450: Name Twins

A Thousand Things to Talk About
450: Name Twins

Have you ever met someone with your same first and last name?

Full episode script

In a 2012 story for NPR, Alan Greenblatt talked to hundreds of people who share names with celebrities, highlighting that some companies were starting to use these same-name individuals as marketing. Quote:

The Howard Johnson hotel chain is offering free one-night stays to people named Don Draper. ESPN is running a commercial showing how the appearance of a white Michael Jordan is endlessly disappointing to waiters and limo drivers.

You don’t, however, have to share names with a celebrity to have other individuals with your same name impact your life. Just ask the Andrea Parrish who works as a graduate program director at Towson University — we seem to jump back and forth over each other on Google results on a regular basis.

This same-name phenomenon got a 2017 write-up in The Atlantic by one of the 195 Julie Becks in the United States. The article pointed out one of the most challenging new realities is that the internet means that sharing a name with other individuals means sharing your identity online. In a format that relies almost entirely on text, sharing a name does mean virtually sharing an identity, even if you’re very different people.


My name isn’t who I am. But at the same time, it is. A name is a necessary shorthand for referring to a person in all their complexity. When you speak a name, it’s infused with the qualities of the person you’re referring to, but it carries its own connotations, even if you don’t know the person. Just as you flavor your name, your name flavors you.

And, in a way, there’s already a case study of what happens when names are shared. Continuing to quote from the Atlantic article:

“If you want a little microcosm of the evolution of personal names, take a look at Denmark,” says Laura Wattenberg, a name researcher and creator of For much of history, Danes used a patronymic naming system, so that the son of Jens would have the last name Jensen, and Jens’s daughter would have the last name Jensdatter. But in the 19th century, Denmark passed laws requiring people to have hereditary surnames, so many of the patronymics froze then, resulting in a proliferation of Jensens. “No other country in Europe has so few surnames used by so many citizens as Denmark,” the 2003 Dictionary of American Family Names said. So it was still tough to tell people apart.

Now everyone in Denmark has a personnummer, a personal identification number similar to an American Social Security Number, but less private. “Then they realized, okay, you can name yourself whatever you want,” Wattenberg says, and a 2005 law made patronymics possible again.

Personally, I’m highly considering purchasing my nieces and nephews their domain names as holiday gifts, because you can never jump on that too quickly.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.