Vying for fame — with those who share your name

By Caitlin Kelly

Those who aspire to fame — hell, visibility! — in their field need talent, hard work, education, connections, good luck, experience, opportunity.

They also need people to recognize and remember their name.

One reason movie stars change their names is to win an indelible place in the public imagination — would you rush as quickly to see a film by Allen Konigsberg (Woody Allen) or one starring Alphonso D’Abruzzo (Alan Alda)?

Your name is your brand.

Especially in an age of social media, when it might be read by (and re-tweeted to) thousands, if not millions of people.

For decades, very few girls or women, at least in my native Toronto and later in New York — and most importantly, in my work as a journalist — shared my first name. I’d never met another Caitlin Kelly.

Two highly-visible others share “my” name in the same elbows-out city — New York.

English: Bird's eye panorama of Manhattan & Ne...
English: Bird’s eye panorama of Manhattan & New York City in 1873. This town ain’t big enough for all three of us! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And one of them is a writer for the New Yorker.

“Congrats! Saw your great piece” emails arrive  in my in-box. For her. (For those of you beyond the U.S, a staff job at the New Yorker is, for many writers, the pinnacle of the profession, the sort of spot many ambitious writers deeply envy.)

My loving friends think I’m talented and know I live in New York so, hey, it must be me!

But it’s not.

Then came the fawning, hand-wringing email from some fangirl who assumed I was the other CK, asking me for career advice.

This Caitlin Kelly is a designer of elegant, upscale swimwear, whose name I began seeing whenever a Google alert sent me to her work, not to mine. She’s also here in New York, much younger than I, as is the other CK.

She called me the other day and we finally learned a bit more about one another. I’d been curious, as her work is lovely.

She sounds like a hard-working talented woman. We — somewhat oddly for strangers sharing a name — spoke at length and fairly personally.

We haven’t met, yet, although it’s possible we will. There may be an interesting story to write about “my” doppelgangers: how often (if at all) are they confused with me? How does that feel for them?

I checked out a few of the 26 (!) other Caitlin Kelly’s in the New York area, ranging from a college librarian (who’s emailed me a few times over the years) to a VP at Chase Morgan.

Twenty-six of us?!

Time for a CK party, I think.

Do you have a name shared with someone (else) who’s well-known?

How has that played out for you?

37 thoughts on “Vying for fame — with those who share your name

  1. I am blessed with a common first name and unique last name. The two others with my name are father/son farmers in Minnesota whom I never interacted until my bank, after a takeover, suddenly assumed I was them. I shouldn’t have protested, since I was just a poor student back then.

    The advantage of a unique last name (<200 in the US, <100 in Germany) is that I'm probably related to every bearer of the name!

    By the way, congratulations on that New Yorker job and the swim suit line! 😉

  2. Everywhere I’ve ever worked, there have been other Robert Millers there. My email addresses usually end with a number, just to clarify who is who. Realizing this, and trying to think forward as I try to change from a government desk job to a writing gig of some sort, I decided to use R. Hans Miller instead of Rob or Robert Miller. The name is just too common. According to HowManyofMe.com, there are 20,867 Robert Millers in the U.S. alone. So, I decided to go to my roots and use my middle name for any of my writing projects, while keeping the first initial, because I want to make sure I’m still honoring my father. So, R. Hans Miller it is.

    Note: Hans is pronounced “hance” not “hawnz” in my case. It’s Dutch, not German, and my middle name is from my grandfather. I’m constantly told that I’m saying my own name incorrectly. So. Annoying.

    I really hope you do the full story about meeting up with people who share your name. It would be interesting to see what everyone has in common and in what ways they’re all different.

    1. I know what it’s like to mis-pronounce one’s own name — I say “kate-lynn”, while in Wales (it is a Welsh name, a variation of Catherine or Cathleen), they say “Cawth-lin” and in Ireland it’s “Kawtch-leen”. Go figure! 🙂

      It would be a fun piece. Have to see who might be interested…I think all three of the CKs I name should meet for lunch.

  3. My husband was disappointed recently because he has a pretty common name (Alex Bradley), and his website comes up at the bottom of the page when he googles himself.

    I’m fortunate to have a pretty unique first and last name (independently and together). What’s fun too is that people who are familiar with Albert Camus of course recognize the name. Then when I tell them he’s a distant cousin, they’re often impressed. Yeah, that and $2.50 will maybe buy me a cup of coffee. 🙂

      1. Yep, that’s what I figured. I’ve been working a lot on my social media profile and it’s helping me. Need to help him with his. 🙂 Thanks!

  4. I found out in high school there’s an Israeli shipping magnate named Rami Ungar, and he was higher on Google than I was. I was determined to get my name higher on Google searches than his, and I’m happy to say that I’ve succeeded in that regard. Now I just have to get a higher paycheck!

  5. Julia

    This was a very wacky whim of an idea that I had when I first joined FB, but I asked to be friends with A whole bunch of people who have the same name as me. Out of the ones who agreed to “friend” me, I started at the time with about 25. There has been a lot of attrition since then. But, at the present time, I have still quite a few “friends” who have the same name as me, who live all over the world, and who do not resemble me in age, race, gender identity, education, ethnicity or first language. Their differences are in fact breathtaking. I’m always rooting for them though because I always have a little bit of info on how they are doing and what they are up to. And I love it.

  6. I have two advantages with my name. My first name is still relatively rare, even though “Lily” is making a comeback among toddlers. I married into the “Csernica” family. Everyone else in the country who has this last name is my relative. The price of having this unique name is spelling it at least once a day.

  7. no one well known, though i do share a name with a local high school sports coach. when i still had a land line i would get calls from angry and emotional parents, asking me to play their daughter more, etc.

  8. According to Google, I share my name with a deceased young lady from Fairport and with the ex-US ambassador to Senegal. As the internet is starting to feel a lot more crowded than it did in my teenaged years of after-school dial-up, I suspect there will be more doppelgangers appearing as the march of time continues.

  9. There are lots of Cynthia Richardson folks out there but I don’t think they are exactly famous…Still, I use my maiden name as well to clarify who I am for whatever readers I attract: Cynthia Guenther Richardson. But this post has been fun to read as well as ethe comments–thanks! (As an aside, my mother was a Kelly and I have a daughter named Cait–but hers is spelled Caitilin so not so “samey.”)

  10. There are loads of Elizabeth Harper’s out there, the name appears to be common as muck!

    One who is a British born psychic who is married to an American. I had a reading from her after I met my husband, John. (Almost six years on, it’s interesting where she was right and what she got wrong) She ranks pretty high with Google, another EH is a fairly well known singer and actor, and one is a British Elizabeth Harper who is married to an American politician.

    I use to be much higher on the google ranking, but with my decrease in blogging I have almost slipped off the first page of Elizabeth Harper’s. Still, that’s not too shabby as there are 660 Elizabeth Harper’s in the US according to the website Howmanyofme.com and who knows how many more worldwide.

  11. There are some versions of “me”, but the other ones are not very active on social media an in different professions. Currently I dominate the first page of Google search results.
    I have a very funny virtual ‘Doppelgänger’: Working at a well-known software company I gave that company the right to use my name in sample documents, such as spreadsheets with a list of employees. I did that voluntarily although or because it is creepy in a sense – she will probably live longer than me 😉 That artificial avatar is actually ranked quite well today – on par with the human versions.
    As a Google+ user I could now increase my visibility if I connected my G+ account with my WP blog. This would display my photo next to search results that bring up my blog. But on the other hand this would also display the real name in all WP comments (which is the point, after all….). I have ever been the opposite of anonymous but I want to keep my nickname in as many profiles as possible! It is an amalgam of my first name, Elke, and The Subversive Element. And I hope one day Google will stop asking: ‘Did you search for element?’ when I search for ‘elkement’ again – in vain.

  12. Actually, YES! There’s an E. Melo in Toronto whom I discovered by Googling my name. She also writes, so I thought we had something in common… I wrote to her presenting myself, and I either ended up in her SPAM folder, or she simply ignored me!
    My new mission is to reach my pseudonym’s cousin Paula Rego, a renowned Portuguese painter living in the UK…would you happen to have any suggestions? I’ve searched for her contact info everywhere, have contacted journalist who’ve interviewed her, the Museums that expose her works, but NOTHING! Thanks

    1. If she is that renowned, she likely has an agent or gallery representing her. I don’t know where you live but you might try the Portguese consulate or embassy and ask their cultural affairs officer; it is their job to promote national culture so they may have resources as well.

  13. My wonderful mother, who is now deceased, named me after a 1940’s-1950’s Hollywood French actress: Denise Darcel. Recently, while watching the TCM channel (Turner Classic Movies) I finally see the face of this stunning beauty. Now I must wonder…What was on my mother’s mind? However, only once have I explored the internet of others that carry my first and maiden name. Perhaps I’ll do so more exploring…

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