"I am a man, not a number" cries The Prisoner, and everyone knows what he means and feels. But the centre of this observation, the citadel it defends, is often held to be the unique identity of the individual, yet a moment's thought shows that this view is mistaken; nothing could be better formed to designate the unrepeatable and distinct person than a number. – There can be hundreds and thousands more "Peter Smiths", but only one 2079303636.

It would seem, indeed, that something about names matters more than achieving a unique reference, otherwise numbers would quickly have been adopted instead. Indeed, there is an aspect to numbers that is incompatible with the values served by traditional names.

The explanation is simple, and evident from any thoughtful reading of anthropology. While numbers offer a pin-point accuracy of reference within a mono-linear series, such a thing is of absolutely no interest to a sexually reproducing organism with its irregular web- or net-like structure of family relations. An asexual species, parthenogenetic lizards say, might happily adopt numbers to refer to one another, but we are unlikely to do so. Men and women cling to names because the families from which they spring and those to which they give rise are matters of enduring and intense concern. And the man who is only numbered, by a state institution for example, is a terrifying concept precisely because designation in digits takes that person out of the context of parental descent and regards them as a unit with only bureaucratic relations to those that came before and will come after in the sequence of registration.