He thought he was specialuntil his Google twin showed
Photo illustration/McClatchy News Service
Thanks to search engines like Google, it’s easy to find other people who share the same name.
By Marc Ramirez
"I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together."
— The Beatles, "I Am The Walrus"
Just so we’re on the same page, let us all emphatically agree that the Internet has made the world a more knowledgeable, convenient and thoroughly creepy place. Everything, everyone, is now at your fingertips. Including you.
There was a time when, unless your name was John Smith or Jose Lopez, it was a novelty to find another person with the same name. Now, thanks to search engines like Google, it’s practically a sure thing. Little searchbots instantaneously scour the globe taking stock of your significance, and there you are. And there, and there, and there.
And your Google Twins.
For a long time, I was sure I was the only Marc Ramirez who existed. Though my first name would hit its U.S. peak (89th most popular, according to www.babynamewizard.com) in the 1970s, I figured: What were the chances that another Ramirez couple would name their kid Marc? With a C?
The surname was common enough in my neighborhood as I was growing up, but we Ramirezes had yet to hit our collective stride nationwide. Through high school, college and then a nascent career in journalism, I was the guy named Ramirez. Hey, sometimes I was just "the Mexican guy." And sometimes I was "that guy who uses words like ‘nascent.’ "Occasionally, though, there’d be others: A David Ramirez here, an Adam Ramirez there. In college, a Maya Ramirez. Whew — that was close.
You ask: What’s in a name? A rose by any other name should smell as sweet, right? But how would the rose feel if "rose" also referred to, say, a breed of dust mite? Or a type of shoe?
So when I encountered these other Ramirezes, these pretenders, I would curse their (first) names for daring to commandeer my social identity. But as time went on, I became secure in the uniqueness of my own combination of names. I thought: I am the one, the only Marc Ramirez.
As it turns out, I wasn’t the only Marc Ramirez who thought so.
As Marc Ramirez, professional violinist, puts it: "Along comes Google and turns your whole world upside down."
Around the turn of the millennium, I came across my fellow Marc Ramirez, the dashing figure who’s performed on violin throughout North America, Europe and Japan; then I found Marc Ramirez, a Cincinnati software developer, who posts on message boards with subject lines such as, "Getting result set metadata without executing query?"
Ever since then, as we’ve Googled ourselves — don’t act like you haven’t — the three of us have dominated the results as a whole, jostling for the top spot. Marc Ramirez the software developer calls us the big three. This was our domain, in other words. We ruled.
"I remember distinctly, in the late ’90s," he says, "there was you, there was me and there was this violinist at Yale. Women on dates would be disappointed: ’Oh, you don’t play the violin?’ Alta Vista was the biggest search engine at the time, and they would find him."
I could have been satisfied, if only slightly dismayed, to know there were three of us out there, each doing our own thing across the USA. But in a recent Google search, I stumbled upon Marc Ramirez, a 32-year-old computer guy in Norway. On his personal Web page, he alludes to his alter ego, the Keyser Soze-like Cram Zerimar, which is my name — I mean, our name — spelled backward, and which my sister used to call me when we were kids.
I should have stopped there, but I couldn’t resist. Eventually, I gave in to the urge to scroll past the first few pages of results. They began to appear in horrific succession: Marc Ramirez, former offensive lineman for the University of Michigan(... Marc Ramirez, federal inmate ... Dr. Marc Ramirez, Connecticut pediatrician... .
And in my sense of not being alone, I was not alone.
"It was pretty spooky, actually," Marc Ramirez the violinist says of realizing that was so. "I felt like Captain Kirk felt in the old ’Star Trek’ when he meets the other Captain Kirk, like it was some kind of positive-negative universe. You know, you grow up having a sense that you’re unique, but then there’s these other people running around with exactly the same name as you. It’s really unsettling."
We shouldn’t have been surprised. According to a site called www.howmanyofme.com, which estimates nationwide namesakes based on the popularity of one’s first and last names, there are 137 Marc Ramirezes across America. (Ramirez is now the 70th most popular surname in the country, it says.)
Marc Ramirez even shows up on IMDb, the Internet Movie Database, as an actor and TV sound technician.
But maybe you’re lucky, and there really is only one of you. As far as you know. "I’m the only one I know of that has my name," e-mails comic Rebecca Corry of Kent, Wash. "If you Google me ... it’s just me. IMDb me ... it’s just me. Why? I’m just that special."
On the other hand, Jim Downey, a bookbinder in Columbia, Mo., once found many namesakes, simultaneously: "It was like looking in a mirror which had been shattered," he says. "You saw a hundred different images of yourself looking back, with some sense that they were all somehow united."
If you’re not careful, your illusion can turn into one-way glass. As Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times’ movie critic, described it to me after finding her double — an entertainer — in Australia: "Wait — what if that’s really me? What if I don’t exist? Or what if I’m her?"
But while namesakes can be many things — curiosities, thorns in your psyche’s side — they can also be trouble.
You’ve heard stories like this: Seattle’s Melissa Ganus keeps getting calls under her most-recent married name for someone who’s apparently defaulted on student loans. And according to news reports last year, if you’re lucky enough to be named Gary Smith or Robert Johnson, you’ve been on the government’s "no-fly" list.
"When I was living in New Haven," says Marc Ramirez the Cincinnati software developer, "a Marc Ramirez was arrested for a double murder, and at this place where I was working, they were seriously wondering if I was gonna come in that day. That’s when it really started to hit me: There might be some Marc Ramirez out there who becomes a serial rapist, and I’m gonna get tarred with his reputation."
Maybe that’s why people name their kids after themselves, I thought — to give themselves a second chance, in case they mess up. Marc Ramirez the Norway computer guy, for instance, is the brand-new father of Marcus Jordan Ramirez. "We are so excited," he says.
Meanwhile, Marc Ramirez the software developer will be sending his 9-month-old son, Jacob, into a world that will likely feature plenty of them, since Jacob is one of the most popular names for boys these days. "He’s gonna be even more cursed," he says.
At least that’s what we Marc Ramirezes, all 137 of us, can assume.