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March 25, 2007

Who are you? On Google, it's never quite clear


Jennifer Seavey wrote an interesting piece for the February 21, 2007 Washington Post about what happens when you Google your own name, only to learn that there are others out there with the very same moniker.

Surprisingly often those "you imposters" — of course, they could say the same about you, if they even knew (or cared) that you existed — have striking similarities to you.

Here's the Post article.

    On Google, a Journey of Selves Discovery

    You know you're out there — somewhere, everywhere — in the boundless eternity of cyberspace. Complain about the invasion of your privacy, clutch at the shards of shattered anonymity — it's all a waste of your energy. Jennifer Seavey decided to find out about "herself" instead.

    The other day, my husband, Steve, told me of a series of weird coincidences. While conducting database research, he came upon an individual with his exact name. Now, if his name was Steve Smith, that wouldn't be much of a shock, but it's Steve Petracek. A name with Czech roots, there are relatively few families in the States. But the name similarity turned out to be the least of it. This other Steve Petracek has the same middle initial, the same civil engineering degree, serves as a Navy Seabee (my husband's former reserve commitment) and lived in several of the same places at different times. Identity theft? Apparently not. This other Steve is currently stationed in Kuwait.

    All this got me thinking. Do I have alter egos around the country? Again, my name isn't a common one. I never met another Seavey outside my family until a few years ago, when a student named Art Seavey appeared in my AP journalism class. Most of us come from New Hampshire, Massachusetts or Maine and have been here since 1621, when the original brothers, William and Richard, arrived from Devon, England, reasons unknown. We've fanned out, but the name remains uncommon.

    So I went to my trusty Google search engine and entered my name. Sure enough, the real me came up first. Navigating across the next three or four Google pages, I found myself popping up more often than the other Jennifer Seaveys in my various roles as journalism and English teacher. But who are those other women with my name?

    I found that Jennifer Seavey is a doctoral candidate at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., with deep knowledge of piping plovers in areas of high population density. I also have a namesake who appeared on the New Hampshire Supreme Court docket in May 2005. I suspect she's the one who usurped my first choice e-mail address on AOL. And I'm also an account director at the Overland Agency in Portland, Ore., as well as a programs committee contact for the American Society for Training and Development in Tampa Bay. Yesterday, I called Chico's to order a jacket and was told I have a counterpart in Athens, Ga.

    Does any of this research shed light on what it means to be Jennifer Seavey? Well, I, too, love biology, especially marine birds. While piping plovers aren't my forte, I can claim some expertise with blue-footed boobies and flightless cormorants. I once worked for a major public accounting firm, and I've regularly trained other teachers and students. Clearly, my counterpart in Georgia and I frequent the same clothing store.

    So what's in a name? Perhaps Shakespeare wasn't right when he wrote the question for Juliet. There might be something in a name after all. I wonder what cologne those other Jennifers wear?


I have long thought that when you see someone wearing an article of clothing identical to one you have on it's worth stopping the person and saying hi if only to mutually register the strangeness inherent in the fact that out of all the zillions of possibilities out there, each of you, for some arcane, unknowable series of reasons, selected the very same item.

It's a sign.

March 25, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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For a long time I was the top hit for my own name on Google. I've since been knocked down quite a few links by an infomercial doctor whose thing is hair transplants >:(

Before seeing him on Google I saw him on TV late one night and groaned to myself, hoping nobody would find out about him. Then, sure enough, a friend sent me a link to his site.

Posted by: Matthew Leavitt | Mar 26, 2007 11:52:53 AM

I've got a fairly common name. I posted about this phenomenon a while ago.

Posted by: xensen | Mar 25, 2007 2:26:12 PM

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