A quick Google search will render more than 11 million results for the name Jennifer Kim, while White Pages will say there are more than 600 of us in the United States. Personally, I think there are more.
There is a Jennifer Kim who is a journalist and writer (not me) and another Jennifer Kim who is an actress (also not me). One of my best friends from childhood is also, coincidentally, named Jennifer Kim. We never really ran into problems, except for that one minor grade swap in 9th grade geometry, but really, who remembers such trivial things?
During high school, I knew four Jennifer Kims, not including myself. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of plain old Jennifers I knew. Not surprising considering Jennifer was the most popular girl’s name from 1970 to 1984.
At UCLA, I realized that I could reinvent myself–or someone else could. One day, my college sweetheart called me ‘Jen,’ and suddenly, the whole world followed. At last, I became the unique special butterfly: Jen Kim. Until that is, I met a dozen other Jens and a handful of Jen Kims who were all similarly trying to shed their common names for cooler nicknames.
In my grad school class, there were four of us Jennifer/Jens who all answered to any variation of the name: Jennifer, Jennie, Jenn, Jenny, Jen, J-dizzle. We looked at each other bashfully whenever we hear those familiar syllables. Is it your turn? No, it’s my turn.
At least I am not Justin Bieber’s name doppelganger. The older, less famous Jacksonville, Fla. resident, who happens to share the same moniker as the pop sensation, has been banned from both Facebook and Ping on grounds that he’s using a fake name. (He has since got his accounts back.) Moreover, he receives up to ten fan letters a day from love struck girls nationwide. And despite changing his number repeatedly, the older Bieber’s phone is still ringing off the hook from the younger Bieber’s tweenage following.
So are there any real effects from having the same name as someone else? To my knowledge, no scientific studies have been conducted regarding this phenomenon, but I do have my own theories.
1. As long as we don’t share the names of someone famous (i.e., me), having the same name can make us slightly more empowered. We often feel compelled to do something that sets us apart. Conversely, we might also feel braver in our actions, because we are protected (at least on the Internet). After all, I can deny and shirk responsibility, blaming that other journalist Jennifer Kim.
2. However, sharing the same name can also lead to lowered self-esteem. During adolescence, being one of many Jennifer Kims was cause for ridicule and ‘twin’ references (which doesn’t make any sense, I know). It was difficult to fit in, because classmates would inevitably label us as the “nice one” or the “mean one” and other clever descriptors. It’s not easy being the awkward kid, especially when you’re the more awkward of the Jennifer Kims.
3. Having the exact same name as someone else also robs us of name pride. Most people love hearing the sound of their name– it’s personal, makes you feel important and tells you that you have someone’s complete attention. But if you have the same name as someone else, then there is always that slight chance that you may not be the one they want– at least, that’s what I sort of convince myself.
But do names really matter?
In a recent study, scientists discovered that people find value and self worth from hearing their own names.
“The patterns of activation when hearing one’s own name relative to hearing the names of others are similar to the patterns reported when individuals make judgments about themselves and their personal qualities.”
Which makes sense. After all, more than 50,000 people change their name in the United States yearly. According to LegalZoom.com, the number one reason people do so is because they “dislike their current name.” Ranked No. 10 on the list is: “political reasons.” For example, Christopher Garnett became KentuckyFriedCruelty.com while Andrew Wilson officially changed his name to “They.”
Jen Kim may not be the most unique name in town; still, it belongs to me… and err…hundreds of other girls. My Internet identity is not one of a kind, but hey, I’m still in the top three results on Google!
That’s pretty cool for someone who has never been special.
This article appeared previously in Psychology Today.
Jen Kim is a writer, sometimes commercial actor, budding sociologist, former Psychology Today intern, and a graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. She writes primarily about relationships and being lost in your twenties. Follow her on Twitter! ThisJenKim