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The perils of sharing a name with someone very, very famous

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  • Natasha Frost
By Natasha Frost


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

For now, there isn’t another more famous Natasha Frost.

There’s a more illustrious Natasha Frost—a professor of criminology at Northeastern University, who works on the effect of incarceration on individuals and their communities. There’s a Natasha Frost who went to the same doctor as I did as a child in Hong Kong. (We were differentiated from one another in their records by our middle names.) And then there are a few dozen others scattered around the world, in public health law and consultancy, customer service, and make-up artistry. We share something at once significant and apparently meaningless—we few alone introduce ourselves with these same four syllables and wrote the same two words on every term paper—yet we’re likely never to meet.

But though there may not be a Natasha Frost whose rising star eclipses all others, that could change at any moment, with potentially disastrous consequences. In this amplified social media age, even tiny local news stories have the capacity to go viral near-instantaneously: A rogue Natasha Frost could do something truly terrible—and if she did, she’d change all our lives, and search results, forever.

Take Brett Kavanagh (no “u”), a salesman for a clothing company in Louisville, Kentucky. When Brett Kavanaugh (with a “u,” this time) was nominated for the Supreme Court, Kavanagh’s coworkers made a few jokes about their near-identical names. But it wasn’t until the then-nominee was accused of sexual assault that their common name began to make a significant impact on Kavanagh’s life—and job in sales. “The first thing I say is my name is Brett Kavanagh,” he told the Louisville Courier Journal. “And literally the first reaction is ‘Wait, what did you just say.’ I have to stop and explain it’s been a crazy couple of weeks.”

When Kavanagh finally turned to Twitter, his tweet went viral almost instantaneously, and connected him to others for whom the experience was all too familiar. (This was minor compensation for more aggressive tweets he got from people mistaking him for the judge.)

Common ground

You can glean a lot about people from how they introduce themselves—ethnicity, religious affiliation, parents’ political leanings, even age. Going from an unscientific survey of their LinkedIn profiles, almost every Natasha Frost online is white and went to university, like me. And because the name “Natasha” experienced a boost in popularity between about 1972 and 1995, we’re all reasonably close together in age. (If your name is Heather, that’s even more likely to be true.)

It makes sense, of course.

Maybe that’s why so many of the people I spoke to said that they felt strangely fond of their namesake—because it wasn’t just a name, but a literal representation of their shared heritage; of parents with similar taste and political leanings.

Quartz editor Sarah Todd has written about growing up with a name so popular “that I spent my childhood expecting to be one of many anytime I walked into a room.” There’s at least one other Sarah Todd: a British model, chef, and TV host, who’s much more well-known that Todd the editor. “I really do like sharing a name with her though,” says Todd (the editor, this time). And though her Google alerts have been awash ever since Todd the model rose to fame, there are definite upsides: “She’s pretty and talented, and she makes it hard for people to find me on Google, which I like.”

In name only

So long as Todd, the model, continues being uncontroversial, and Todd, the editor, enjoys being hard to find on Google, it seems a happy enough arrangement. But when random happenstance and celebrity infamy collide, common ground can exacerbate an already bad situation.

Elizabeth Holmes, a reporter from the Bay Area, shares her name with the infamous Theranos founder, who was charged with fraud by the SEC. It doesn’t come up much in person—Holmes happily isn’t a household name, even in Silicon Valley—but it’s a problem on the internet. “Her controversies have ruined my Google results, which I spent more than a decade building and relied on as a writer,” Holmes wrote in Marie Claire. “Search our name and you can read all about her—you have to add a qualifier, like “journalist,” to find any mention of me or my work. Adding my middle name doesn’t help: “Elizabeth Ann Holmes” (me) redirects to “Elizabeth Anne Holmes” (her).”

Spare a thought, too, for the Grammy award-winning classical violinist, Kim Kashkashian, whose career was well underway while reality television star and businesswoman Kim Kardashian was still in diapers. When Kashkashian was nominated for her Grammy in 2013, the internet colored itself thoroughly confused, assuming there had been some kind of mix-up with the spelling. “Name-wise, it happens all the time,” Kashkashian told the Hollywood Reporter at the time. “People actually realize that I’m not that person, but they look at my credit card at a store and say, ‘Oh, you’re not Kim Kardashian, are you?’ It’s been happening for years.”

Despite both being invited, neither attended the Grammys that year. Kashkashian was at a student’s recital, while a very pregnant Kardashian was vacationing in Brazil with her husband, Kanye West.

If your name twin is a household name, the jokes can be relentless—and not always very funny. Anna Smith, an editor at High Country News, says she’s very often asked whether her middle name is Nicole, and particularly by “older creepy men.”

And when you’ve got an uncommon name, genuine mix-ups are particularly jarring. Kemba Neptune, a female account executive from New York, says she experiences “mini heart-attacks” every basketball season, as a result of male NBA player Kemba Walker. “Every season, angry fans tweet at him using only his first name,” she told Quartz. “I happen to scroll past thinking I’m getting cussed out.” She doesn’t know of anyone else with the name in the US.

A rose by any other name

For Sam Smith, a comedian from New Zealand with a background in music (he won a singing scholarship to university), having the same name as a celebrity is a joke that has long gone stale.

“At the start of every gig I do, I have to talk about having the same name as the other Sam Smith,” he says. Just a few years ago, Smith’s famous alter-ego, whom he describes affectionately as “a talented idiot,” was barely a blip on his radar. Then, in 2012, “a guy at work started calling me ‘feat. Sam Smith’ because he featured in so many songs,” he recalls. The biggest issue for Smith, as a comedian, is trying to court fame when someone else is hogging his search results. “It’s hard making a name for yourself when someone else has already made that name before you.”

Of course, you could just change your name. That’s what people trying to make it in acting are often obliged to do: Actors’ guilds and associations, including the US-based Screen Actors Guide or the UK-based British Actors’ Equity Association, have strict rules that say that no two members may work under the same name, to avoid this kind of confusion. It’s why we have Michael Keaton, and not Michael Douglas, and Diane Keaton, rather than Diane Hall. (Unfortunately, the law hasn’t done much to help Michelle Williams, actor, and Michelle Williams, singer.)

Or you could revel in the similarities—especially if your name twins remain fairly innocuous. For now, I quite like knowing that I’m one in a rivulet of relatively anonymous Natasha Frosts. I enjoy getting Google alert emails about criminologist Frost, and the good work she does, and I was tickled when my partner sent a .gif of Morrissey stroking his hair to a different Natasha Frost, whom he knew at college, shortly after we met. The probability of that changing is very low, but the damage could be life-changing. So, if any other Natasha Frosts are reading this, I’m asking you sincerely: Please, don’t ruin this for the rest of us.

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