the visual essay website The Pudding. That’s not the most widely misspelled celebrity name—Zach Galifianakis and Mark McGwire are neck-and-neck for that title—but it is the one with the most variation in how it’s misspelled.
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According to Russell Goldenberg, who created the visuals for what he and co-author Matt Daniels dubbed “The Gyllenhaal Experiment,” Matthew McConaughey stood out, even in a crowded field of candidates with tricky last names. “His was, by far, the most misspelled in terms of the unique permutations of his name,” Goldenberg told Texas Monthly. “We’ve gotten 20,000 submissions for his name, and just looking at submissions where they’ve been more than one person to type the same thing, to filter out the noise, there have been 864 different ways to spell McConaughey, which is almost unfathomable.”
That is a staggering number of ways to misspell Matthew McConaughey’s name—but what’s fascinating about the experiment is just how that data is visualized. Goldenberg created a branching, tree-style graph for us to consider just where it goes off the rails—which happens right after the “M” about 4 percent of the time. You can follow along the path people take trying to get to “McConaughey” as you analyze the data. Some people appear to go the phonetic route (“McConohay”), others overcomplicate it (“McConnahaugh”), and others get close before flagging out on the last lap (“McConaughay,” you were so close!).
So, what does the experiment offer, beyond a self-confidence boon to those of us who have spent a lot of time writing about the Academy Awarding-winning eccentric and can thus spell his name with ease? The branching decision tree is a reminder that there are beautifully creative ways to visualize data—for those of us who type “McConaughey” correctly and for the thousands of people who spell it wrong, temporarily misled on their search for a meme or a flowchart.