When I became serious about being a writer in 2006, I did an Internet search for variations of my legal name and found another “writer” using a short version of my name. (I added quotes since he haven’t published much of anything in the last six years.) The author name that I came up with was the initials of my first and middle names combined into a first name. All the search results for my author name pops right up without any competition.
The word for finding an identical or similar name as your own on the Internet, according to Carrie Kirby of the San Francisco Chronicle, is doppelnamer (a play off the German word, doppelganger).
At least [Norb] Vonnegut’s name is linked to someone [Kurt Vonnegut] with a good reputation. Not so for Michael McAfee, an Ocean Beach (San Diego County) podcast producer who had an escaped convict for a doppelnamer. Tara Murphy, a recent law school graduate and blogger in Minnesota, has been dogged by a whole pack of Tara Murphys with overdue library books, DUI arrests and sexy pictures.
The only problem that I have with my author name is that certain ebook websites don’t handle abbreviated names properly in their search results and return all the ebook listings by last name only. (My family name, Reimer, is supposedly the German equivalent to Smith in the United States.) Back in the snail mail submission days of six years ago, ebooks publishing wasn’t on my radar. If I were starting over as a writer today, I would pick a different author name without the abbreviations.
As for my legal name, I embraced all my dopplernamers—the good, the bad, and the ugly—in the search results. The dopplernamers helps preserve my secret identity as a writer from my non-writing job in Silicon Valley. But my legal name has the opposite problem when hiring companies conduct a social media search as my anonymous alter ego ceased to exist in the late 1990’s. Most computer technicians leave behind an Internet trail as wide as the debris field of a crashed airplane. By the time that a lack of Internet presence becomes a problem, I’ll be making a living as a full-time writer.