My Hungarian Fishing License has been processed. I should arrive 15 minutes before my scheduled doctor’s appointment in Bogotá. My flight to São Paulo is ready for online check-in.
Not to brag, but I have a pretty great email address. I was on Gmail early and managed to grab a username that’s short, memorable and easy to spell.
Photos of the school performance of “The Masque of the Red Death” have been shared with me. I have joined a spinning gym in Milan. I have been rejected for a rental apartment in Mexico City.
For a while, I was living the email high life. I could tell anyone my email address and they’d be able to write it down. If I were handed a signup sheet with a teensy little space for hand-writing your email address, I could squeeze it in no problem. But over time, problems mounted.
I have a certificate of title to property in Valencia; fiscal spreadsheets and client data for a financial firm in Buenos Aires; medical records in support of a worker’s compensation claim in Los Angeles. The board of trustees meeting has been scheduled; after the meeting, confidential minutes will be sent to me.
I’ve come to discover that my email address is a little too good. The username is so catchy that it exists on countless different email systems around the world. Any time somebody mistakenly types the address “UserName@MyCompanyInRomania.ro” as “UserName@gmail.com” I get the mail.
I am now accredited as a professional bull rider. My certificate is suitable for framing.
I receive messages like these every day. They’re not spam per se, but simply misdirected. I delete many of them, but some I feel obliged to respond to. I maintain a file with the phrase “I am not the intended recipient of this message” in multiple languages for easy cutting and pasting.
It’s a trivial inconvenience—most of the time. Occasionally, though, my email doppelgängers become a burden. I wasn’t invited to just one board of trustees meeting but every meeting for two years, no matter how many times I emailed that one guy to update his contacts list already. Now, when I try to email myself from my own phone, my email address shows up associated with the real board member’s name. I’ve been bumped off my own contact list.
Thanks to automatic email/calendar syncing, doppelgängers’ airline reservations transfer to my calendar. My phone beeped an alert with my complete Houston flight information while I was packing for an actual flight to Chicago, leading to a brief but exciting panic.
It occurs to me that I’m living the digital version of the fear that motivates so many baby namers. I have a common name, and I’m getting lost in the crowd. The irony is that I also have a common personal name and it’s no problem at all. Yes, I frequently find myself with other Lauras, but none of us mind. We’re a club. What’s more, my birth name was Laura Miller, common from start to finish. In my decades with that name, I experienced just one case of crossed identities. In contrast, my short Twitter handle, @BNW for “Baby Name Wizard,” gets mixed up constantly. (Most recently, I’ve been patched into lively chatter about British “naturist” events.) Yet parents are going to great lengths to avoid popular baby names, while I field lucrative offers for my oh-so-desirable Twitter handle.
It turns out that the consequences we fear from name choices aren’t practical, but emotional. We’re willing to face all sorts of daily practical headaches in order to stake out the emotional space of identity. For parents, that may mean constantly correcting misspellings and mispronunciations of a unique baby name. And for me, I’ll just say that @BNW isn’t for sale. Tag me in whatever conversations you may, I’ll still revel in being three-character me.