Why Do Strange Names Keep Popping Up in My Facebook Feed?

profile  woman in a shade of a...
profile woman in a shade of a...

It hasn't been scientifically proven, but for the record, age 28 is the year that your Facebook newsfeed turns into an unfamiliar landscape. It's not that you get too old to fully understand what the "kids" are doing with social media or stop catching the latest pop culture references. It's simply the age at which friends start getting married in large numbers, and, as a result, the age at which female friends start popping up on your newsfeed with new, unrecognizable names.

Past generations had it easy on the name front. The blueprint they followed was misogynistic, sure, but once a woman was married she became, for all public intents and purposes, Mrs. Husband's Name. As a friend, your job was easy. If you were close enough to know who your friend was marrying, you knew her new name. If you weren't that close, you probably weren't going to stay in touch anyway.

A lot has changed since the days of Mrs. Husband's Name, but one of the most dramatic differences is that in 2014, you and your newly-married friend will definitely stay in touch. A newlywed name change that would have only affected your three closest girlfriends and your parents in past eras is now at least somewhat relevant to everybody you've ever met and have friended on some social media forum.

From the friend side, adapting on a one-by-one basis isn't such a big deal. So what if a mystery person named "Emily Hutchins" and her vacation photos appear in your Facebook's newsfeed every once in a while? It's nice to see how the other half lives! It's when the "Emily Hutchins" of the world multiply in a seemingly exponential fashion that it's hard not feel a little lost.

Facebook is supposed to be a place to collect the many people in your life, and when the names associated with your past disappear in favor of strange new ones, it starts looking more akin to a weirdly intimate gossip rag focused on foreign celebrities you've never heard of.

As has probably been the case for generations of women, I still privately refer to my friends by their maiden names. Those are the names that my memories of them are attached to, after all, and I have no desire to rewrite them all using names I only associate with a bunch of married adults. Still, while using a new name for an old friend is difficult comprehend on a personal level, their new name does become the moniker attached to their public image with or without my consent. I can't, after all, keep married names from showing up on my Facebook newsfeed. As a result, their names wind up with different purposes. The maiden name is something I continue to associate with the flesh-and-blood them, but the married name becomes the term I use to find whatever it was they just posted online.

There aren't many people aside from newlyweds that choose to change their names in adulthood, but entertainers are the notable exception, and as a Los Angeles resident, I've had some experience with people using them in everyday company. The nature of the entertainment industry, after all, requires every person be in a constant state of selling themselves, so it makes sense that people would try to brand themselves even among their friends. To my non-LA sensibilities, this practice has always seemed sort of rude and weird -- like asking the people you are close to to be friends with your megalomaniac half-self. A megalomaniac half-self, however, is essentially what a Facebook profile presents to the world too. It's a version of the actual "you" designed to showcase what you want others to see, and in the brand that is you, your name is the most basic and important identifying feature. Ultimately, stage names and Facebook names feel much the same to the outside observer. They represent a persona more so than a person, but you can grow emotionally attached to them anyway. Losing familiar names on your newsfeed is a little like finding out that your favorite actor or musician has retired. It's not nervous-breakdown quality stuff, but it still feels a little sad, and when you're on the other side of 50 of these changes, there's a point at which all the adaption starts giving you whiplash.

If celebrities are any guide, taking new names is probably not any easier on the name changers themselves. A couple of years ago I saw My Week With Marilyn, and in the film there is a scene in which the untouchable Monroe tells a Production Assistant, who has been "Ms. Monroe"-ing her up and down, to call her Marilyn. It's supposed to be the moment we know he's broken through, but part of the film's message is that Marilyn's first name did not have that kind of value. It was a fake name, part of her image. Monroe swore off going by "Norma Jeane Baker" because it was a dumpy name associated with a depressing past, but Norma's story is still what provided all the context to what "Marilyn" became, and Marilyn probably did not ever get to spend another moment being Norma Jeane once her fame train began rolling. It's obvious that she felt very lost for most of the ride, and I can't help but think that having a new identity was part of the reason why. Searching for connection is difficult when you literally aren't yourself.

There's been no other era in which 28-year-olds have had access to a personal directory of friends that updates in real time and includes everybody from casual middle school acquaintances to current best friends, and while in many ways, this is an asset, the ways we communicate and connect now do change the force with which a wedding-heavy year can hit you. Taking a married name is considered a rite of passage that marks the beginning of a new chapter in life, but because of all this interconnectedness, it's near impossible to truly close past chapters the way it once was. Unlike in Marilyn's day, you don't leave people from the past behind, you ask them to adapt. Though much of our "connecting" happens in more superficial forums, that doesn't change the fact that it's difficult when something messes with your sense of continuity. Essentially, Facebook turns adulthood's slow leak of the familiar into a blowout just by giving you all the facts.

While my generation didn't invent celebrity gossip, we do increasingly interact with our friends in the same forums we use to interact with strangers and celebrities. At what point does the sudden onslaught of different names make us lose track of the difference? And once that happens, has this great asset for staying in touch has essentially become the opposite? If age 28 teaches you anything it's that, despite their personal nature, our names belong to more than just ourselves.