Page last updated at 11:03 GMT, Friday, 24 July 2009 12:03 UK

The same name game

By Laura Schocker

A couple with the same name are set to marry this year after meeting on Facebook. It's an extreme example of people giving in to the curiosity of a "namesake search" on the social networking site. But why do we do it?

Kelly Hildebrandt and Kelly Hildebrandt
Would a rose be as sweet with somebody else's name?

The two Kelly Hildebrandts met last year after Kelly Katrina sent Kelly Carl a message commenting on their identical names. They then became Facebook friends and later met. By December they were engaged.

But the Hildebrandts aren't the only identical monikers out there. Facebook searches of the name John, for instance, combined with some of Britain's most popular surnames - Smith, Jones, Patel and Singh - all exceed the maximum 500 search results.

And Kelly and Kelly also aren't the first ones to play the same-name game, with hundreds of groups created to bring together people who share a common name. Countless others seek out their name twins through one-on-one "friending" and messaging.

So why do we feel compelled to type our own names into the Facebook search bar?

Pure Quinns

I've asked this question myself. Before I joined Facebook in 2004, I had assumed Laura Schocker was a unique name. But it turns out I'm not the only one - a second Laura Schocker in the US became my "friend" a few years ago.

Frequently, more than a couple of people share a name. The "We are Paul Quinn" group has 52 members and is restricted, according to the description, only to "pure" Paul Quinns - no Paulas, Paulines or Paulermos allowed. "It was curiosity more than anything else," says one Paul Quinn, from London, of joining.

Paul Quinn
Paul Quinn, of London, joined out of curiosity

Another Paul Quinn, of Newcastle, agrees. "It's not like I speak to them, it's just a funny little thing," he says.

Why, exactly, is it so entertaining? One explanation is that people become attached to their names over time and even tend to slightly prefer words, cities, occupations and people who share the same first letters, says Sam Gosling, a professor in the psychology department at the University of Texas.

We also typically tend to associate shared names with family, which can give a sense of connection, even if there isn't an actual blood bond. "I do feel a certain connection with those other Sam Goslings," he says. "But why should I?"

It may come down to a basic case of curiosity, says BJ Fogg, director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University in California, where he teaches classes related to social media.

Print searches

"There's sort of a fascination of, 'This is my alter ego. This is me living in a parallel universe'," Mr Fogg says. "What has it been like to have my name and live in a different place and be a different age?"

Dave Gorman with Dave Gormans
Dave Gorman's search started as a comedy show

This natural interest is nothing new, he adds. Before the days of online social networks, people often searched print databases, such as phonebooks, looking for shared names.

Some people have taken it even further. In 2000, comedian Dave Gorman set off on a mission to meet others around the world with the same name. His search eventually translated into a stage show and book, both titled Are You Dave Gorman? While the original plan was to find 54 Dave Gormans, he ultimately met more than 100.

But now things are a bit simpler. With Facebook and other technology, we have the potential to reach out over geographical or language barriers to find others who share one of the key components of identity - a name, says Mr Fogg.

The "Our Name is David Nelson" has 58 members celebrating the David Nelson identity. "It's a morbid curiosity really," says one David Nelson, a company broker based in south London. "It's quite amusing to join groups and see what people are up to."

But don't expect him to follow in the Kelly Hildebrandts' footsteps: "I'm fairly certain I wouldn't want to marry any other David Nelsons," he jokes.

A different David Nelson in the group, a property manager from Chelmsford, Essex, says he was invited to join by yet another David Nelson who had added him as a friend about eight months ago. "It's the ability of Facebook to let a lot of random people be able to get in touch with each other," he says.

David Nelson
I'm fairly certain I wouldn't want to marry any other David Nelsons
The David Nelson from London

Sometimes all these random people can create a case of mistaken identity. About a year ago, he got a message from a woman looking for her long, lost brother: David Nelson.

And there can be a downside, says Keith Campbell, as associate professor in the psychology department at the University of Georgia. "Because we feel special as people, when we find out someone shares your name and they're an incredible loser, it takes a little bit away from you," he says.

And the Nelsons may just be able to understand - both report hearing about a David Nelson on the anti-terror do-not-fly list in the United States.

This can work in the reverse, though, as well. "If you find out it's a famous princess from Moldavia, that might be cool," says Mr Campbell. He shares his own name with the man credited with cloning Dolly, the sheep.

So far, though, they're not Facebook friends.

Below is a selection of your comments.

I too am friends with another Nigel Paice. I discovered him when his son was looking for him and sent me a message that read...
Try explaining that one to your wife.
Nigel Paice, Lancashire, UK

My identical name twin is a painter of the opposite sex from Cornwall. I have bought some of her paintings which provide a good conversation piece when people see the signature.
Pat E, Shoeburyness

Absolutely no-one else with my name appears either on Facebook or on even on Google searches. When I was growing up I hated my name and I was so jealous of all the Sarahs and Smiths in my class but these days I quite like being unique. On Facebook there are only about 25 people with the same surname as me, and most of us are somehow related. This April I actually met up with cousins in Buenos Aires whose existence I would never even have known about were it not for Facebook and Skype... amazing. Love the internet and love having a unique name.
Marinella Abbondati, London

I was named after a male character from Gone with the Wind. Since then Ashley has become popular as a girl's name in the United States, and there are several Ashley Pomeroys on Facebook, all of them women, all living in the US. I'm tempted to ask if any of them are single, but that might come across as creepy and odd.
Ashley Pomeroy, Salisbury, England

I Facebooked "Chris Pozzi" about 18 months ago and found only a handful, most of whom were Italian women. There was one guy a similar age to me and a student at Princeton University in the States. I added him as a friend and we spoke on and off because he's an avid football (soccer) fan. He moved to London five days ago for a two-month work placement and we're meeting up next week for a beer - very surreal.
Chris Pozzi, London

It may be more than JUST a NAME thing... Some research has shown that people with the same surname often have DNA that is "more similar" than would be predicted - sometimes showing a specific genetic marker for that name. So in a sense people who hook up with others of the same name are may be more than looking at the name they may be "looking for family". The internet allows us to form social ties that extend beyond traditional family, neighbours & locality. What better way to start than with a name.
John White, Deal, Kent UK

My name is Nadia Al-Najjar, pretty unique name right? Wrong. I, like many others, typed my name into the Facebook search engine only to find another person living in Canada with exactly the same name! Even more strange, her dad was Iraqi (like mine) yet she had a white mother (like me). Strange world, eh?
Nadia, Liverpool, UK

I joined Facebook just to contact another Paul Kachur whom someone found there. Turns out that we are only distantly related, if at all (his family came over to the US from Europe in the 1930s, my grandfather came over in 1906). But we share an interest in river rafting, and he is a flight mechanic in the Canadian Air Force - another namesake, my late uncle Paul Kachur, was an amateur pilot who built his own plane. But we had to take each other off our friends list because it got too confusing with the postings and messaging. And I discovered another Paul Kachur who translates works on Russian theology. I am also a Russian translator and work with theological themes. Who says genetics doesn't play a role?
Paul Kachur, Oberheimbach, Germany

I look forward to the day that I meet someone with my first name and surname. I also look forward to marrying Megan Fox.
Lawan Hawizy, London, England

I started a Facebook group called The International Richard Stanley Network for anyone called Richard Stanley. The group has had a great response from Richard Stanleys and, oddly enough, even some people with other names. It's fascinating to get updates from other Richard Stanleys from around the world and to see how their lives compare to my own and how they differ. The group also includes a list of the top ten famous Richard Stanleys which we look at from time to time for inspiration.
Richard Stanley, Lichfield, England

On a trip to Brighton in 2001 I heard the football chant "two Kerry Mayos, there's only two Kerry Mayos". An appreciation of Brighton's captain, Kerry Mayo, and (as I found out later) his wife (you've guessed it, Kerry).
Graham Harris, Derby, England

Having an unusual surname which people seem to wilfully mis-spell and mis-pronounce prompted me to join the "Cubbin C-U-B-B-I-N" group on Facebook. It is for every Cubbin who is sick of people who insist on spelling it Gubbin, Cubbins, or pronouncing it Cube-in.
Will Cubbin, Chelmsford, UK

In the late 1970s, my work took me to Wellington, New Zealand. There I met my namesake - another John Gimson and we've been friends ever since. It's odd too that we share a quirky, warped sense of humour and fun. He is JGTE (The Elder) and I am JGTY. What was really spooky is that my second name is Barrie (after Peter Pan author) and the wife of the JG in New Zealand is Barrie Gimson. Sounds like a supermarket offer - get one and get two more free.
John Gimson, Bude, Cornwall

I was contacted on Facebook by a man whose girlfriend shares exactly the same name as me, and we even look alike too.
Tanya Phillips, London

I set up a Facebook group called "Essex as a first name" as I wanted to find the other 15 people in the UK who share my name. To date, there are three members. One white Canadian and two black American college athletic/football jocks (apparently there was a famous black American football player called Essex back in the 70s). Still no UK-based Essexs... I feel so alone.
Essex Havard, Cardiff

The "Yes my name's Dan Brown and no I didn't write The Da Vinci Code" group has well over 200 members. 200 people who suffer the same as I.
Dan Brown, Grimsby

Thanks Dan, I am now joining the Yes - My name's Dan Brown and no I didn't write The Da Vinci Code.
Daniel Brown, Darlington

I'm one of one on Facebook. Does that make me a sort of Googlewhack on Facebook, a Facewhack if you will?
FH, Brighton

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