The Atlantic

All the Other Julie Becks and Me

What a quest for my namesakes taught me about the meaning of names in the internet age
Source: Julie Beck

My name is not particularly weird, but it’s not that common either. According to the website HowManyofMe.com, which plumbs U.S. Census data, there are a ton of Julies in the United States—565,224 of them. And that doesn’t even count all the Julias, Juliettes and Juliannas who might also go by Julie. There are 112,182 Becks in the country, and just 195 Julie Becks.

That seems to be pretty middle of the road. My two sisters, who have unusually spelled names, have just 4 and 16 name doppelgangers in the country. My dad, who has one of the most common male names of all time, has more than 1,000. I’m not a unique name snowflake, but I’m no “John Smith” or “Mary Johnson” either—chances are theoretically good that I could go my whole life without meeting any more of me.

Or rather, chances were good, before the internet.

The first Julie Beck I encountered, other than the one in the mirror, wasn’t really a Julie Beck at all. Her name was Julia Beck, but she went by Julie, and she also went to college with me at Northwestern. She’s a couple years older than me, and we had different majors, so I might never have heard of her despite our proximity, were it not for the fact that Julie was her nickname. See, if you wanted to find her in the student directory online, you’d have to search “Julia Beck.” If you looked up “Julie Beck,” my email was the only one that came up.

This is how I got accidentally cast in Peter Pan.

I still have the email, from October 2008. It starts “Hi Peter Pan cast! Congratulations to you all!!” and goes on to request our prompt reply as to whether a certain date works for us to start workshopping. I was already aware of my doppelganger at this point (I got her email semi-regularly). “I've never met the other Julie Beck (if I do, one of us is sure to explode),” I wrote, because it was college and I thought I was funny, and sent the director the correct email.

I recently talked to Julia Beck, and neither of us exploded, though perhaps that’s because her name is Julia DeBettencourt now. She got married in 2014, and changed her last name, and says she doesn’t go by Julie much anymore—only her husband calls her that. I told her the Peter Pan story and we laughed, and I asked her if she was aware of me when we were at school.

“I was slightly painfully aware,” she said.

Apparently, when she petitioned to graduate under the name “Julia Beck,” the registrar’s office told her she needed to petition for a name change, because her official transcript said “Julie.” After a confusing exchange, it was revealed someone had put the wrong transcript in her folder.

“But I always heard you were very nice,” she said.

The string of letters

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