Tuesday, June 05, 2007

"Should We Name Him 'Miserable Failure' or 'French Military Victories'?"

The Wall Street Journal claims that tech-savvy parents are choosing the names of their children and that professionally astute wives are keeping or jettisoning maiden names with an eye toward being more "Googleable." In "You're a Nobody Unless Your Name Googles Well," Kevin J. Delaney talks about the practice of "vanity searching" among actors and performers to make sure that their monikers appear in the first page of results. Otherwise, those with common names are resorting to dusting off more unusual middle names or resuscitating quirky family names. (As a parent with kids whose middle names are "Aloysius" and "Inigo," apparently it wasn't child abuse to do that to them in the hospital.)

I've always been pretty happy with the relatively rare last name Losh, which I didn't change at the altar, despite years of childhood torment, since it's short and fits nicely into an e-mail address or a user name. Of course, there is some competition from Susan Losh who studies the psychology of gender and computing or the free BSD advocate Warner Losh, but I've suffered from relatively little brand confusion overall.

My first name is a little trickier, however, since professionally I'm "Elizabeth Losh" (and sometimes "Elisabeth Losh" on papers that I give in Europe), but no one who actually knows me calls me anything other than "Liz." For years, you could get hundreds of totally different Google results from "Liz Losh" and "Elizabeth Losh" respectively. It was like a kind of digital split personality disorder. Thanks to social media, these two online identities have begun to merge, but in general the former is still the activist, blogger, and wiseacre, and the latter is the much stodgier professional scholar and university bureaucrat.

On Collision Detection, science and technology writer Clive Thompson has provided his own great commentary on the WSJ article, in which he explains how even a "John Smith" can improve his Google ranking by participating in social media practices on open networks, such as blogging or music sharing. As Thompson points out, the corporate-oriented newspaper overrates pay-to-play solutions.

Apparently Thompson is right in that blogging has helped the Google ranking of copyright critic Siva Vaidhyanathan, but Wikipedia has improved the standing of the Hindu god for whom he is named; check out the results Vaidhyanathan found here and here!

For more on the social politics of naming, I recommend the excellent article by my Humanities Core colleague Vinayak Chaturvedi, "Vinayak & Me." The writer describes how his name, most obviously a reference to the Hindu god Ganesh, also has a cultural history related to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. It's a great scholarly study of the rise of Hindu nationalism and its relationship to ideologies about class and gender, but it also is a detective story about the doctor who named him and the author's anxieties about the possible complicity of his family in approving of political murder.

(And if you spend enough time away from a computer screen that you are mystified by the title of this posting, look up "Google Bombs," on -- where else? -- Google.)

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Blogger Jystar said...

Vinayak & Me, if not necessarily in content then absolutely in name, makes me think of Borges and I. in this context, Borges and I makes me wonder if our Google-personae might not outlast and even over take our actual ones.

5:04 PM  

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