Digital Doubles: Sparring Over Screen Names

Racing to Settle Virtual Real Estate

A Christopher Taylor who lives in Minneapolis first learned about a Christopher Taylor in Orlando, Fla. when he tried to claim a personalized Facebook URL late Friday night and found that it had already been taken.

"Missed getting my name. Asleep at the wheel," he posted to Facebook.

On a first-come, first-served basis, the social networking site let users claim "vanity URLs" starting at 12:01 a.m. ET Saturday.

The 30-year-old interactive planner said he was up late working and couldn't get to Facebook until about 45 minutes into the land grab.

So he chose an alternative ('digitalchristopher') and sent the victor a message.

"I said congrats on getting our name," Taylor told, adding that while it would have been nice to settle the URL first, he mostly uses Facebook to keep in touch with those who already know how to find him.

For his part, the other Christopher Taylor -- a 17-year-old from Orlando, Fla. -- never expected to receive a message from his digital double.

"I was really surprised," the high school senior said. "I clicked on his profile and it was some guy from another place [across the country]."

Errant E-Mail Arrives for Internet Alter Egos

But not all electronic messages that arise from being a digital double are welcome ones.

Paul Williams, a 37-year-old from Ardmore, Pa., went to great lengths to get his full name to appear in his Gmail address.

Back in 2002 or 2003, he said, when Gmail was still in beta and only available to a select few on an invitation-only basis, he paid $25 on eBay for an invitation to join.

The early adopter beat out potentially hundreds of Paul Williams in the United States alone (according to a White Pages search) for the coveted personalized e-mail. But now, the IT professional says he mistakenly receives scores of errant e-mail intended for his online alter egos.

"There's probably an e-mail once week," he said. "It's like spam to me."

Recently, there was a Paul Williams who tried to transfer money for his mortgage. A Paul Williams who signed up for an IT class. And, most memorably, a Paul Williams in the United Kingdom who mistakenly e-mailed the Pennsylvania Paul Williams photos of his cat, his living room and a woman he thinks is a wife or girlfriend.

"He would send them to the wrong e-mail address. How can you not know your e-mail address?" Williams wondered. "It's kind of funny."

Parents Search for Names Online

And, as they plan for their children, the same-name game isn't escaping parents-to-be.

"They do the Google search before they settle on a name," said Jennifer Moss, founder and CEO of and author of "The One-in-a-Million Baby Name Book." "They're definitely seeing what comes up before deciding on a name."

Parents want to be sure that there isn't a negative connotation associated with the names their kids will live with for their entire lives, she said. Some will even reserve URLS once they've settled on a name.

But she said that while sharing a name can be negative, she pointed out that many are using common names to create communities.

Same Name Groups Thrive on Facebook

On Facebook, same-name groups range from the very small -- with 23 members, "The Jennifer Moss Club" is an "uber exclusive club for all the many Jennifer Mosses of the world" -- to the very large.

"People Named Evan" has attracted more than 1,000 members and "Last Name George" is closing in on 2,000.

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