Death to Digital Squatters

Have you ever wondered about the T in my name? Have you ever wondered what it stood for, or why it’s there?

Well, I’ll answer one of those questions. It’s there because of digital squatters.

Years ago when I first entertained the idea of having my own website (despite having no idea what I would do with it) I looked around to see if my name was available as a URL. It was. So was my Internet handle.

At the time, I was a bit more shy about sharing my real name. I’d gone by GuitarShank for so long on so many different forums that I figured it would be the better choice for a website URL for a number of reasons. First, it was more memorable. Second, a lot of people would recognize it (though we’re not talking thousands or even hundreds here, maybe just a hundred). Third, I could keep my name secret…

For some reason.

I didn’t have anything to hide. Or did I? Was I worried that people in real life would Google my real name and find my website and judge me for the things I did and said on my own website? Technically, that is a genuine concern for employment, but it’s something that shouldn’t be an issue if treated responsibly.

So, I used my handle and started my website. After a couple years, I got tired of it, and realized that my domain renewal date was coming up. I decided I would let it expire and move everything over to a new URL, this time using my real name.

I did a quick search for my name sans middle-initial and found that someone had purchased the URL and they want over seven-hundred bucks for it.

It even had a message on it about there being a lot of people named David Shank and that they’ve reserved it for the highest bidder. That message is no longer there, but they still want $795 for such prime digital real estate.

I considered my options. I could use a different web suffix like .net or .biz, but I didn’t like that for two reasons: It looks stupid and people would still inevitably go to by default and never try any alternatives.

I could come up with something clever and unique that’s totally not my name at all. It works for Chuck Wendig.

Then I realized I’d been going by David Shank my whole life. Why not do something a little different? Why not add in my middle initial? I could even use D. T. Shank and make it even shorter. But my name’s not long or difficult, so there was no need for that. So, I wrote it out, for the first time, in the byline on the cover of one of my manuscripts:

David T. Shank

A bell went off in my head. Even if it is a little more cumbersome to say out loud, I just liked the way it looked. It seemed more distinguished. It looked like a name you might see on the cover of a novel and say, “Now there’s a writer who knows what’s what. I bet he’s a real classy guy. In fact, a name like that not only deserves to be read, it demands to be read. Respectfully, of course.”

Plus, go ahead and do a Google search for David Shank right now. You’ll probably notice that I only appear once on the first page of results (at least as of this writing), though that’s partly my fault. You might also see that those squatters were right: There are a lot of people named David Shank.

But not nearly as many named David T. Shank.

By taking my name and trying to profit from it, these digital squatters actually gave me a small gift. They gave me the opportunity to become my own individual person and stand out.

Without them I might have been lost among a sea of David Shanks. Now I’m the one with a T in his name.

Plus, if I’m feeling saucy, I can always change the T on Twitter to stand for something. Like David Terrifying Shank for Halloween, or David Tiredofyourcrap Shank when people are annoying me.

Have you ever had a similar experience? Do you share your name with someone famous and have to use a pseudonym or your middle name to distinguish yourself from that Brad Pitt? Let me know in the comments. Or just say hi.

Photo by Денис Евстратов on Unsplash

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