It was twenty years ago when I learned there was another Erik Deckers in the world. He was a real estate agent in Belgium, and he seemed a little perplexed when I first emailed him. But we chatted back and forth a few times, and he seemed like a decent guy.
Fast forward to four years ago, when I learned there are four other Erik Deckers in the world, and they’re all from Belgium and The Netherlands. My dad’s from The Netherlands too, so it’s only a quirk of fate that there aren’t five of us from that part of the world.
And I own all of these guys on Google.
Google my name, and you’ll likely have to dig and dig before you find the Belgian Erik Deckers who now lives in Singapore, or the Belgian Erik Deckers who sells real estate in Brussels. Or the Dutch Erik Deckers who does something with trucks and loves dogs.
But I dominate the Erik Deckers of the world when it comes to finding us on Google.
And that’s great for me, but what happens when you share a name with someone else who’s famous or even infamous?
I met a former regional sports reporter from ESPN who shares his name with a guy who was found guilty of real estate fraud, which is a federal crime. The reporter now owns a video production house and he said it’s occasionally a problem when potential clients Google him and find news stories about his name twin’s fraudulent activities.
They quickly figure out that it’s not him, and they’ve laughed about it with him later. But he wondered how many people have assumed it was him and never followed up.
Or what about George Papadopoulos the CPA who has been getting hammered by people after George Papadopoulos, Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisor, has been in the news lately? CPA George had to write a tweet saying he wasn’t the same guy, which seemed to calm some people down. But guess what’s going to follow him around for the next 20 years when people Google him.
Sharing a name with someone famous can be a royal pain when you’re trying to be famous yourself. Or so I assume. I feel a little bad for the four other Erik Deckers trying to build up their own careers, constantly being mistaken for the guy who makes fart jokes on the Internet.
What can you do when you’ve got a more notable name twin and you want to escape their shadow? Here are three tips to ensure you’re the one that people find when they’re searching for you.
1. Change your name slightly.
My friend, Doug Karr, goes professionally by Douglas Karr because there’s a movie director named Doug Karr. His Twitter handle, his domain name, everything is under Douglas Karr. So when people search for him, they know to use his full name.
Another friend, Curtis X. Meyer, is an Orlando slam poet, and I’m pretty sure X is not his middle initial, but he uses it because it’s unusual. Again, search his name and initial online, and you won’t accidentally confuse him with Curtis A. Meyer, physics professor at Carnegie Mellon University.
If you can use your full name and/or your middle initial, that will certainly help. You can still go by your regular name in person, but use your pen name in public. Use it everywhere you can — social media, your blog, and of course, your own domain name.
2. Get your pen name as a domain name.
While Google has cracked down on low-quality exact match domain names as a favorite trick of spammers (i.e. Handmade-Bamboo-Crochet-Hooks.com if you sell hand-made bamboo crochet hooks), you should at least get a variation of your pen name for your web address.
For example, I own ErikDeckers.com and it points right to my humor blog. Douglas Karr owns DouglasKarr.com, and other noted writers, celebrities, and public figures own their own domains.
If nothing else, it tells people where to find you, it’s a good personal branding tool, and if you have a short name, it can fit on a hat or coffee mug. As long as people know your name, they’ll know how to find you.
And if you’re dealing with a name twin, you can even use the front page to explain yourself and your situation.
Hello, if you’re here looking for the convicted felon and noted cattle worrier Maximillian Fabulator, please know that I am not him. My name is Maximillian Quigley Fabulator, and I am an inventor and writer of speculative romance mysteries. I have never lived Schenectady, New York, and have never been anywhere north of Tennessee in my life. That person is Maximillian M. Fabulator.
(MaximillianQuigleyFabulator.com would not fit on a hat very well.)
Next, set up a blog or website and point your new domain to it. You can get a free Tumblr or WordPress blog and put your pen name in it (mine is ErikDeckers.tumblr.com), but you can also just buy server space on a service like GoDaddy, place your blog on there, and point your domain name at it as your primary home on the web. (Disclosure: I occasionally write marketing articles for the GoDaddy Garage.)
3. Publish a lot of content.
Once you’ve got your new domain name and blog, start publishing content and pushing it out on your social networks.
You know the basic formula: publish a story on your blog, share it on Twitter and Facebook. Do the same for your YouTube videos and Instagram photos. For example, you can easily publish your Instagram photos to your Tumblr blog. Then reshare all of that to Facebook.
The goal is to publish enough of your own online so you can possibly bury your name twin, or at least make a significant enough dent in their own presence that people realize there are two of you.
Of course, if you’re publishing everything under your pen name, then that’s going to help its own visibility online and help you get out from under that person’s shadow. Regardless of whose name you’re using, however, just get the content train rolling.
The odds of someone having a completely unique name are pretty astronomical, unless you happen to be Apple Paltrow or Fifi Trixibelle Geldof. (I wish I could tell you I was making those names up. I really do.) Otherwise you have to hope that you can produce more content and gain more online notoriety than your name twin, or create a variation that separates you from the other person. Which, if you’re already a writer, then you’ve got all those great stories inside you already!