Posted by Sheila Connolly
When you're trying to get your name out there in cyberspace, as we struggling writers are told we must do, you learn very quickly that you are not unique. Picking web domain names, for example, brings that home quickly. I was lucky to snag my own name for my primary site, but my alter ego Sarah Atwell was already taken (by a real estate agent in California) so I had to tweak it.
For those of you who haven't discovered the joys of Google Alerts, Google allows you to input a phrase or name or combination thereof, and will then notify you whenever those words pop up in the web universe. This is handy for writers who may receive reviews that they know nothing about. It's also useful as a crosscheck (did this blog ever get posted? Yes, it did!).
But at the same time, you find out just how many of you there are. Now, for my husband this is no thrill, because he has an extremely common name and can be found everywhere (he gets 1.16 million hits on Google, compared to my piddling 2,370). He works for the US government, and even they have more than one of him, down to the middle initial.
I on the other hand have a less common name, and one that is often misspelled. Sheila is the worst–the majority of people (who do not bear that name) spell it Shiela. Okay, that makes sense if you're German. In fact, the "correct" spelling (mine, of course) doesn't make sense at all, but that's the way it's spelled. The Irish are smart: they just leave out the "e" and make it Síle. Which is also their spelling for Julia, which is what I named my daughter, but that's another story.
What intrigues me is the other Sheila Connollys who show up thanks to Google. These are my favorite Sheilas:
1. The most frequent reference is to an Irish-born actress who was active in the 1950s, when she was also "Pond's Angel Face." She was much touted in the gossip columns of the day, most prominently for dating, then marrying, then divorcing actor Guy Madison. Her first and then fourth husband tried to woo her back after her third marriage ended (are you with me so far?) by buying her the former home of the Duke of Leinster in County Kildare, Ireland–now there's a nice present. She wrote a memoir, so I stumble over her on Amazon a lot.
2. The next most frequent doppelgänger is the Sheila Connolly who is active in the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation. In fact, apparently she lives on Cape Cod, so we could get together for lunch (I wonder if she googles me?). At the moment I don't suffer from RLS, but it's nice to know that I know what to do if it ever comes upon me.
3. Then there's the Sheila Connolly who is a Fianna Fáil member of the Monaghan (Ireland again) Town Council, elected in 2004. It might be fun to look her up sometime–I've never been to Monaghan. I've enjoyed my close encounters with politics, although Irish politics is probably a different kettle of fish.
4. Then there is a whole host of fleeting references: the high school golfer in Illinois who was named her team's Most Valuable Player for three successive years and finished 48th in the state; the investment manager at the University of Ottawa; the real estate agent in Jupiter, Florida; the psychologist in New York City; the one on the National Sleep Advisory Board.
So what's in a name? Especially one most people can't spell? Does our name define us? And when we get to choose a name, how should be pick one? (Hint: Atwell falls at the beginning of the alphabet, hence on the top shelf in the bookstore.) Would I have been a different person if I'd grown up as Susan, which is what my mother wanted to name me?
I guess I'll never know, but at least I feel I'm in good company with all those other Sheilas.