Digital Doubles: Sparring Over Screen Names

PHOTOCourtesy Nick Jonas

Nick Jonas has a bone to pick with Nick Jonas.

More than a thousand friend requests beg for his attention on Facebook. An endless stream of unwanted messages leap at him whenever he goes online. The social networking giant even suspended his account for two weeks.

All because the recent college grad happens to share a name with the pop star du jour: Nick Jonas of the boy band The Jonas Brothers.

"I don't know where in Nick Jonas' career this happened," the 23-year-old non-singing Jonas said. But now, "it's like the story of my life."

In addition to the onslaught of e-mail and friend requests, he said that for about the past two years he's been pummeled by phone calls from adoring adolescent girls hoping he's the 16-year-old celebrity. He's even had to cancel phone lines -- numerous times.

"At one point my mom came home completely shocked to see 22 messages on her phone," he said.

In March, he went online one day to learn that Facebook had totally disabled his account because it thought it was a fake attempting to impersonate Jonas the entertainer.

"I was pretty heated about it," he said. "All of my pictures were on it, all of my connections."

But after about two weeks and four e-mails, Jonas said the social networking site responded and re-activated the account.

Digital Doppelgangers Meet Face-to-Face

In early 2008, he said he was offered a rare chance to meet his digital doppleganger and took it.

A friend was a waitress at the Roxy theater in Hollywood, Calif., and snuck him past the velvent ropes into the VIP room.

After he'd summoned enough courage (helped just a bit by the open bar), Jonas the computer science major walked up to Jonas the star and said, tongue in cheek, "Listen dude, we have the same name and it's ruined my life."

He showed the teen Nick Jonas his ID, and the digital doubles shared a real-life laugh.

As social networking continues to boom and the virtual world continues to shrink, people are becoming more and more aware of others who share their names.

But even if you don't share a name with a teen pop sensation, sharing a name with anyone can lead to chaos and comedy online.

Same Names Can Be Confusing in Personal and Professional Lives

"It becomes an issue," said Adam Ostrow, editor of the social media blog Mashable. "If you have a name that's duplicated at all and someone else grabs those names in social media it could definitely create confusion."

When David Elias, 42, set up a Web site for his photography business a few years ago, it never crossed his mind that his Web address of choice might be taken.

"To my horror there was another David Elias in New York state who also did weddings," said the Schuylerville, N.Y., photographer.

Not only did the two have a name in common, they also shared a job, an ethnic background and an age (give or take a few years).

"It was close enough that there would be potential confusion," Elias said.

So he dropped his online twin a note and uncovered even more parallels.

"We were shadowing each other in Manhattan for years, I think," Elias said, adding that the two unknowingly traveled in similar social circles and might have belonged to the same gym.

Although the two don't correspond regularly, Elias said they both are amused by their predicament and even write from time to time.

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.

Wayne Miller, a documentarian and Providence Journal staff writer, has even made hunting online for people with the same name something of a hobby.

It started in 1997, when he tried to create a Web site to promote a book and found that his name was taken. He e-mailed the other Wayne Miller to see if he might give up the URL, but he wouldn't budge.

Since then, he said, "I've been intrigued with people who have this name."

He started a "Wayne Club" blog in 2007 and, since then, has been amassing friends named Wayne Miller on Facebook.

Hundreds of people on Facebook have a name that includes Wayne Miller in some capacity, he said. So far, he's friended about 20.

And though he says it's a "perverse fascination," he also says it's enabled him to meet an interesting cross section of the virtual world.

Those Wayne Millers he now counts as friends include a deckhand from Kentucky, a marine corps member in West Virginia, a vocalist from Boston and a self-employed carpenter from London.

Almost every Wayne Miller he contacted admitted his own fascination with their name.

"I guess there is on some level a shallow affinity with these people," he said. "As I got more into it, it was a way of reaching out to other people. It was a commonality. I was curious about who was on Facebook and this was a way to reach out."