Are you Googleable?
The quest for name individuality is a common theme I hear from parents. Change is accelerating, the name pool is expanding, and parents are treating "popular" as a dirty word. It tells us a lot about our culture and values. But it also tells us something about our technology.
Most of us share our full name with others -- sometimes hundreds of others. A generation ago, that seldom mattered. So there's another Sarah Stubblefield three states over, who cares? But in a networked, searchable world, our name twins are suddenly closer than ever before.
Type "Laura Wattenberg" into Google and you'll get a pure dose of baby name wizardry. Wattenberg, though, is my married name. I was born Laura Miller. Google that name and you'll find results for hundreds of women, including a Salon editor and the current mayor of Dallas. I'm sure my old single self is in there somewhere, but who could find her?
For some tech-focused families, "Googleability" is now a prime baby-naming requirement. If a full name yields too many Google results, they toss it out. Many of these parents are reacting to their own frustration with mistaken identity. Once you've been one of seven Tom Wilsons in your company directory, you learn to crave the clarity of a unique name. For others, a Googleable name is a fashion statement. They'll even make sure a .com domain name is available for their baby-to-be, like the ultimate vanity license plate.
There are undeniable practical benefits to a unique name. The Boston Globe recently chronicled the woes of a man whose driver's license was revoked because he shared a name with a repeat vehicular offender. In my case, back in my Laura Miller days I once moved to a new town and started getting phone calls intended for another Laura Miller. Judging from the nature of the calls, that other Laura offered certain...er...personal services I wasn't about to provide. As a Wattenberg, mistaken identity is a thing of the past. Arguably, there's also a psychological lift from feeling that you're not just one of an indistiguishable crowd.
Yet there's an upside to anonymity, too. It's called privacy. Kids growing up today are leaving a trail of information footprints, opening stray details of their lives to the public. The same unique moniker that sets you apart from the crowd makes you and your past instantly trackable. Even innocuous aspects of your life can be personal, and over the long run you might not want everyone you meet to be able to learn about them with a single click.
How about those old college party photos? Picture a new boyfriend 5 years down the line Googling the snapshots of you with with your old boyfriend...and the one before him, and the one before him. Or think of a prospective employer (because they will Google you, you can be certain.) Did they need to see that picture of the tattoo on your rear end before meeting you? Worse yet, did they need to know all about your religious, political and sexual inclinations? It's none of their business. But thanks to a long-forgotten messageboard post, or organizational newsletter, or friend's blog, it may be there for the reading.
No new parent ever dreams of the future and thinks, "I want to make sure my child will be able to hide his tracks!" But we do think about protecting our kids, including protecting them from kinds of material they can find online. It's also worth thinking about the kinds of material they can put online. The more distinctive your child's name, the stronger the trail she'll leave behind, for whomever might be looking. A young Sirrenity Stubblefield should learn to think hard before she posts.