This entry is part 3 of 18 in the series The Idea Liberation Project

When my friends first started to get married, about fifteen years ago, I made an amazing discovery: majoring in Women’s Studies in no way predicted whether a woman would take her husband’s name. Over the years, I have had to let go any idea that changing your name correlates with your degree of feminist commitment, feelings about your dad’s family, or even the charm of your birth name. People assume a married name for all sorts of reasons: to get a better name, to cement their marriage, to ensure they’ll have the same last name as their kids.

What I still don’t get is why anyone would change their last name to something that makes them harder to find on Google.

I’m personally obsessed with being the only person who shows up on the first page of results for a Google search on “Alexandra Samuel”. If truth be told, I feel like it’s kind of in poor taste for other people to have my name at all. For a while I made a point of friending everyone else on Facebook who is named Alexandra Samuel, just because I don’t feel entirely comfortable with the idea that they have free rein over the Internet. And since I own, and most variants thereof, I don’t really understand how other people are still allowed to have my name. Isn’t that trademark infringement?

To spare other people my sad fate, I propose a new search tool: NameRater. If you are planning to get married, and you are trying to decide whether to change your name, you can search on your current name, and compare the results with what you’d see if you changed to your prospective spouse’s last name.

Sure, you could just Google both your current and prospective last name, and see which has more Google search results, but that doesn’t really tell you how you’d stack up if you changed your moniker. Your status as a bestselling author and Fortune 500 CEO might ensure that you’re the only Sarah Smith who appears on the first page of Google’s search results. Or your lack of online presence might mean that even with the name Persephone Camelhauser, you’re invisible until page 8.

NameRater would factor in the current ranking of Google search results that belong to you — not to your name, but to you personally — and make some assumptions about which of those pages would now belong to the new Mrs. Your Husband. Then it would mentally re-factor the search results for your new name to show you where you’d land in Google’s search results if you had that new name.

This is a tool with value in other scenarios, too. I have had a surprising number of friends who have changed their first names (at least four have changed to names that were entirely unrelated to their original names, and at least two more who changed to dramatically different variants). I quite love the idea of people assuming a sense of ownership over something so core to their identity as their name….as long as it doesn’t hurt their Google stature.

And prospective parents, most of all, might value this tool. Some parent will want their kids to have a degree of anonymity in a SEO-ruled world. Others will want their kids to have a leg up in building blog traffic by giving them a name that is not only available as a URL, but offers a high probability of Google hegemony.

Until NameRater gets built, you’ll have to make your decision the old-fashioned way:  by Googling your current name and your prospective name and seeing which set of search results looks more competitive. Whether you like the idea of being more searchable — or conversely, prefer the idea of begin relatively anonymous — is a decision that is far too personal for me to weigh in on.

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