My dad picked my name.
If my mom had her way, I would be Hannah Rachel Schmidt. If my brother had his way, I would be Courtesy Schmidt–named after a hardware store, of course. (He was three.)
But legend has it that shortly before I was born, my dad decided on Tracy Samantha. His inspiration? Katharine Hepburn’s character in A Philadelphia Story, Tracy Samantha Lord.
I’ve seen the movie a few times and have yet to like her character. She’s a spoiled, self-absorbed heiress trying to decide between her ex-husband, Cary Grant, and the other guy, John Howard. My dad says he just liked the sound of her name.
Tracy Samantha is a big name for a little girl, though, so I just went by Tracy. In high school, when I started writing a column for our town newspaper, my dad asked if I would include my middle name.
“No, it’s too much,” I said. “Everyone knows me as Tracy Schmidt.”
In Park Ridge, Illinois there was only one Tracy Schmidt. But in the wider world, it turned out, there are other Tracy Schmidt’s.
In 2006, I was a reporter in Time Magazine’s Washington, D.C. bureau. While working on a story, I had to call the RNC for a quote. Their spokeswoman’s name? Tracy Schmidt.
“Yes, hello, I’d like to speak to Tracy Schmidt,” I told the receptionist.
“Your name?” he asked.
“Tracy Schmidt,” I said.
“No, I know that,” he replied. “What is your name?”
“Right, what is your name?”
We went around like this a few more times before he transferred me to another receptionist. Eventually I made it to the right Tracy Schmidt, got the quote and hung up.
The next week, when the magazine was going to press, I asked my editor to include my middle name on my byline. He said ok — until he saw the page proof.
“Tracy, look at your name,” he said. “Do you realize your middle name takes up an entire line of extra copy?”
“Yes, I see that,” I replied. “Is that a problem?”
He rolled his eyes, shook his head at the entitled Millennial and walked away.
He saw it as vanity. I saw it as the only way to separate myself from the spokeswoman of the RNC who would later become Sarah Palin’s press secretary.
In 2006, the media didn’t talk about SEO. It was something the tech producers for the website knew about. The magazine’s reporters didn’t know about SEO or were told to factor into their stories. Reporters certainly didn’t care about their personal web presence then. Even thinking about the web was a sign that the good times of print were ending.
But I was 22 years old and knew that my web presence was going to matter. So I started using “Tracy Samantha Schmidt” everywhere — in my stories for Time, on all of my social profiles, in my email addresses and signatures, everywhere. In 2008, when I joined Twitter, I selected the username @TracySamantha.
The name stuck. Now when people meet me offline for the first time, they call me “Tracy Samantha.” I quickly correct them that I go by Tracy in real life.
“Then what’s with the Samantha?”
“It’s my professional name.”
It could look like I’m being pretentious, insisting on “Tracy Samantha Schmidt” wherever my name appears. Really, I’m just thinking about personal online reputation management.
It’s a phrase that didn’t exist in 2006 when I switched my byline. In the years since then, personal online reputation management has become an important–and lucrative–part of the SEO industry. Essentially, it is the complex process of grooming your personal search results so that only the good stuff turns up.
A common problem is like the one I faced at Time — you share the same name as someone else. When someone Googles you, their stuff comes up over yours. Hopefully it’s mundane. One of my colleagues at Crain Communications, a family-owned media company, shares the same name as a male underwear model. Enough said.
If you do share the same name as someone else, it can be very difficult to differentiate yourself in search results. My recommendation is to begin using your middle initial or middle name everywhere, just as I did. Unfortunately this can take several months to kick in and it doesn’t always work. That is why some executives will shell out thousands of dollars to SEO consultants and publicists to correct the problem.
Should you want to know more about personal online reputation management and what you can do yourself, I made a PDF last fall called “You 2.0: Managing Your Personal Online Reputation.” It’s helped a lot of people and I hope it gives you a few ideas, too.