In today’s era of raw nerves, just about anything is capable of setting someone off — from jokes once considered harmless to Halloween costumes. Even the given name on your birth certificate — used for an entire life without incident — can trigger someone, somewhere, under certain circumstances.
So I learned recently upon experiencing what has come to be called a “personal name collision.” That is when the discovery of someone else with your name confuses employees, customers, friends, and others searching for you online.
Such instances of mistaken identity are undeniably traumatic for people sharing names of notorious criminals. (Imagine the hate mail rattling other men with the name Jeffrey Epstein.) But generally I considered these coincidences more amusing than threatening. I am co-author of several books, and I know of about five other Elizabeth Ameses, including several who also have published work. Yet this had never been much of a problem. One of my namesakes, in fact, had become a close friend. I regarded the others somewhat like virtual relatives — cyber-twins or fantasy selves from an alternate Twilight Zone-like universe.
From what I could divine online, my fellow Elizabeth Ameses resided on various points on the ideological spectrum. Yet no one seemed especially bothered by the fact that the books I had cowritten took a libertarian view favoring open markets or that I occasionally published articles with media outlets leaning right of center.
Sadly, name collisions, like so much else, are taking on a whole new dimension in this era of outrage — as I discovered when I stumbled upon yet another name double, a self-described “progressive novelist” who recently popped up when I searched my books on Amazon.com.
The Twilight Zone parallels were especially uncanny. This “new” Elizabeth Ames had published a novel called The Other’s Gold. My recent book, MONEY — co-authored with Steve Forbes — discusses the need for sound money and proposes a return to a gold monetary standard.
Of course, no author relishes being confused with someone else. Upon discovering this latest name double was another author, my initial reaction, to be honest, was, Oh no. But, I told myself, These things happen. Besides, I had coexisted with the other Elizabeth Ameses — including the published ones— for decades. So I saw no compelling reason why this should change.
That is, until a few days ago, when someone sent me an article, “On Being Mistaken for the Other Elizabeth Ames.” In it my novelist namesake confessed to being “fixated” on “disentangling” herself from an invidious cyber-twin whom she appeared to regard as being nearly as heinous as Jeffrey Epstein. That person — you guessed it — was me.
She was, she exclaimed,“furious and fearful that anyone would ever conflate this stan for capitalism (sic) with me, an outspoken progressive … ”
Uh oh. My newly discovered name-double is not only a Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren progressive. She also hates me. I started conducting an imaginary conversation with my “self” from a parallel universe.
Me: What have I ever done to you, lady?
Answer: “This other Elizabeth Ames has written or co-authored books with titles like How Capitalism Will Save Us, and one with a long subhead about how repealing Obamacare will help restore hope and prosperity to America. I haven’t read any of these books, and I don’t plan to.”
I would have expected more intellectual curiosity from someone who, according to your bio, graduated from the University of Michigan’s MFA program and lives in a dorm at Harvard.
According to my left-leaning alter ego, I not only committed the thought crime of advocating for economic freedom. I had also exacerbated online confusion between us by writing about “actual gold.” I informed my “twin” that she was missing the point:
What my co-author and I were writing about is how a sound dollar — preferably one linked to gold — is the best way to keep the value of money from eroding and avoid the kind of raging inflation we’ve experienced at other times in our history. Preserving people’s savings with stable money is an idea progressives like you should be able to get behind. But then you haven’t read our books, as you remind us more than once.
Including several paragraphs later: “I haven’t read any of the capes-for-capitalism’s Elizabeth Ames’s books (sic), but I did come across this quote from the one about capitalism supposedly saving us all: ‘Self interest — not greed — compels people in free markets to meet the needs and wants of others.’ ”
This may come as a shock to you, I responded, but meeting people’s needs is what entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs have done for centuries. After all, how would you access your novel’s Amazon ranking if you didn’t have a smartphone? The self-interested desire to prosper by meeting the wants and needs of others also motivates the corporate types publishing your book, who, we can only hope, are meeting your needs and those of your readers.
The fact that she hadn’t read our books about free-market economics, or economics of any kind apparently, did not stop her from opining about the perils of free enterprise.
“When your basic needs are met, and beyond, doesn’t self-interest curdle automatically into greed?,” she continues in the article.
Uh, no. Studies show the United States with all its billionaires is also the most philanthropic nation on the planet. To be able to give money, it helps to make some first.
I wanted to say to progressive Elizabeth, Apologies for having triggered you. But creative individuals in a free market sooner or later come up with solutions to problems like name collisions. For example: adding a middle initial to your byline. Or, dare I suggest, changing it altogether.
Not that she should take this radical step on my account. With our obvious differences, I doubted discerning readers could confuse us for very long — something she eventually acknowledged: “it would be impossible, if you read my book … to confuse me for someone who doesn’t wish desperately for universal healthcare.” Inconvenient though it may be, I have no problem sharing a name or an Amazon page with any other Elizabeth Ames, regardless of politics. After all, if cyber-twins can’t navigate their “collision” with grace and humor, what hope is there for a divided America?
Elizabeth Ames is writer and co-producer of the documentary In Money We Trust?, airing on public television in 2019. She is also co-author of four books with Steve Forbes, including MONEY: How the Destruction of the Dollar Threatens The Global Economy and What We Can Do About It (McGraw Hill).