I am not famous, but I have a job of significant responsibility where a modicum of decorum is required. A social media presence showing me as any less than dignified would simply not do. In the last year I’ve had some success, as well, with my writing and had a few things published, an award or two garnered — much to my surprise and delight. In the process, someone told me to begin to get a little more involved in the online sites I was a tad less familiar with and begin developing what writers embarrassingly call “a platform.” So I did. I began researching sites like Twitter and Instagram and in the process found another Michelle Bowdler That is where all the trouble began.
Initially, I knew nothing about this particular Michelle Bowdler except that she lived in England along with a few others who share my name. There seem to be as many of nine of them in total. This makes perfect sense. The origins of this unfortunate name are Anglican. Thomas Bowdler is famously known as the jerk who attempted to expurgate my beloved Shakespeare several hundred years ago. In fact, the definition of “bowdlerize” means to censure. For anyone who knows me, this also presents a huge problem. I am passionate about free speech and most often write about social justice concerns and politics!
How did I get this unfortunate surname you might wonder. At the age of 32, my mother was widowed and married a Bowdler. In short, he was not a good guy, but he acted in the role of my dad for about a decade. I was a kid who didn’t know the legacy of his last name. All I cared about as a ten year old was being a family again, hoping this marriage might help lift the grief I still felt missing my own dad — the kind one with the unmistakably Jewish name – Benowitz. By the time Mr. Bowdler and my mother divorced, the name had imprinted on me and as well as existed on all sorts of documents like my driver’s license, passport and college diploma.
I would take care of it over time, I thought, planning for years to go back to Benowitz, an identity that felt tied to my childhood and all that went with it. When I never got around to following through, I considered taking the Irish last name of my wife, Gorman, moving the name tied to censorship down the Channel from England to Ireland where bluntness accompanied by a good swear or two is a way of life. Bowdler be feckin’ damned! But, to my great surprise, it had been so long that hard as I pondered ways to rid myself of Bowdler, it felt like it was now my name.
Which brings me back to my name doppelganger and the start of the trouble. When I began my efforts to join Twitter, I discovered that this other Michelle Bowdler went by the name @Sexyll.” Sexy. Really? Here I am, a women in my fifties with a serious job, hoping to begin tweeting and I could be mistaken for someone who named herself “Sexy.”
“Start tweeting immediately,” my writing teacher said. “This actually could be a problem. The more you tweet, your account will move up on the search engines and you will be listed before Sexy’s.” So I did. I tweeted and tweeted hoping to outpace Sexy.
After a few dozen tweets, I Googled myself to see if me or Sexy would turn up on top and I found that my doppelganger — or one of the other handful of Michelle Bowdlers in the UK — also had been arrested for felony bank check fraud twenty years ago. Sure, if you opened the article, you might notice the address was in England, but I figured no one but me would bother.
In the end, it hasn’t mattered much. Maybe peers, coworkers or someone considering publishing a story of mine would be amused by a middle-aged women having a Twitter handle of Sexy. Maybe they would think I named myself Sexy to practice irony. Perhaps they would be surprised or even impressed that in my youth I had a more adventurous past that included a felony charge, rather than horrified as I had been when I saw the link. With all the world’s problems, this is not one of any merit, although it has admittedly been a welcome distraction in this year of political disaster.
And of all things, in preparation for this piece, I did some research and found the most delightful news. @Sexyll has recently gotten married, and although she has kept her Twitter handle, she has changed her last name. I think I may have to look up her address in Jolly Old England and send her a wedding present.