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Double names can lead to trouble
Duluth News Tribune, July 12, 2006

I was on the phone with Rachel Johnson last week when Rachel Johnson called.

Actually, it wasn't entirely a coincidence. Rachel Johnson, the young playwright and peace activist, had written a letter to the editor about the Duluth air show that I thought could be expanded into half of a pro-and-con feature.

Rachel Johnson from the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce seemed a natural to take the other side, except, as it turned out, she didn't have time or strong enough feelings about the subject.

But both Rachel Johnsons (I would prefer "Rachels Johnson" as the plural form, but it doesn't work for every name) liked the concept and said they'd get together to find something else on which to disagree.

"That would be fun," said Rachel Johnson.

The other Rachel Johnson agreed and, as if two weren't enough, said, "I think there's another Rachel Johnson in town."

That's not surprising, given that Johnson is one of the most common names in America. The Twin Ports phone book lists 25 Kenneth Johnsons, including one apparently married to a Rachael.

But there must be something about the chamber of commerce that attracts same-named people because it also has a David Ross, who shares his name with David Ross, the mayor of Superior.

"I remember when he announced his run for mayor," the chamber's David Ross said. "The News Tribune went to its archives and pulled my picture."

Whoops. We sure did, though Ross is happy to make the distinction for anyone similarly confused. "He's the Dave Ross with hair. I'm the tall, bald Dave Ross."

With that cleared up, there's still the matter of yet another shared name associated with the chamber -- former chamber board chairman Steve Greenfield. He's not the same Steve Greenfield who used to work at Potlatch and belonged to Temple Israel (which has two members named Steve Davis, by the way).

"I am the Steve Greenfield who's a member of the NAACP," volunteered the Steve Greenfield Who Is Not Jewish.

"He and I used to get each other's mail. We would shoot mail back and forth at each other," he said.

The Steve Greenfield Who Is Jewish confirmed the mail problem and said they got each other's phone calls as well.

"I told him this town is not big enough for two Steve Greenfields. So I moved," he said from Green Bay, where he has lived for about five years and has joined -- what else? -- the chamber of commerce.

But he hasn't run into any other Green Bay Steve Greenfields.

"No, that's why it's so quiet here. You don't see any Steve Greenfields fighting in bars and punching each other out," he said.

Having gone this far, I'm not about to spare you from the many Robin Washingtons, though I'm happy to report I'm the only one in Duluth. They're all over the Internet, where my Google ranking has been duking it out with Robin Washington, the California software executive, and Robin Washington, the Cincinnati real estate broker.

I called both and got through to the Realtor.

"This is Robin Washington," I said.

"No way!" she responded (unlike the Rachel Johnsons, Dave Rosses and Steve Greenfields, Robin Washingtons come in both genders).

The Cincinnati Robin Washington was already familiar with me because I had grabbed the robinwashington.com Web domain before she could.

"I wanted your site. I was very, very upset," she said, having to settle for robinwashington.net.

She brightened when I suggested we link to each other. "That would be awesome," she said.

I also got a positive response a while back from Robin Washington of Washington State, a transportation engineer who agreed to serve as an expert in case anyone ever suggested Robin Washington didn't know what he (or she) was talking about when I used to be a transportation writer.

But the best same-name story comes from News Tribune colleague Craig Gustafson, a news editor who was working in sports in 2001 when a reporting intern named Craig Gustafson showed up.

"I wasn't here to meet all of (the interns) and I didn't know about him," editor Craig Gustafson said.

"I started getting these e-mails," he said, the sender being a woman he didn't know. "She was talking about friends and trying to set up plans for the weekend."

When he replied asking if she had the right address, she sent an angry response.

"She wrote back, 'What are you talking about? You know these people.' "

Turns out editor Craig Gustafson was getting e-mails from intern Craig Gustafson's girlfriend, which fortunately was straightened out before they got too explicit. How well the other Craig Gustafson, who has long since moved from Duluth, was able to patch things up, we don't know. Our Craig Gustafson has deleted the e-mails and doesn't remember the young woman's name.

Let's hope it wasn't Rachel Johnson.

ROBIN WASHINGTON is editorial page editor of the News Tribune and a commentator on National Public Radio's "News & Notes." He is not a Realtor, software executive, transportation engineer or a woman.

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