Addicted to novelty since 2001

Identity and the Common Name

I have been both blessed and cursed by an unusual last name. Blessed, because I never experience mistaken identity (excepting, of course, being mistaken for my brother). Plus, it’s a highly recognizable moniker–nobody’s ever going to ask “er, which Darren Barefoot do you mean?” On the other hand, I suffered my fair share of schoolyard abuse growing up. In adulthood, I must tolerate hearing the same five jokes about my last name.

My Irish colleague Tom has a different set of name-related issues:

My parents, God bless them, weren’t the most imaginative when deciding on my name. It’s a proud family name, but Tom Murphy isn’t exactly exotic. Indeed a quick search finds a playwright, the mayor of Pittsburgh and thousands of other similarly named individuals. We all have the same problem. There was an analyst at Meta Group (R.I.P.) called Tom Murphy and for years we used to receive each other’s media queries. It’s funny we now both work at Microsoft and the confusion has continued unabated.

But in the past week or so, the media in Ireland and the UK have been focussing in on an unsavoury Tom Murphy or to give him his full title, Tom ‘Slab’ Murphy (no relation). He is the alleged chief of staff of the IRA and has been linked with some dodgy property dealings in the UK amongst other things. The story has been on every TV news bulletin, radio bulletin, broadsheet, tabloid and online news service over here.

The lesson? If you’re going to be notorious, do everybody a favour and change your name to something unique.

9 Responses to “Identity and the Common Name”

  1. Dan

    When I moved after university I was getting my drivers license in New York. The DMV worker asked me if I had ever lived in Virginia, which I didn’t find too odd. I told her I hadn’t and she called a state trooper over to verify something on her screen. Apparently There is another guy from Virginia with my same first, middle, and last name that’s wanted for murder. The trooper quickly pointed out that my birthdate was two years and several months after the wanted persons.


    PS – TypeKey just said you hadn’t signed up and thus I couldn’t use it.

  2. Andrea

    The first time I saw your name, I clicked on it because I knew of a Darren *Barfoot* who’d been a youth reporter in my home town. It wasn’t until I ran into your wife at a networking thing that I realized you were Barefoot.

  3. Kennedy

    The only thing common about my name is my first name, but I’ve used my middle name all my life.
    The middle name, while reasonably common as a last name (see above) is unusual but not unheard of as a given name (I’ve met four others and heard of about twice as many.)
    The last name while not really unusual sounding (not unlike Barefoot) is rare enough that the three times I met people with the same last name (two of which happened at the same party – no coincidence) we were able to identify common ancestors no more than two generations back.

    This combination makes for a pretty powerful Google presence.

    Every now and then I get an email from an old, long-lost friend whose curiosity has inspired them to Google me. They always have it so easy. Being contacted in such a way naturally inspired me to try similar efforts on others, but it’s usually frustrating and/or disappointing.

    Brad Thomas can find me in a snap, but now I can’t find him.

  4. Darren

    Kennedy: Interestingly, I’ve received probably a half-dozen enquiries about our mutual friend who lives across the hall from you. It seems I’ve mentioned him a couple of times on my site, and other people have found those pages while looking for him.

  5. Rob

    Darren, I don’t recall you ever being pestered in elementary school. Unless, of course, it was maybe me pestering you. If it was, I apologize.

  6. donna

    you’d think that my name would be reasonably unique. I mean, how many “Donna’s” are there, under the age of 50? And Jaggard? Other than frequently getting mistaken for “Jagger” (‘do you have an uncle named Mick?’ was a common childhood tease) it’s not exactly “Smith”.

    But no, I’m not unique. Unfortunately, I share a name with my aunt. Normally, this doesn’t matter at all, as I don’t really see that side of the family much. But when I do, foo. I’m not all that fond of “Little Donna” — and my aunt is most certainly not a fan of “Big Donna” or worse, “Old Donna”.

    And, given the googlability of my name, I bet my aunt really regrets sharing a name with me. :)

  7. alexis

    I love my name and I think I’m the only one who has it. My last name is constantly mis-spelled. It’s actually the name of a town in France, and is a remarkably uncommon last name.

  8. Vero

    Darren: At least I can’t imagine you have to spell out your name that often!

    I thought moving away from my French-Canadian maiden name would help ease the mispronounciations and misspellings, but “P-E-double P-E-double R-E-double L” tends to confuse the living sh*t out of people! At least my maiden name was only 6 letters and one French accent!

    As for being called Véronique or Véro in an English work environment, I’ve given up on explaining and get Vee-roh, Vay-ro, Vee-rah and god knows what other versions.

    An old couple we know, bless ’em, have known my husband and I for two years and still write my name down as “Farrah”.

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