Online: Do You Know Your Googlegänger?

Eve Fairbanks knew something was up when her mother drove six hours to her college to have lunch with her. After a meal of risotto came the moment of truth: "I know about the porn," her mother told her. It was an honest mistake: Eve's name had been showing up on X-rated sites when her mother Googled her to keep tabs. But that Eve Fairbanks wasn't her Eve—it was a "Googlegänger," a virtual doppelgänger linked by a shared name thanks to the search engine Google.

Much the way "Google" became a common verb, the term "Googlegänger" has caught on with a generation defined not so much by their accomplishments as by how Google-able those accomplishments are. A Googlegänger, they're finding, can be friend or foe or a bit of both.

Matthew Slutsky considers his virtual double, for instance, to be a rival in a race to the top of the Google hit list. "Knowing that he's out there keeps me on my toes," says the 26-year-old Washington political blogger. But it's a friendly rivalry: Slutsky has met his Googlegänger on Facebook.

The problem of duplicate names is older than Google, of course, but search engines have made it harder to ignore. Robert Fischer found it annoying when, as a 10-year-old chess player, he was confused with Bobby Fischer, the chess prodigy and subject of a 1993 film. Now 25, Robert is trying to get his name out there as an IT consultant, but Bobby crowds him out of Google searches. "After three years of posting my full name over and over and over again in my blog," he says, "I've only just now gotten onto the first page of results for Google."

For most us, a Googlegänger provides a harmless way to compare ourselves to an alter ego of sorts. "Finding others with the same name enables us to see ourselves mirrored back," says sociologist Julie Albright of the University of Southern California, and it can even boost our self-esteem.

Even if you share your name with a porn star? In the end, Fairbanks's name was removed from the explicit sites, thanks to Google's support team. And as it turns out, porn-star Eve might not have actually existed: her name, Google told our Eve, might have been a ploy to drive more traffic to the sites. 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. And maybe she was just a little sad to see them go.