This Identity Theft I Can Live With

This week in reader e-mail brings a note from a 46-year-old man in Rockland County, N.Y., a director in a private company that outsources invoicing for telecommunications companies and newspapers. It turns out that he and I have something in common. Here is a tale of identity theft I am happy to report:

Hello Stephen,

My name is Steven Dubner. I am writing you because a funny incident occurred recently that you may get a kick out of … or not!

First, I must be honest and say that I have not yet read any of your books. I certainly have known of you for some time. I was recently attending a surprise party in Staten Island for my uncle. There were many of my father’s aunts and uncles there that I had not seen in some time.

As I went around kissing everyone (like it or not), my 79-year-old aunt grabbed me and exclaimed, “Steve, I just want you to know how much I loved your book Turbulent Souls. I never knew you were an author and such a good one at that. With that, she proceeded to take out the book from a bag and asked me to autograph it for her. Which I did … and I wrote, “From your loving nephew, who never wrote anything outside of corporate proposals and memos. So glad you enjoyed, Steven C. Dubner.”

My father, who witnessed this, was laughing so hard that I could not contain myself. Still, my aunt (never once looking at what I wrote), kissed me and thanked me. To this day, I don’t believe she is any the wiser.

Best Regards,

P.S. a) I do intend to start reading that same book, and b) not to worry, I never autographed another of your books again. If you
knew my aunt, you’d know why I had to do it at that time.

This is at least the third Steven Dubner I am aware of. There’s a lawyer in Texas and a very well-regarded landscaper in Long Island, whom I once had the pleasure to meet — a warm and great guy. I must say, I enjoy having a name that’s distinctive enough but not too much so. It might be a little harder to be named something like Steven Levitt.

The fact is that any overlaps for either of us will decrease as time goes on, since both the “Steven” and “Stephen” spellings of the name peaked decades ago (“Steven” at No. 11, “Stephen” at No. 20) and have been plummeting ever since. Just go to Baby Name Wizard and type them in for yourself — and then be prepared to spend the next several hours typing in other names in this wonderful and wildly addictive little app.


Google for "are you dave gorman" to see exactly how far these cases of 'mistaken' identity can lead you! Hundreds of namesakes, if you look hard enough.


yeah, all the apostolic names are on the decline- now, apostate names are on the rise- this will spell doom for our civilization, unless we elect McCain

David Damore

Found these results on for
"STEVEN LEVITT - 148 Free Listings"
"STEPHEN DUBNER - 12 Free Listings"
Certainly many of these listings are the same people who have moved over the years.

Looks like there are quite a few people named Steven Levitt in the USA. More than might be expected at least.

There are more places to search than just Google.
Half the battle is knowing what resource to use.


When I'm introduced to Americans I often get 'hey, you know there's an American footballer with your name?' To which i have to point out his name is actually Barry Sanders, not Saunders. Must be my Australian accent that confuses them.

I work as a media researcher - there's an American journalist with the same name but we've never been confused for each other. My two colleagues, Axel Bruns and Alex Burns, get mixed up all the time though.


Doug @3: Can your wife give the same number of points to the other person that came to her, with a note to the recipent what happened? Or give them back to the original giver with a note?

Dave Brown

Having been cursed with a familiar moniker I can totally relate to most of these situations. Over the years I have had university grades transposed, borrowed phantom library books and even received personal emails from unknown spouses in different countries.

I also know another "Steven Levitt" although your highly esteemed co-author should never feel any danger of being mistaken for my aforementioned acquaintance. Although he is a great person, generally his idea of "applied economics" involves balancing his bar tab at the end of the night.



Nosybear, I have a similar story from the opposite side. My wife works for a large corporation and shares a name with someone at the corporation who works hundreds of miles away. The company has a points recognition system whereby any employee can go online and "give" points to another co-worker in appreciation of a job well done. These points can be exchanged for a number of different gifts from the employee gift catalog. A couple of times, my wife has received points intended for her namesake. She can't figure out how to decline the points, but figures it probably happens in the opposite direction, too.

Charlie Brown

I'm hooked onto Baby Name Wizard. Looks like I will soon have a comprehensive dataset. :-)


There is someone by a similar name out there who spells her last name a little different. Not to mention the fact that she lived only about 30 minutes from me... Unfortunately, her credit is not so good and the debt collectors came chasing after me! It was the last 4 digits of my social security number that got me out of it! (No Worries, my credit and identity remained unscathed)


This kind of mistaken identity can be a lot of fun; however, it can cost you. Recently I won an award in our company. The award was mistakenly sent to another in our company with a similar - not exact - name. Normally whenever this happens, we exchange the e-mails. This time not, for some strange reason - a $25 gift certificate perhaps? That could be a Freaky study for you - where does honesty end.


The most unpopular woman in Australia in the late 90s was Pauline Hanson, an independent politician whose views leant towards racism. There was a story on TV about a number of other women by the same name (inc Hansen). One had begun using her married name, I think another might have reverted to her maiden name.

If Steven and Steven were ranked 11 and 20, how close to the top was their combined total?


I went on a tour in Europe, and our bus driver was an older man named Adolf Hitler.

I once sent a work e-mail using odd nicknames to a coworker, or so I though until I got "???" as a reply and realized I had sent it to "Samename McDonald" instead of "Samename MacDonald" who worked in another department.


20 years ago my landlady was Marilyn Monroe. At the time she was born and named, the famous blonde Marilyn was virtually unknown. I wonder how often names which were initially unremarkable become tainted (or tinselled). Was there some poor dude working as a clerk in 2001 with the name Osama bin Laden perhaps? How many Adolf Hitlers were around in the 1930's?

John B. Holmes

Trust me, having a famous (or infamous) name can be a blessing and a curse.


Its not just "Adolf Hitler" that fell out of favor; has anyone here ever met any Adolf who is not currently of retirement age? I had a great uncle Adolf, born in America, but he was born in the 1890s.

Josh Sher

A friend of mine named Jeff Sachs (not the economist) once came home to find a 1 hour long answering machine message from the finance minister of a middle eastern country if I remember the story correctly....


After Jodie Foster became popular, people suddenly knew how to spell my 1st name and didn't think I was a boy. The doctor who delivered me, used to spell by name Jody. Last name is uncommon so I don't have any name twins that I know of.
Re: Names going out of favor - I have ancestors with some names that either are out of favor or just strange that I never hear anymore - Adolph, Cordelia, Cornelia, Helwig and Arzelia.


RE Adolf: Story from memoirs by a Holocaust survivor (would cite but Katrina drowned the book): A jeweler in eastern Europe in the 1930s was so displeased that he shared his first name with Adolf Hitler decided to reverse the letters and was known as "Floda" for the rest of his life.


Re Cordelia: there's a psychologist living in Australia called Cordelia Fine. She does for neuropsychology what Dubner and Levitt do for Economics, writing with wit and flair around the ways that our brain doesn't work the way we think it does.

I thoroughly recommend her book "A mind of its own, how your brain distorts and deceives".