In 1978, Clint Eastwood starred in the hit movie Every Which Way But Loose, in which he played a trucker with a pet orangutan. Later that same year, NBC executives, in a wild burst of creativity, debuted the TV series B.J. and the Bear, in which Greg Evigan played a trucker with a pet chimpanzee. Not an orangutan. Totally different concept. The series was a huge hit for about six months, and then ratings plummeted when viewers suddenly realized that they were not watching an orangutan.
At the time, I had to agree; primates are not fungible. But B.J. will always have a special place in my heart, because it was during one episode that I first saw my name on TV. B.J. had to go undercover to investigate a crime — like most truck drivers, no doubt — and to make his assumed identity foolproof, he obtained a fake ID. A California driver’s license in the name of “Bill MacDonald”. They even showed it in close up on the screen for a few seconds, and I was excited and amazed, because I was still young enough, and my world still small enough, to believe that my name was exclusive to me (and my dad; I’m a Jr.).
Now, thanks to Google, I have learned just how quotidian my name really is. You can’t throw a rock in cyberspace without hitting a Bill MacDonald (or his close relative, Bill Macdonald, and people often confuse the two anyway). There’s a car dealer in Michigan. A pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1950s. Australia’s first notorious serial killer, “the Sydney Mutilator,” was named Bill MacDonald (although, oddly, his birth name was Allan Ginsberg — “I saw the best names of my generation destroyed by madness . . .”). A fight promoter. A preacher. California is a hotbed of Bill MacDonalds — there’s a play-by-play sportscaster, several different actors, and the movie-producer ex-fiancee of Sharon Stone. But the mother lode is in Canada — specifically, Nova Scotia — where apparently every town must have a village Bill MacDonald, or the crops won’t grow.
How — more importantly, why — do I know all this? Because I try to pay attention to my career brand. I know that people who want to know more about me are likely to search Google or LinkedIn, so I try to know in advance what they will find. Sure, I started by Googling myself — we should all know what comes up in the first few pages when we search our own names. Why? Because there might be someone unsavory out there — say, an Australian convicted of killing five people — with the same name. You can’t prevent curious networking contacts and potential employers from finding this stuff, but you can at least be prepared to talk about it. (A more realistically practical example: you might be confused with a debtor or defendant in an ongoing court case, and it would be a good idea to know enough about it to be able to explain to someone why that isn’t you.)
But Google searching can get tedious, especially for someone like “Bill MacDonald” who gets 178,000 hits. So, after you’ve looked through the first ten pages or so, simply set up a Google Alert — an automatic search that sends you an e-mail when a new page with your chosen search terms comes online. From the Google home page, click on “More” in the top bar, then “Even More” in the pulldown menu, and then scroll down to the “Specialized Searches” section to find “Alerts”. I receive a message every time “Bill MacDonald” is newly mentioned. Occasionally it’s me, but usually it’s some Nova Scotian. I almost never receive word of anything new or interesting, but at least I know that if someone were to start complaining about me online, I’d hear about it — and have the chance to address it, maybe even fix the situation — hopefully before some career decisionmaker does.