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a person who has the same name as you and is discovered by doing a search on your name using the Google™ Internet search engine
'Ever Googled yourself and found someone who has your name – and a very different life? You've just met your Googlegänger.'Newsweek 30th September 2007
'But that Eve Fairbanks wasn't her Eve – it was a Googleganger, a virtual doppelganger linked by a shared name thanks to the all-knowing search engine …'Daily Herald, Chicago 4th October 2007
A community worker from Cumbria, a Gloucestershire photographer, a partner in a Vancouver physiotherapy practice and a freelance linguist based in York … What have they, or rather we, got in common? Yep, you guessed it – the answer is of course the name 'Kerry Maxwell'. These are just some of the individuals that I have the privilege of sharing a name with. These are my googlegängers.
some people have even gone so far as to make contact with their googlegängers, befriending them online or arranging to meet up
Depending on the idiosyncrasies of your name, you may have several googlegängers or none, though most people are likely to have at least one or two. These are individuals that have the same name as you, who in previous eras you would have known nothing about, but in the 21st century are instantly identifiable, courtesy of Internet searching.
The term googlegänger seems to have caught on because, in today's virtual world, people are recognized not so much by their achievements, but by how googleable they are, or in other words, how easy it is to find search results for them on the Web. Using Google™ to search for a person's name has become a common way to check them out, whether it's a business contact, employee, or a potential date. Natural curiosity also sometimes leads people to indulge in a bit of egosurfing, i.e. entering their own name as a search and seeing what comes up. It is in this context that googlegänger has come into use – the idea of a virtual double whose life is intermingled with yours in the results of an Internet search. Some people have even gone so far as to make contact with their googlegängers, befriending them online or arranging to meet up. Others are competing with their googlegängers to get the most Google™ hits or the highest ranking. Which leads me to mention by the way that, thanks to BuzzWord and its readers, I'm excited to see that I'm amongst the top three hits for the search term 'Kerry Maxwell' – today at least!
The word googlegänger is formed from a blend of the new verb/noun google, now pretty much synonymous with the concept of Internet searching, and the noun doppelgänger. Doppelgänger is a German word which came into English in the mid-19th century. Its literal translation is 'double-goer' and it is usually used to describe someone who looks exactly like someone else – a 'double'. The precise origins of the clever new expression googlegänger are uncertain, though it seems to have been circulating the web for about a year or so, and in the summer of 2007 was acknowledged in a 'word-making' workshop led by Erin McKean, chief consulting editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press. At the beginning of 2008, googlegänger was voted 'most creative' word of 2007 by members of the American Dialect Society.
This article was first published on 28th January 2008.