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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.


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.
Yes - having a doppelganger is one of those things that sounds like more fun than it is.

December 2016

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