The Internet is, as far as I can tell, a nearly infinite universe of things I do not want to know. I can usually ignore the boasts, the shards of opinion, the superfluous stuff that swirls around on my laptop. But there's one online fact that simply sticks in my craw: There are people out there who have been brazenly using my name.
I know I'm not alone in my agitation. A journalist named David F. Carr, for instance, shares his name with the well-known New York Times writer. It didn't seem so bad, Carr recently said, until he realized the other Carr had years of well-chronicled drug abuse in his past. Confusion with him could be awkward.
As for me, I still recall the night when, shaking at my keyboard, I uncovered search results for an international army of so-called Peter Mandels. There was the Florida salesman of the Pulaski furniture line. The Alaska high school counselor for students with last names R through Z. And the New Jersey gynecologist who uses a "tension free tape procedure" to treat incontinence. Even Peter Mandelson, the British politician, refused to stop popping up when I typed in M-A-N-D-E-L.
On a good day, I came up third or fourth in the Google Order of Mandels. But a naturopath based in Germany was perpetually first, taunting me from the very pinnacle of Peter Mandel-dom. I despised clicking on his website, where he's touted as "a genius phenomenon who, someday, is going to have a place in history" and which went on about things I didn't understand, like a Mandel-invented therapy known as "Esogetic Colorpuncture."
Was there a way, I wondered, for me to regain the pride I had lost: the joy of knowing I was unique? There was. I'd track down the other Peter Mandels and see whether we could hammer out some sort of compromise -- say, dismantling their Web pages or, if they preferred, beginning the process of changing their name.
Sleuthing out the phone numbers of a half-dozen or so Peter Mandels was easy; getting my calls returned wasn't. "He's very busy," the person answering the phone would say, or, somewhat more suspiciously, "He's on a long vacation." I got only this from the German naturopath's assistant: "Just to let you know, Peter Mandel doesn't speak any English." I was reaching the limits of my patience.
After weeks of dialing, I finally got an actual Peter Mandel on the line, one who owns a California radon-mitigation company. "Hello," I began, clearing my throat. "I am concerned about the dilution of the Peter Mandel name." There was a sound that was either a cough or a snort.
Hadn't he Googled himself? Wasn't he aware of all the other Peter Mandels?
"I'm aware," he said.
Didn't we make him jealous? Angry?
Another snort-cough. "The way I come up on Google or you come up on Google is fine," he explained. "My clients come to me, since I handle some very hazardous materials."
I next reached the New Jersey gynecologist. An occasional auto-Googler, Dr. Mandel knew perfectly well that he was sharing search engine space with us and was fine with it. "How would you feel," I asked, "if you disappeared from Google results? Maybe took a break from that?"
There was a moment of silence. "I would not be happy about it," he replied.
This was the point where I should have offered Dr. Mandel a payment. Or made a tearful plea. But I realized I couldn't do it and actually didn't need to.
I mean, sure, there was the radon Peter Mandel, the gynecologist, the German guy -- but I'm the only writer of children's books in the bunch. And what do you think those pretenders know about sneezing leopards? Jackhammer-cracks in city sidewalks? Burger-loving dogs?
You can Google it, but I'd bet nothing. Maybe, just possibly, I am special, after all.
Peter Mandel is an author of picture books for kids, including his read-aloud bestseller: Jackhammer Sam (Macmillan/Roaring Brook), and his newest about zoo animals passing on a very noisy sneeze: Zoo Ah-Choooo (Holiday House).
This piece first appeared in Issue 11 of our FREE new weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store.