Devices like iPhones have a unique name, a string that is usually called a “universally unique identifier.” That the word “unique” doesn’t ever need any modifier is, I guess, beside the point. It’s not just unique, it’s unique in the whooooole universe. Sometimes they call it a globally unique identifier. Heh. Anyway, a UUID is 32 characters and four hyphens. There are, according to the math whizzes on Wikipedia, 39 digits in the number representing 32 possible combinations of letters and numbers. That’s a really big number, more than there are people, for sure.
This is a helpful thing, for obvious reasons. Wouldn’t it be amazing if every human had one? No! It would not. But we are heading that direction anyway.
If you have a common name, there are certainly some downsides in Our Modern Era. Perhaps your Twitter handle is Jennie0473. Perhaps you have a Google alert for yourself, and so you find out each and every time that someone else named John Bart goes to prison, murders someone, is arrested, steals a lawnmower, etc. Perhaps you suffer from the “which Stephanie” problem with your friends. And so perhaps you, gazing at your freshly painted baby room and frighteningly distended abdomen, are leery of a second-grade class entirely composed of Max’s and Madison’s.
Your complaints and your concerns are understandable. But first: let’s look at the long view. You are likely unconscious of just how much autonomy and freedom you derive from your non-unique identifier.
And so when you are desperately digging around for a name for your incoming spawn, it is reasonable that you are looking for something fun, kicky, something that reflects your uniquely identifying family values, and that your child will not be a Tom in a sea of Toms. And that is how we end up with, for just one example, a sibling pair named Denim and Bowie. As child names go for our era and for Brooklyn, these are not particularly outlandish names, though I do find them mildly amusing. (“Denim” is the showstopper for me. Denim. Denim. And yet! Somewhere in Park Slope there is a Tweed and a Sisal and more than one Cotton.)
But here it all begins for them. Denim and Bowie were born in the late 00s, and already they have a significant Google record, whether they like it or not. Denim and Bowie’s permanent records in the coming reputation market are already being inscribed.
But they’re in a worse boat than the absolutely unique. They are not going to be the only children named Denim and Bowie. They are going to be tied together with a few other Denims and Bowies… forever. The only thing worse than a unique identifier is a seemingly unique identifier.
I am Facebook friends with, I think, everyone named Choire. There’s a fellow from Kirkcaldy (north of Edinburgh!) and a young woman from Sheffield. We will never, ever run into each other. Unfortunately for them, I have taken our common first name for pretty much every social media service. Fortunately for me, there’s only three of us. So I don’t get misdirected Snapchats or what have you. There’s not enough volume, or, if you want to get crazy with it, not enough opportunity for “brand dilution.” We will never be mistaken for each other.
If you expanded that pool, and say there were 30 or 40 Bowies in the cohort of this coming generation, that is going to be a stickier kind of mess. The assumption that someone is the only Denim is reasonable, and no one will think to double-check for multiple Denims. It’s more likely to have a case of mistaken identity, or mistaken reputation, when it’s a reasonable assumption that your Denim is the correct Denim. Just wait till the bad Apple follows Apple around.
But yes, as the name pool shrinks further, to three or zero, the more the person cannot be invisible, particularly online. You know, it’s not great! I do not usually enjoy it. I would like to be able to just sort of hide in plain sight sometimes, along with most of the rest of you. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t like, keep me up at night or anything. This is not anything I have ever brought up with my shrinks.)
Being able to be invisible is great. I spent some time looking at pictures of Bowie and Denim on Facebook today. They were remarkably easy to find. Is that creepy? They seem like absolutely super, amusing, exceedingly well-tended and adorable children. (There are also some nice pics of their dad shirtless on Facebook, just FYI. Is that creepy enough now?) I look forward to watching the kids grow up and prosper, as long as Google makes it so easy.