“Police name suspect Daniel Allott, wanted in connection with fatal stabbing”
That was the headline that greeted me one morning in April. It dropped into my email inbox in the form of a Google Alert I’d set up to track where and when articles I write are published.
Of course, I knew I wasn’t the Daniel Allott the police were looking for. For one thing, I don’t make a habit of stabbing people. I also learned from the article that the stabbing had taken place in England, the country I was born in and frequently visit but hadn’t set foot in in over a year. Nevertheless, it was a little jarring to see my name associated with murder.
In the subsequent days, I received a series of Google Alert articles whose headlines shed some light on what happened next.
“Wanted man, Daniel Allott, arrested in Burton-on-Trent”
“Stafford man Daniel Allott charged with murder after death of Connan McLeod in Stone”
“Daniel Allott denies murder of Stone man Connan McLeod”
With a single alleged act, Daniel Allott had ended one life, ruined his own, and inducted numerous other Daniel Allotts into a fraternity of unfortunates who share names with killers, racists, and other reviled people.
I was not thrilled about sharing my name with someone accused of such a heinous crime—or indeed with sharing my name at all. As an identical twin, I already share 100 percent of my genes with another person. I soon discovered that I had at least a dozen name-twins too.
Seeking understanding and perhaps a little solidarity, I emailed every other Daniel Allott I could find on Facebook, asking for their thoughts on our newly notorious name-twin. All of them, from what I could tell, live in England.
Only one responded. Daniel “Boney” Allott from Sheffield, England, a medium-sized city located a mere 70 miles from where the murder allegedly took place. Boney told me that he had heard of the stabbing and received a couple of messages from a friend of the victim. The friend wrote, “I don’t think it’s u tho coz ur eyes look different,” which disconcerted Boney because it meant that the victim’s friend had been “on my Facebook looking at pictures of me L.”
I wanted to know more about what it’s like to have a tainted name. So I searched Facebook for people who share what are currently two of the most notorious names in America: George Zimmerman and Donald Sterling.
George Zimmerman is the Florida man whose 2012 acquittal for fatally shooting black teenager Trayvon Martin provoked a public outcry and months of rallies and protests. The one George Zimmerman who replied to my request for an interview is a white college student living in Boulder, Colorado. He told me that at the airport TSA officers “look at me weird but realize immediately that I’m not connected [to the shooting] and just mention how unfortunate it is that that’s my name.”
Zimmerman said that he is sometimes approached by students who want to know if “that’s really my name.” He also wonders if his name will affect his job search after college.
Donald Sterling is the L.A. Clippers owner who was banned for life from the NBA after private recordings of him disparaging black Americans were made public. Donald Ray Sterling from Lanham, Maryland, told me that he hasn’t had any problems because of his name. “I laugh at all the jokes,” Sterling wrote—jokes that no doubt take on additional irony given that he is black.
In Washington, D.C., where I live, there is one name that has been tarnished twice: Kwame Brown.
First there’s Kwame Brown the basketball-phenom-turned-NBA-bust. The 6’11” Brown was selected out of high school by the Washington Wizards as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2001 NBA Draft.
Number one overall picks are supposed to become All Stars or at least reliable NBA starters. Brown has been neither. It quickly became apparent that Kwame Brown had nowhere near the talent he had flashed in high school, and his name soon became a byword for the Wizards’ incompetence on the court and in the front office.
Right around the time Washingtonians were discovering how mediocre Kwame Brown the basketball player was, Kwame Brown the politician was entering D.C. politics. He served as an at large member of the D.C. Council from 2005 to 2011.
In 2004, as Brown was poised to be elected to the Council, the Washington Post asked him about sharing a name with a highly touted local basketball star. “I thought it was great,” he said. “I knew at that point I could get a reservation at any restaurant at any time. I knew some of my phone calls would be returned, and that’s actually happened.”
When the Post reporter asked him if Kwame Brown the basketball player’s lack of success presaged bad things for him, he said no. “He’s going to have a great year and I’m going to have a very successful, great year on the council,” Brown predicted. “The city is going to be proud of both of us.”
Brown did enjoy some success—at least for a while. In 2011, he rose to chairman of the D.C. Council. But that’s when trouble began. Brown resigned his seat in 2012 after pleading guilty to felony bank fraud and to making illegal campaign expenditures.
My best advice to anyone who meets someone with an infamous name is not to bring it up, or, if you must, to do so gently. When I emailed the only other Kwame Brown in the D.C. area—a Kwame M. Brown—asking him what it’s like to share a twice-tainted name, his terse reply captured the absurdity of his plight: “dammit. LOL!”