What's in a name? Only Google knows

Published10/4/2007 12:31 AM

Eve Fairbanks knew something was up when her mother drove six hours to her college just to have lunch. After a meal of risotto came the moment of truth: "I know about the porn," Mom told her.

It was an honest mistake: Eve's name kept showing up on X-rated sites when her mother Googled it to keep tabs on her daughter. But that Eve Fairbanks wasn't her Eve -- it was a "Googleganger," a virtual doppelganger linked by a shared name thanks to the all-knowing search engine.


Much like the verb "to Google" has become as familiar in our vernacular as "to search," the term "Google-ganger" has also caught on with a generation of people defined not so much by their accomplishments but by how Google-able those accomplishments are.

"You are who you are because of Google," says Matthew Slutsky, 26, a political blogger who has befriended his own Googleganger on Facebook.

For some, your Googleganger is your rival in a race to the top of the Google hit list. It can also be a source of comparison -- an alter ego of sorts.

"Finding others with the same name enables us to see ourselves mirrored back" and can even boost our self-esteem, says sociologist Julie Albright of the University of Southern California.

For others, a Googleganger is a lifelong irritant.

Minnesota IT consultant Robert Fischer -- not to be confused with Bobby -- had the misfortune of being 10 when "Searching for Bobby Fischer," the 1993 movie about a chess prodigy, came out. It made things awkward at home -- Robert's grandfather was training him to be a chess champ, too, he says, "and here was some kid who was younger and better than I'd ever be" -- and now it's dashing his hopes of upping his Google rank.

At least he doesn't share his name with a porn star. Fairbanks got lucky in the end. Her name was removed from the explicit sites, thanks to Google's support team. And as it turned out, porn-star Eve might not have actually existed: her name, Google told our Eve, might have been created as a marketing ploy to drive more traffic to the porn sites.

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