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Search a long list of names (patterns) in a large text corpus systematically and quickly

Project description

Search Names: Search a long list of names in a large text corpus

There are seven kinds of challenges in searching a long list of names in a large text corpus:

  1. Names may not be in a standard format, e.g., the first name may not always be followed by the last name, etc.

  2. Searching FirstName LastName may not be enough. References to the person may take the form of Prefix LastName, etc. For instance, President Clinton.

  3. Names may be misspelled.

  4. Text may refer to people by their diminutive name (hypocorism), or by their middle name, or diminutive form of their middle name, etc. For instance, citations to Bill Clinton are liable to be much more common than William Clinton.

  5. Names on the list may overlap with names not on the list, especially names of other famous people. For instance, searching for Maryland politician Michael Jackson may yield lots of false positives.

  6. Names on the list may match other names on the list (duplicates).

  7. Searching is computationally expensive. And searching for a long list over a large corpus is a double whammy.

We address each of the problems.

The Workflow

Before anything else, use clean_names to standardize the names on the list. The script appends separate columns for prefix, first_name, last_name, etc. Some human curation will likely still be needed. Do it before going further. After that, use merge supplementary data to append other potential prefixes, diminutive norms of the first name, and other names by which the person is known by to the output of clean_names. Next, preprocess the search list. In particular, the script does three things:

  1. Converts the data from wide to long: The script creates a separate row for each pattern we want to search for. For instance, if we add ‘Bill’ as a diminutive name for William, and in the configuration file, say, we want to only search for ‘FirstName LastName’, the script creates a separate row for ‘William Clinton’ and ‘Bill Clinton’, copying all other information across rows. And appends a column called ‘search_pattern.’

  2. Deduplicates: it removes any ‘pattern’, say ‘Prefix LastName’ that is duplicated and hence cannot be easily disambiguated in search. (This can be turned off.) and

  3. Removes an ad hoc list of patterns: For instance, patterns matching famous people not on the list, e.g. we can remove ‘Michael Jackson’ and it won’t remove ‘Congressman Jackson.’

Lastly, the search script searches patterns in the list in a multi-threaded, parallelized way.


We strongly recommend installing search-names inside a Python virtual environment (see venv documentation)

pip install search_names

Clean the name on the list

clean_names: The script is a modified version of Clean Names.

The script takes a csv file with column ‘Name’ containing ‘dirty names’— names with all different formats: lastname firstname, firstname lastname, middlename lastname firstname etc. (see sample input file) and produces a csv file that has all the columns of the original csv file and the following columns: ‘uniqid’, ‘FirstName’, ‘MiddleInitial/Name’, ‘LastName’, ‘RomanNumeral’, ‘Title’, ‘Suffix’ (see sample output file).


usage: clean_names [-h] [-o OUTFILE] [-c COLUMN] [-a] input

Clean name

positional arguments:
input                 Input file name

optional arguments:
-h, --help            show this help message and exit
                        Output file in CSV (default: clean_names.csv)
-c COLUMN, --column COLUMN
                        Column name file in CSV contains Name list (default:
-a, --all             Export all names (not take duplicate names out)
                        (default: False)


clean_names -a sample_input.csv

Merge Supplementary Data

The script takes output from clean_names (see sample input file) and appends supplementary data (prefixes, nicknames) to the file (see sample output file). In particular, the script merges two supplementary data files:

Prefixes: Generally the same set of prefixes will be used for a group of names. For instance, if you have a long list of politicians, state governors with no previous legislative experience will only have prefixes Governor, Mr., Mrs., Ms. etc., and not prefixes like Congressman or Congresswoman. We require a column in the input file that captures information about which ‘prefix group’ a particular name belongs to. We use that column to merge prefix data. The prefix file itself needs two columns: 1) A column to look up prefixes for groups of names depending on the value. The name of the column must be the same as the column name specified by the argument -p/--prefix (default is seat), and 2) a column of prefixes (multiple prefixes separated by semi-colon). The default name of the prefix data file is prefixes.csv. See sample prefixes data file.

Nicknames: Nicknames are merged using first names in the input data file. The nicknames file is a plain text file. Each line contains single or list of first names on left side of the ‘-’ and one or multiple nicknames on the right hand side. List of first names and nicknames must be separated by comma. Default name of the nicknames data file is nick_names.txt. See sample nicknames file.


usage: merge_supp [-h] [-o OUTFILE] [-n NAME] [-p PREFIX]
                  [--prefix-file PREFIX_FILE] [--nick-name-file NICKNAME_FILE]

Merge supplement data

positional arguments:
input                 Input file name

optional arguments:
-h, --help            show this help message and exit
                        Output file in CSV (default:
-n NAME, --name NAME  Name of column use for nick name look up (default:
-p PREFIX, --prefix PREFIX
                        Name of column use for prefix look up (default: seat)
--prefix-file PREFIX_FILE
                        CSV File contains list of prefixes (default:
--nick-name-file NICKNAME_FILE
                        Text File contains list of nick names (default:


merge_supp sample_in.csv

The script takes sample_in.csv, prefixes.csv, and nick_names.txt and produces augmented_clean_names.csv. The output file has two additional columns:

  • prefixes - List of prefixes (separated by semi-colon)

  • nick_names - List of nick names (separated by semi-colon)

Preprocess Search List

The script takes the output from merge supp. data (sample input file), list of patterns we want to search for, an ad hoc list of patterns we want to drop (sample drop patterns file, and relative edit distance (based on the length of the pattern we are searching for) for approximate matching and does three things: a) creates a row for each pattern we want to search for (duplicating all the supplementary information), b) drops the ad hoc list of patterns we want to drop and c) de-duplicates based on edit distance and patterns we want to search for. See sample output file.

The script also takes arguments that define the patterns to search for, name of the file containing patterns we want to drop, and edit distance.

  1. search

    An argument --patterns contains patterns—combination of field names—we want to search for. For instance --patterns "FirstName LastName" "NickName LastName" "Prefix LastName" means that we want to search for combination of “FirstName LastName” “NickName LastName” and “Prefix LastName” respectively.

  2. drop

    An argument --drop-patterns points to the text file containing list of people to be dropped. Usually, this file is an ad hoc list of patterns that we want removed. For instance, patterns matching famous people not on the list.

  3. editlength

    An argument --editlength contains minimum name length for the specific string length. For instance, --editlength 10 15 means that for patterns of length 10 or more, match within edit distance of 1 and patterns of length 15 or more, match within edit distance of 2.

    If you want to disable fuzzy matching, just don’t pass the argument --editlength.


usage: preprocess [-h] [-o OUTFILE] [-d DROP_PATTERNS_FILE]
                  [-p PATTERNS [PATTERNS ...]]
                  [-e EDITLENGTH [EDITLENGTH ...]]

Preprocess Search List

positional arguments:
input                 Input file name

optional arguments:
-h, --help            show this help message and exit
                        Output file in CSV (default:
                        File with Default Patterns (default:
                        List of Default Patterns (default: ['FirstName
                        LastName', 'NickName LastName', 'Prefix LastName'])
                        List of Edit Lengths (default: [])


preprocess augmented_clean_names.csv

By default, the output will be saved as deduped_augmented_clean_names.csv. The script adds a new column, search_name for unique search key.


usage: split_text_corpus [-h] [-o OUTFILE] [-s SIZE] input

Split large text corpus into smaller chunks

positional arguments:
input                 CSV input file name

optional arguments:
-h, --help            show this help message and exit
                        Output file in CSV (default:
-s SIZE, --size SIZE  Number of row in each chunk (default: 1000)


split_text_corpus -s 1000 text_corpus.csv

The script will split text_corpus.csv into multiple chunk_* directories.

In this case chunk_00, chunk_01, ... chunk_09 directory will be created along with text_corpus.csv which will have 1000 rows in it.

The output location and file name convention can be specified by the -o / --out command line option. Actually, it is a Python format string where chunk_id will replace chunk number starting from 0, and basename is input file’s name (without path and extension).

Search for names

This is the script to search names in the text corpus. The input file must contain at least two columns uniqid and text.


usage: search_names [-h] [-m MAX_NAME] [-p PROCESSES] [-o OUTFILE] [-t TEXT]
                  [-i INPUT_COLS [INPUT_COLS ...]]
                  [-c SEARCH_COLS [SEARCH_COLS ...]] [--overwritten]
                  [-e EDITLENGTH [EDITLENGTH ...]] [-f NAMEFILE]
                  [-u NAME_ID] [-s NAME_SEARCH] [-d] [--clean]

Search names in text corpus

positional arguments:
input                 CSV input file name

optional arguments:
-h, --help            show this help message and exit
-m MAX_NAME, --max-name MAX_NAME
                        Maximum name in search results (default: 20)
                        Number of processes to run (default: 4)
                        Search results in CSV (default: search_results.csv)
-t TEXT, --text TEXT  Column name with text (default: text)
-i INPUT_COLS [INPUT_COLS ...], --input-cols INPUT_COLS [INPUT_COLS ...]
                        List of column name from input file to include in the
                        output (default: ['uniqid', 'text'])
                        List of column name from search output (default:
                        ['uniqid', 'n', 'match', 'start', 'end', 'count'])
--overwritten         Overwritten if output file is exists
                        List of Edit Lengths (default: [])
                        CSV file contains unique ID and Name want to search
                        for (default: deduped_augmented_clean_names.csv)
-u NAME_ID, --uniqid NAME_ID
                        Column of unique ID in name want to search for
                        (default: uniqid)
                        Colunm of name want to search for (default:
-d, --debug           Enable debug message
--clean               Clean text column before search


  • --search-cols that lists the columns from search file to be included in the output

  • --input-cols that lists columns from the file containing the text data to be included in the output.

  • --file which you can use to specify a CSV file where id and search refer to uniqid and keywords to be searched in that file respectively. In this case id and search are set to uniqid and search_name, the de-duped output generated by preprocess.

  • --editlength specifies the list of minimum string length for that edit distance. For instance --editlength 10 15 first value (10) means edit distance of 1 is allowed if string longer than 10 characters and the 2nd value (15) means that edit distance of 2 is allowed if the string is longer than 15 characters. We must use the same editlength as setting used in preprocess to avoid getting ambiguous search results. Once again, if you want to disable fuzzy matching, just omitted editlength.

  • --text specifies the name of the column that contains the text data to be searched.

  • -m / --max-name is used to limit maximum search results.

  • --overwritten is used to overwrite the output file if it exists; it is disabled by default.

  • --clean option is provided to clean the text column (remove stop words, special characters etc.) before search.


search_names text_corpus.csv

By default, the script forks 4 processes (specify by -p / --processes) and searches for the names specified by --file, --search.

The output file (specify by -o / --out) will contains all columns from the input file (except text column will be replaced by cleaned text if --clean is specify) along with the search result columns that are:

`nameX.uniqid` - uniqid number from name file
`nameX.n` - occurrences of name found
`nameX.match` - name found (separated by semi-colon `;` if multiple matches)
`nameX.start` - start index of name found
`nameX.end` - end index of name found
`count` - total occurrences of name found

where X is result numbering start from 1 to maximum search results

Please note that row sequence in the output file will not be same as the input file as the script gets results from multi-threaded searching.

Merge Search Results

Merge search results back from multiple files to a single file.


usage: merge_results [-h] [-o OUTFILE] [inputs [inputs ...]]

Merge search results from multiple chunks

positional arguments:
inputs                CSV input file(s) name

optional arguments:
-h, --help            show this help message and exit
                        Output file in CSV (default:


merge_results chunk_00/search_results.csv chunk_01/search_results.csv chunk_02/search_results.csv

Above script will merge 3 search results into a single output file. The default is merged_results.csv


For more information, please see project documentation.


Suriyan Laohaprapanon and Gaurav Sood

Contributor Code of Conduct

The project welcomes contributions from everyone! In fact, it depends on it. To maintain this welcoming atmosphere, and to collaborate in a fun and productive way, we expect contributors to the project to abide by the Contributor Code of Conduct.


The package is released under the MIT License.

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