Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Finding Olav Ormseth

Last fall I reread some favorite books from high school English class--Albert Camus's books The Stranger and The Plague. In a later post, I may write about revisiting those books.

But today I wanted to write about something that happened while I was reading The Plague.

I noticed that the used copy of the book that I had purchased had a name written on the edge of its pages: Olav A. Ormseth. Not only that, there was a slip of paper in the book, used as a bookmark, that was actually a piece of resin-coated phototypesetting paper with the words "Photo by Olav Ormseth" repeated 15 times, row after row--obviously a set of photo credits, possibly for use in Olav's high school or college newspaper. The sixteenth photo credit had been cut out with an X-acto knife.

Wondering to myself if I had bought the book in New York, or Washington, D.C., or out here in Minnesota, I decided to Google his name to see if it would give me some indication of where it had been resold.

Since Olav Ormseth is a pretty unusual name--possibly unique in the world--I was quick to find him. He is from St. Paul originally, so that answered my initial question. But I also found out all sorts of other things about him: He is an academic biologist in Alaska, he has a doctorate in Fisheries Oceanography, and he specializes in circumpolar species like otters, ground squirrels, and cod. (I'll bet he has a thing or two to say about global warming.)

But Olav is just a case in point. The larger question for me is, what does this mean for naming children? If a parent gives a child a unique or almost unique name, anyone who ever searches for that future adult's name will find out everything there is to know about that person on the Interweb. If the child puts foolish, embarrassing adolescent content on a MySpace page at age 15, every future employer and significant other is going to know it.

Does this mean that some parents will name their children with more anonymous names? Depending on how unusual your last name is, that may not even be possible.

I keep reading that new parents are intentionally doing the opposite: naming their children with unique or unusual names, maybe hoping to help them stand out in our competitive world. Maybe they'll be famous. But what those parents are not considering is that in a sense, everyone with a unique name is famous on the Interweb. And their child may not want to be famous forever.

Anyway. I thought about sending an email to Olav, but decided against it. But now, if he ever Googles himself, he'll find this post. And maybe he'll contact me instead. I'll be waiting.

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