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What's in a Name?

Have you ever searched your own name on the Internet to see what would pop up?

I imagine it wouldn't surprise the people who know me that I have done this numerous times. When you write fiction, you tend to want to see what sort of public picture you're creating on the Internet.

But I've also run searches on my name to find other Michael Bursteins out there. I'm not sure why I've done this, although I always felt an odd sort of identification with the others who share my name. For example, I'm a fan of the Israeli actor and singer Mike Burstyn because we share a name. (Burstyn's original name was Michael Burstein; I believe he changed the spelling for his career, since it was easier to fit on a marquee.) I make a point of seeing Burstyn perform whenever I can.

Burstein is not a common name, and my father used to tell me that there was a time when the only Bursteins in the Manhattan phone book were our family. I tended to think that there weren't too many other Bursteins out there. But with the rise of the Internet, I've found many others.

Including other Michael Bursteins.

Why I am sharing this? Because today's New York Times has an interesting article on the topic of finding people with your own name: Names That Match Forge a Bond on the Internet by Stephanie Rosenbloom. I'm apparently not the only person who's done this. In fact, according to the article, a writer named Angela Shelton has just published a book about meeting 40 other women with her same name. The article also notes why we might feel an odd kinship with someone who shares our name – social psychologist Brett Pelham has done studies that show that our names, and the letters within them, are influential in our lives.

In my own experience, the most amusing incident involving a "Googleganger" happened when I got an email from the teenage daughter of another Michael Burstein. She had been searching for her father's name on the Internet, and was delighted to discover me. She emailed me and clearly wanted a reply, but I was concerned about the appropriateness of me, a total stranger, writing back.

So I tracked down her father's work number, and gave him a call.

"Hello, I'd like to speak with Michael Burstein please."

"Certainly. May I ask who's calling?"

"Michael Burstein."

It turned out that Burstein-the-other had given his daughter permission to contact me. And I found out that he had lived in the Bronx as a kid, but had later moved with his family to Brookline, where he attended the Maimonides School for a year.

The Times article also mentions how a student named Jon Lee would like to turn up first on a Google search, but how there are too many other Jon Lees he would have to beat. In my case, my websites are usually the first ones to turn up, probably because I've had a website for longer than any other Michael Burstein, and also because you're more likely to want to find me if you use my name. In the case of many of the other Michael Bursteins, they're lawyers, and I imagine you're more likely to want to find one of them if you were looking for a lawyer who specializes in their kind of work. I've also found a company CFO, a few executives, a scientist or two, and a dentist who share my name, which does get my science-fiction writer brain pondering if there's a story in all this.


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as bizarre as it may seem, i have never found another person with my name.

here's a movie similar to that times article.

Edited at 2008-04-10 06:05 pm (UTC)
I've met one other November, once; Alan November, who runs November Learning.
As far as I know, my name is unique. And my grandfather once made a similar claim with regards to our surname.
I have a fairly common name, and I still make both the #5 and #10 slots on a Google search for myfirstname mylastname, or #2 and #8 for "myfirstname mylastname".
There's only one me, and I'm sure several people are rather glad of it. :-)
Burstyn's original name was Michael Burstein; I believe he changed the spelling for his career, since it was easier to fit on a marquee.

Nah, he changed it to avoid confusion with you; didn't want to be outshone. He dreaded a life of saying "No, no, not Michael Burstein the science fiction writer; I'm just a singer, me..."

A guy called Dave Gorman wrote a book and made a series and a stage performance out of travelling the world locating other Dave Gormans. The internet makes all many things possible. But me, I have put my name about all over, and it seems I am the only Chaz Brenchley around. I have uniquity!
Actually, my Wikipedia entry includes a link to his, in case the surfer found me and meant to find him. But interestingly enough, his Wikipedia page does not carry a similar notice. So I guess they're assuming people are more likely to be looking for him than me...
I found this bit of the article very interesting:

"Social psychologists have found that people are more attracted to others with similar faces or identical birth dates. James Bruning, a trustee professor of psychology at Ohio University, said that people’s fascination with their Googlegängers might be an adult expression of the common childhood wish to be an identical twin."

As an actual identical twin, when I google myself I'm making sure there aren't any more of me. So far there aren't any hits on my name that aren't referring to me, except for pages that have the first and last names referring to different people.

Googling "rikchik" also mostly pulls up things referring to me, directly or indirectly. There are a couple of other referents but they're pretty obscure.
I was hoping you'd weigh in on the identical twin question.

I have to admit that if another Michael Burstein became more famous than me, to the point where I had to correct people often that I wasn't him, I think I'd become disgruntled after a while.

There aren't any others.

I am dopple-free. I did find two other Mollenas: one hosts a cooking show in a West African country. Which one exactly eludes my memory at present. The other worked for Giuliani while he was Mayor. I was so surprised and amused to know that there was another Mollena, I e-mailed her. She was not interested, surprised or delighted to find another Mollena, which I found somewhat lame. As of now there are 3 other Mollena in the US. Although I suspect it is actually only 2 others, as I believe one Mollena married and therefore changed her surname.

I faced no competition in Googling myself until a former lover's eponymous song recently gained some notoriety. For one brief moment if irritating effulgence the song written about me outstripped myself in the ratings.

Praise the Gods.

Re: There aren't any others.

Mollena is a way cool name. Had I been the other Mollena, I would have thought it cool that you got in touch.

To my knowledge, I have never run across the word "effulgence" before. Thanks for increasing my vocabulary! (Although it took me a while to parse the sentence...)
for a while i had an internet doppleganger who excelled at high school soccer. she doesn't come up anymore, so i guess she's moved on to quieter pursuits. these days it's pretty much all me.
I share my name with the Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel in Baltimore. Just this weekend, I introduced myself to someone and was met with a story about how their friend had tried to call the Rosh Yeshiva by looking up the name in the Baltimore phone book and instead found a Protestant minister with the same name.

I cannot find any evidence of this third owner of my name on google, but perhaps I just lack the right search terms. Or perhaps it's just the shaggy dog story it sounds like- If so, I'm glad that I gave him an opportunity to tell it.
Curiously, I have yet to meet another Mike Allen, though I've always suspected (and Google confirms) that We Are Legion.
My name seems to have been way more common a generation or two back than it is now. but almost everyone else on the internet who shares my name seems to be a teacher or a scientist. Or a poet at Oxford. And when i do a google image search for my name, well, they all do kinda look like me. but I put that down to the Jewish gene more than anything else.
I am very lucky to have an extremely unusual last name. I've found only two other Jennifer Pellands on the internet, and one of them recently took her husband's last name, so now we're down to two. And I'm always the top hit on Google, probably due to me owning the dot com.
Once, on vacation, in jr high, I think -- anyways, vacation -- my sister and I were playing in the hotel pool with some other girls (also sisters) we'd just met and immediately become best friends with in the way that you do when you're in a pool and on vacation and never going to see them again.

It turned out the eldest girl's name was my name, spelled exactly the same way: first, middle, last.

The younger girl's name was my sister's name, first name almost spelled the same (I believe they doubled a letter), and last name the same.

hee. mostly googling Annie Webber turns up things that are me or inspired by me.

like this story (requires registration and a bunch of money. Schools tend to have a subscription.)

In fact, six the first ten hits are that story. :)

Real!me doesn't show up under my name though. just fictional!me
I still say your family spells Webber wrong. :-)
A few years ago, I was the only person with my name showing up in Google searches. Now I don't always make the top 10. A photographer with the same first and last name (different middle initial) appeared in the last year or two.

But my only publications are scientific, not popular culture, so I don't really expect to be high on Google searches.
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