For the researchers, significance is not a value judgment. The authors examined people’s reputations as memes that evolve across time.
“We measured how successfully they are propagating their meme through the course of history,” said Skiena.
Jesus is the indisputable leader, with his name appearing once in every 10,000 words in the ngrams.
Likewise, founders of religions are highly significant people. Skiena noted that could decrease across time as the proportion of writing in English is no longer focused primarily on faith or philosophy, as it was in ancient days.
But there may yet be more popes in the Top 100 one day than just the two listed currently — St. Peter (No. 65) and Pope John Paul II (No. 91) — because contemporary popes are living longer than their predecessors.
Other religious figures in the top 100:
34. Paul the Apostle (New Testament author, missionary)
52. Gautama Buddha (central figure of Buddhism)
57. Joseph Smith (founder of Mormonism)
89. Ali (son-in-law of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad)
90. St. Thomas Aquinas (Catholic theologian)
99. John Calvin (Protestant theologian)