Eve Fairbanks knew something was up when her mother drove six hours to her college just to have lunch. After a meal of risotto came the moment of truth: "I know about the porn," Mom told her. It was an honest mistake: Eve's name kept showing up on X-rated sites when her mother Googled it to keep tabs on her daughter. But that Eve Fairbanks wasn't her Eve—it was a "Googlegänger," a virtual doppelgänger linked by a shared name thanks to the all-knowing search engine.
Much like the verb "to Google" has become as famil-iar in our vernacular as "to search," the term "Google-gänger" has also caught on with a generation of people defined not so much by their accomplishments but by how Google-able those accomplishments are. "You are who you are because of Google," says Matthew Slutsky, 26, a political blogger who has befriended his own Googlegänger on Facebook. For some, your Googlegänger is your rival in a race to the top of the Google hit list. (Despite all the articles I've written, there are still two Googlegängers in the ranks above me: a shoe line bearing my—sorry, our—name, and Jessica Bennett Lester, the fictional star of NBC's soap opera "Passions." I passed a 15-year-old high-school wrestler named Jessica Bennett just last week.) It can also be a source of comparison—an alter ego of sorts. "Finding others with the same name enables us to see ourselves mirrored back" and can even boost our self-esteem, says sociologist Julie Albright of the University of Southern California.
For some, a Googlegänger is a lifelong irritant. Minnesota IT consultant Robert Fischer—not to be confused with Bobby—had the misfortune of being 10 when "Searching for Bobby Fischer," the 1993 movie about a chess prodigy, came out. It made things awkward at home—Robert's grandfather was training him to be a chess champ, too, he says, "and here was some kid who was younger and better than I'd ever be"—and now it's dashing his hopes of upping his Google rank.
At least he doesn't share his name with a porn star. Fairbanks got lucky in the end. Her name was removed from the explicit sites, thanks to Google's support team. And as it turned out, porn-star Eve might not have actually existed: her name, Google told our Eve, might have been created as a marketing ploy to drive more traffic to the porn sites. Her mom was relieved, but Eve wasn't so sure. "Nobody my age thought it was anything but a tragedy that these porn sites had disappeared," she says. Maybe, just maybe, she was a little sad to see them go.