what's in a name?

Are You Beyoncé Beyoncé or Just Regular Beyoncé?

Army of Beys.
Army of Beys. Photo: Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

There are 2,000 women in the United States named Beyoncé. That means there are 2,000 women who feel the effects of being a Beyoncé but not Beyoncé — they don’t even need the Knowles in common; that single name casts a long shadow.

The photo blog Humans of New York found and interviewed one such non-Beyoncé Beyoncé, who briefly discussed the trials and tribulations of sharing a name with Queen Bee (people often sing “Single Ladies” upon learning her name), and her plight really struck a nerve among readers. As the post went viral, people began to share their common woes in the comments section and soon Beyoncé received sympathetic messages from Kaity Perry, MaryKate Olsen, Katie (Katherine) Holmes, Serena Williams, Victoria Beckham, Kelly Rowland, Will Smith, Julia Roberts, and my favorite, Tina Turner, all sharing the same sentiment: Man, it’s tough having a celebrity name doppelgänger.

But a name doppelgänger doesn’t even have to be famous to haunt you. Thanks to Google, social media, and everyone just using some variation of their name as their Gmail address, you’ll now find out about civilian doppels, too. Somewhere out there, someone probably shares your name. But which of you is Beyoncé and which is just Beyoncé?

Some time ago, I received an email from Ira Glass. Me. In my inbox. Like every other liberal person in media, I gasped and thought, You want me, Ira? while delusionally fantasizing about the day my “This American Life” segment would air. I read it again, and again, trying to figure out the part that pertained to me (Allison Davis), and then sadly realized that Ira Glass was not looking for me, he was looking for my name doppelgänger. I wrote back and explained the situation: There is another Allison Davis, she is also black, she is also a writer, she also moved from the Bay Area to Fort Greene around the same time I did (spooky). He wrote back, confirmed my suspicion, and took me off the email chain. Somewhere, the other Allison Davis was happily collaborating with Ira. I bet they were trying on new glasses together or something. I don’t know.

This was not my first encounter with Other Allison Davis, though. It started about five years ago when I was out there hunting for jobs. I’d meet with editors and they’d say, “Allison Davis! Love that thing you wrote for the Hairpin!” (I hadn’t written anything for the Hairpin, but sometimes I didn’t correct people. Thanks, Allison, for allowing me to bask in your glow.) After that, she was everywhere: I got emails from editors looking for her to write things. I routinely get tweets and fan emails meant for her. When she produced segments for “This American Life,” I got tons of notes of praise and celebration from people who thought it was me. When I corrected well-wishers, they wrote, “Well what you do is great too.”

After the “TAL” mistake, I started weirdly using her career as a benchmark for my own. We all have a person that we use in that way — someone who is just similar enough to seem like a sort of competitor, like the stranger on the treadmill at the gym who will never know that you’re using their pace as motivation to maintain your own speed. It’s a total self-perpetuated competition. It’s going to make me sound 100 percent neurotic (no denying that), but I occasionally wondered if I was destined to be the lesser Allison Davis.

I got in touch with two of the Katie Bakers who work in media (one at Daily Beast, one at Grantland) to ask if I was being insane. They described similar experiences to mine — receiving tweets and emails complimenting pieces they didn’t write, having to politely correct mistaken identity — but they seemed to have a less anxious response.

Daily Beast Katie Baker said via email, “I’ve decided to embrace having doppelgängers rather than allow it to devolve into some sort of Golyadkin-esque power struggle. Maybe because I’m a twin, so I had to reconcile with the idea of a double at a very young age.” She added,  “My doppelgangers are incredibly talented so I get to piggyback off of their glory.” (This sort of absolved my guilt at taking implicit credit for those Hairpin pieces.)

Grantland Katie Baker has a similarly Zen approach: “The doppelgänger that I am most jealous of is the one who has the Wikipedia entry. She’s not a writer, she’s a Canadian from Prince Edward Island who used to be the captain of the Canadian national field hockey team. And her Wikipedia entry literally includes the sentence: ‘In her spare time, Katie enjoys spending her days traveling with friends, going out for breakfast, taking long naps, and swimming in the ocean.’ I mean, she’s the Katie Baker I want to be.”

Maybe it’s best to view a doppelgänger as inspiration. I also spoke to (the living) Amelia “Amy” Earhart: She decided to take on her doppelgänger’s professional legacy, and became the youngest woman to successfully circle the globe in a single-engine plane.

Let that be a lesson to all 2,000 Beyoncés.

Are You Beyoncé Beyoncé or Just Regular Beyoncé?