There's a lot in a name

Two of my friends have strong social media presences. Both have a largeish follower counts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Their timelines are toxic for the same peculiar reason. They are targets of abuse from strangers.

This is because one shares his name with that of the chief executive officer (CEO) of a large airline, while the other has the same name as the CEO of a large online retailer. Airlines and online retailers are consumer-facing organisations. There are sometimes lapses in their service standards and this usually leads to loud screams on social media. Actually going by the volume of abuse received by my friends, such lapses happen quite often.

Anytime a flight is delayed, or some passenger’s luggage is offloaded in Port Blair as he flies to Chandigarh, the airline CEO’s namesake is tagged by the affected passengers. Anytime there’s a problem with delivery, or there’s some issue with some product sold by the retailer, the retail CEO’s namesake is tagged by customers. The messages are always angry and rarely polite. It can descend into personal threats, and some of the abuse is vile.

Both of them (they know each other) have to live with this. They have ALL CAP disclaimers on their social media profiles clearly stating they are not the individuals with whom they share their names. They also have mugshots up there, indicating that they are entirely different individuals. It doesn’t seem to matter — angry customers and passengers abuse them anyway!

Another of my friends has had to take his share of social media lumps because he has the same name as the CEO-founder of the Sahara Group. 

He actually contemplated changing his name by deed poll when the group was first under investigation, and when the CEO was incarcerated.  

I have actually been the beneficiary of a much more benign version of coincidence of nomenclature. I too have a namesake, and friend, who is well-known in the fashion and retail industry. Indeed, the pair of us ended up getting friendly because we kept receiving messages meant for the other person. This continues to happen and it includes essential stuff like telephone bills. It also includes Facebook “friend requests” and professional emails meant for the other person.

Given the industry he inhabits, the Facebook requests I receive in error are often from aspiring models. This is where the benefits accrue. Models tend to share the most fetching images in their portfolios.

Unfortunately for my namesake, he gets the short end of the stick. He is regularly abused by people, who disagree with my journalistic opinions. He also occasionally gets embarrassingly personal emails from old friends of mine, citing incidents from my murky past in gory detail.    

Interestingly, quite a few of the models who wanted to get up-close and personal with him have stayed in touch with me, even after I clarified that I wasn’t the person they wanted. They continue to send me updates about their careers. I’m not complaining about this scattershot approach to networking and career-building, but I do find it rather odd.

All of us have a “form letter” stating that messages, FB requests, etc., have been made to the wrong person. My namesake and I have also developed a habit of filtering, and passing on, what seems like the important stuff.

My father had a brief, intense version of this problem back in 1980. A namesake of his, an academic, stood for elections from Jadavpur constituency, in what was then Calcutta. This gent was representing a fringe Bengali chauvinistic outfit, the “Amra Bangali” Party.

My father was then a professor at Jadavpur University. People assumed, naturally enough, that he was the politician. Thankfully, this was pre social media. But we had to field many strange phone-calls.  Friends and acquaintances also made puzzled enquiries about his suddenly developing an affection for the cause of Bengali chauvinism.  

Social media must be absolute hell for anybody, who shares his/her name with a prominent politician. Indeed, there could be some interesting insights, for any social scientist who collated and analysed the impact of naming coincidences on the lives of ordinary people.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel