How on earth do people called John Smith and Zhang Wei manage to cope? Or rather, how do the authorities manage to cope with the John Smiths who are more likely to be born on the same day than the Lisa S Davises.
Trying to track down a specific Richard Smith or Andrew Brown on Facebook is a bit of a nightmare. Conversely, someone (American) I knew from primary school has such an apparently rare Armenian-based surname (though only 3 syllables and very easy to pronounce) that there are only nine people of that spelling of the name in all Facebook, and they are all either him or close relatives. I expect he gets all his own tickets.
Just a couple weeks ago there was an almost identical story on This American Life. I’ll try to track it down, but perhaps someone else heard it and remembers whether it was Lisa S Davis or somebody else.
My father-in-law had a similar issue, though not nearly as bad as Lisa. It’s definitely an issue that with so many people in the world, you can’t assume that a name and birthday will be sufficient to distinguish two people.
@narmitag (2) - There are three people listed with my last name in the local phonebook (well… back when there was such a thing). One of the other households is my in-laws. I have received phone calls for them from people who knew city & name. A relative misaddressed a letter to them, and it ended up at our place (we live on the same street, the relative put West instead of East, and our carrier recognised the name & sorted it to us even though address & post code were completely wrong.) And this is in what I like to think of as a decent-sized city (we’re only 100,000, but the census metropolitan area is 500,000).
For a few years, my husband got called regularly by bill collectors looking for someone with his name. It never got too bad — eventually he was always able to convince them it wasn’t him. But it made us worry a bit.
When my wife was in college, there was a guy who shared her first name (Robin) and last name. Fortunately the school used Social Security numbers for almost every form of identification (including getting into dormitories at night — so anybody who knew the SS# of any resident could get in), but the campus post office didn’t even try to get it right: the two of them had to share a mailbox.
Bill collectors are the worst. They robocall you. The robocall says “this is a message for (not you), if you are not (not you), hang up now. By continuing to stay on the line, you confirm that you are (not you). This is a matter of a debt.
So, they’ll (robo)call you every day for six months.
Or, you call them up, and tell them: I am not (not you). Stop calling me about (not you)’s debts.” They say, “OK, sorry, bye”. The next week, they sell that debt to another bill collector… with your phone number still attached. You start getting a slightly-differently-worded robocall…
Exactly, JP, that’s what happens. My husband did get through to them 1 time, and they promised to remove our number, but then about a year later it would start again. Very irritating. That was about 25 years ago — makes me wonder what happened to the other guy.
It took about 15 years for the bill collectors looking for my ex-wife to finally stop calling me.
It was the price I paid for keeping the landline number after the divorce.
They’d robocall during the day, so I’d get the complete message on my answering machine, because their robocall devices were incapable of noticing that an answering machine picked up.
I’d call them, the robocall would stop for no more than a week, then a new, different robocaller would start.
If I just ignored them, they’d call every weekday for about six months, then around a month off, and then the next robocaller would start.
I looked forward to the 10-year anniversary of my divorce, because then I knew then that any debts they were calling about, if they were still in the statute of limitations, were incurred after we’d divorced, and she’d topped using my phone number. This did not occur to the robocallers, unfortunately. I even still get MAIL addressed to her and my address. (It’s been 15 years, and we were only married for 10).
I did once stay in a small hotel in Kuwait in about 1995 I think, and the receptionist made some comment about my having been there a couple of weeks earlier, but I had never stayed in that hotel before. Another bloke with my first- and sur-names had been there. Mine’s not that common a name, but not a wacky one either… it did feel a bit odd to think a parallel person was living a not dissimilar life to me, and with my name.
I have only met two other people who weren’t related who had my surname, and one of them, Lee, was a former colleague I had only known under her maiden name who later had happened to marry some guy with the same surname as mine (who I have never met; he has same first name as my brother, too). We bumped into each other in the car park of a pub where a bunch of us from the publishing company we had all left about ten years beforehand were getting together in one of our old regular haunts to remember a former colleague who’d just died. So Lee and I were able to enter the pub together and I could truthfully announce her as Mrs Narmitaj, as it were, to the temporary confusion of the others (Narmitaj not being my real name) who also only knew her maiden name.
A slightly more alarming name confusion happened to a publishing colleague in another company… we had all been to the Tehran Book Fair, which I went to about five times in the early 90s, and were now all leaving. But this chap, Graham, was held up and not allowed to board his flight.. It turned out his name in the Farsi spelling (though not the Latin one - we from the West were known as Latin publishers, by the way) was identical to the name of some notorious embezzler or fraudster who had ripped off the Iranian state back in the 1970s. He had to go back into the city and meet a succession of government officials and argue his non-responsibility and get a letter from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, I think it was (they ran the Book Fairs, as I recall) which he could wave at the passport officers when he tried again the next night.
my name is more common than i would have thought (especially on the east coast) so I have met more than the expected number of people with my name. the oddest experience for me was when I lived in SF for grad school. a guy with my name — also originally from NJ — lived on 19th street in SF around the time i lived on 19th Ave. I got calls for him from time to time but never met him. He often travelled to Korea for his family furrier business and I heard about him AFTER I had spent a year in Korea and before I ended up moving there for a couple of decades. Now everytime I meet a name-twin I add them as a friend on Facebook. I know this story is exactly the kind of story my kids complain about as only interesting to me.
My freakiest “same name” experience came when I wanted to register bickel.com back in the mid 90s. It turned out that it had been registered earlier that same day by Benno Bickel, in Austria. That was my father’s name (he’d passed away 20 years earlier), and he grew up in Vienna.
Worth noting: Benno is a somewhat more common name in Austria than here, but still fairly unusual — and there are FAR fewer Bickels there than there were 80 years ago.
There’s a British comedian called Dave Gorman who who tends to do info- and fact-based lecture routines rather than gags, often with a helpful big screen of evidence data driven by his laptop. In a random pub chat with a mate, Danny, about some other bloke called Dave Gorman, he said there must be loads of other Dave Gormans in the world, and so they decided to hunt down others with the eventual aim of getting to 54 (one for every card in the deck incl jokers). One of the stats for his overhead was “miles-per-Dave-Gorman”. It became a stage show in several parts of the world, including a 6-week run in New York (”Time Out New York names the show as the Best Comedy Show of 2001″), a 6-part BBC2 TV series and a book.
The page is from 2007, but Gorman is still going. His current thing is “Modern Life is Goodish”, now on its fifth TV series of hour-long lectures (well, with ad-breaks) “about the misinformation and nonsense we have to wade through daily in this technologically advanced, wonderful - yet flawed - world”. One review said “in the study of modern miscellany Dave Gorman is the equivalent of a professor emeritus”.
He usually includes a bit of what he calls “found poetry”, compiled from comments under online stories, which he performs to a musical accompaniment from a live quartet. However, CIDU does not generate the kind of outraged, combative or just pure dim commentary that he is looking for.
A few years ago I started getting debt collector calls for some name I didn’t recognize. I’m one of those that never answer the phone, so I just listened to the messages. It was always the same guy (no robo here!) with a heavy Indian accent. He’d often pretend to be some sort of Federal agent. He was very persistent, but finally gave up after a time.
My last name is very unusual, to the point where as far as I know all in the US are directly related to me. For a long time I was the only one with my first and last, and any web searches would be me. Usually old usenet posts that have been scraped up into “forums”.
However, my nephew was named that (different middle) and he’s just now starting to generate an online presence of his own. I see that he made honor roll at his high school, so “well done” younger Brian.
Robert has a fairly common last night. There is another person with the same name as him in an adjacent community and another to the north and west of us - a number of communities away. He used to work with children with emotional problems, so when we married and got a phone number for the first time, we put it in my M “maiden name”. This way we did not have to pay to be unlisted and people who knew us - and therefore my maiden name - could find us. (1/7 of the listings with that last name were family in the phone book - and it is not a common last name.) One day of the children said to him that he knew where we lived as he found us in the phone book and was the one who telephoned us the night before. Apparently the Robert who lives to the north and west of us has a wife named Marilyn which sounds greatly like Meryl + middle name which I used then as part of my first name. So apparently this poor couple was getting (I presume rude) phone calls from the children at his agency.
(His last name, by the way is an anglicized version of the family name and we are the only people left in his family with the name. His grandfather went into the army in WWI as an immigrant named Giovanni Battista (John the Baptist) “original surname” and came out as James “anglicized surname” and a US citizen.)
On the other hand (sort of) - there was another family on the street I grew up living on which had the same last name as my family. They were totally unrelated to us. Mail would get mixed up and exchanged (it was a long street and they were on the first half of it and we were on the last half, so the addresses were not close in number).
Decades pass. My cousin on my dad’s side marries his second wife. She always wanted to live in my parent’s neighborhood and they buy a house - up the street from my mom - between the two families with the same name. By then my dad had died and it was just my mom in the house. It seemed to work out well as she and my cousin (I am guessing mostly his wife) would send their sons to my mom to clear the snow, etc. Then she and my cousin divorced and she stopped paying her bills - mom gets lots of calls looking for her. (Cousin is on wife number 3 now.)