Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The problem with a common name and gmail

I have a relatively common name and surname here in Finland, and I was lucky enough that I got a Gmail invite pretty soon after it launched, so I got an email address with purely my name and surname (ie. without any numbers, additional letters, or other such extraneous characters). This is extraordinarily rare with Gmail nowadays, especially if you have a common name-surname pair, because they are naturally all taken long time ago.

There's one minor "problem" with this, however. (Not really a problem per se; it's more amusing than annoying, if anything.) And it's that I semi-regularly receive emails intended for other people with the same name as me. I'd estimate that on average I get about one email per month like this.

These emails are often official in nature, and include things like insurance documents, school diploma certificates, product or service offers (that are clearly in response to a request by the original person) and so on and so forth. Almost invariably when I examine the email or the documents, it turns out that they are intended for someone with the same first name and surname as me (but often a different middle name), usually living in a completely different part of the country.

What I think is happening with most (if not all) of these is that somebody (with the same name as me) has called an office or service by phone, and given their email by that channel, and the person on the other end misunderstands or mistypes the given email, leaving out some extra character (such as a letter or a number separated by dots in the email address), leaving only the first name and surname in the address... which happens to be my email address.

And they are all from completely different sources. It's not like it's the same organization or institution sending the emails to the wrong address. It's always something completely different and unrelated.

What I find curious is how regularly this happens. It's not extremely often (perhaps once per month, if not even less frequently), but it has been going on for quite many years. Basically for almost as long as Gmail has existed (although it was significantly rarer in the first years). It seems that there's always somebody with my name who makes a phone call somewhere, and the person on the other end misunderstand the email address...

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