What do you do when someone has the same name as you? Is your first instinct to befriend them—or rather, to fight them to establish dominance? Encountering another person with the same name, better known as a ‘Dopplenamer,’ brings ambiguity to one’s sense of self. An individual’s identity is often partially built around his or her name—so what happens to one’s identity when his or her name is shared? The Dopplenamer prompts mirror-like self-reflection that enables interpersonal identification, providing an opportunity to experiment with one’s concept of self.
I’ve had my fair share of encounters with Dopplenamers. It is time I addressed, to my friends, my family, and, perhaps most importantly, my fellow Daniel Griffins, why I have such an inordinate amount of friends on Facebook with whom I share a name.
Let’s go back to 2011. It was simpler times, when “Party Rock Anthem” was number one on the charts and Inception was blowing the minds of stoners across the world. You may not want to think back that far but, that’s where my story begins; 15-year-old me, lonely, on Facebook. I took it upon myself to friend request every Daniel Griffin that I could find on Facebook, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. I was blocked by some, mocked by others, and told to “fuck off” by one individual from New Zealand. However, in general, I found that I had expanded my social media presence to include a geographically-assorted group of new “friends.”
My initial interest in my new friends quickly faded. They soon became much like every other friend on my Facebook newsfeed: A small picture and blurb of text. Yet, over the next few years, I caught glimpses of each of them as they revealed select moments of their lives to their Facebook friends. In the same place that these strangers shared the most minute details of their lives, such as arguments with their significant others or what kind of Jeep they’d buy if they had the money, I also witnessed major life changes. Across the globe, Daniel Griffins were getting married, having children, going to college, experiencing breakups, coming out of the closet, and showcasing their art at galleries. To see one’s own name within the contexts of the life achievements of others was an indescribable feeling.
Not all news from the Daniel Griffins of Facebook was positive, however. Some updates were quite rattling. I was 17 when another Daniel Griffin, aged 19, suddenly died. I had seen the horrible wake of young death before, but this was entirely different. I had no relation to the young man except for by name, and suddenly my feed was inundated by the posts of mourning friends and family on his wall. I found myself encountering a simple sentence, a possibility that I had never considered, so captivating in its unsettling plainness: “Daniel Griffin is dead.”
Even after this shock, I continued to see my name in contexts that I had never before imagined. The Daniel Griffins can be an odd bunch. There are serial meme posters, 9/11 conspiracy theorists, religious zealots, drug addicts, and more. It’s astounding how many people are willing to offer up extremely personal accounts of their lives to an audience that includes me, a perfect stranger. This common willingness of Facebook users to share the intimacies of their lives speaks to just how lonely people are; the modern human faces alienation and takes to the web in response. As a result, identity has become something that is performed through likes, posts, and profile pictures. I’ve come to realize my search for other Daniel Griffins reflects this performance of identity as I used social media to compare concepts of name, friendship, and personhood.
I often wonder what my Dopplenamers think of my online presence. As I have watched them over the years, at least some have been watching back. I have received many birthday wishes and certain Daniel Griffins have thrown me the occasional like on a photo. Their consideration has really touched me. Other times, I have introduced them to my friends at school over video chat, and once, through strange coincidence, I met one of my Internet Dopplenamers at a bar in Athens, Georgia.
On lazy Sundays, I scroll through post after post, penned by different Daniel Griffins. I visit their profiles and wonder if they think I’m crazy or narcissistic or boring. I wonder if they think of me at all. In all honesty, I find myself deeply invested in their judgment. My investigation of online personalities has imbued me with great interest in how I present my own digital persona. I look at my Facebook, having gathered a legion of Dopplenamers, and feel like the great unifier of Daniel Griffins. I hope they look well upon my efforts.