The Name Game

Trouble can result when two or more people share the same name

Even if you remove the element of fame, you’re much better off being Engelbert Humperdinck than John Smith.

Though unique names are often misspelled by the media, it’s far more dangerous to share a name with somebody else. Other people go bankrupt, get charged with felonies, deal drugs. These deeds get them in the press, which opens the door to people confusing them with you.

Take Paul A. Magliocchetti, a Massachusetts lawyer. He shares a first and last name with a Washington lobbyist whose firm was reportedly raided by federal prosecutors. In writing about Magliocchetti the lobbyist, the New York Times used a picture of the lawyer. It published this correction on Tuesday:

A picture on Monday with the continuation of an article about Paul Magliocchetti, a Washington lobbyist whose firm is closing after reports that federal prosecutors raided his office and his home, was published in error. The photograph showed Paul A. Magliocchetti, a lawyer in Haverhill, Mass., who is not connected to the lobbying firm and is not being investigated by federal prosecutors.

A similar fate befell Nicholas A. Schepis. A careless television station in Pennsylvania used his photo when reporting about a local teacher who had resigned amid controversy last year. He decided to sue the station last week, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

A Crafton man is suing WPXI-TV over a broadcast story that he claims used his photo when the story was about another man with the same last name.

The story, broadcast Sept. 28, was about a South Fayette teacher and coach who resigned last year over what the school district called “inappropriate” e-mails that landed in the hands of other personnel and citizens in the district.

The plaintiff, Nicholas A. Schepis, filed suit in Allegheny County Court against WPXI, its local cable affiliate, PCNC, and their parent company, Cox Enterprises Inc. of Atlanta.
“Prior to the release of the broadcast, defendants took not even the most basic of action to inquire into the accuracy of their linking of the photograph of plaintiff to the allegations of criminal conduct on the part of Peter C. Schepis Jr.,” the suit said.

Peter Schepis is the former substitute teacher and middle school football coach who resigned after the e-mail message, which included text and a nude photo, got the district’s attention…

Accuracy studies conducted over the last seven decades have revealed that misspelled names and misidentifications are among newspapers’ most common mistakes. It’s therefore no surprise to learn that people are often misidentified because of the spelling of their name.

Names in general are a minefield for journalists. Misspell a person’s name and they will never forget it. Put their photo over someone else’s name and it’s the same thing. An individual’s name is very personal, yet they often share it with other people in the same community. This is one reason to be cautious of committing same-name errors.

To combat the problem, some papers and television stations cite the home address or another personal characteristic of a person accused of a crime or other wrongdoings. It’s also helpful to add this information to photo archives, though it’s not always done. But even these precautions can result in problems, as the Gloucestershire Echo discovered in 2006:

In a report of a case at Gloucester Crown Court in the Gloucestershire Echo on Friday April 7, we published the wrong address for defendant Paul Newman.

Paul Newman, 30, of Whaddon Avenue, Cheltenham, was jailed for more than four years for drugs offences.

In the report we wrongly gave his address as Druids Oak, Gloucester. In fact a different Paul Newman, aged 26, lives at this address and has no connection whatsoever with the Newman who was convicted and jailed…

Reports about trials and criminal investigations often result in same-name corrections. Other correctable offenses include drunk driving (as reported in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner):

The Tracy M. Brand who works for the Fairbanks North Star Borough risk management department is not the Tracy M. Brand whose arrest on driving while intoxicated charges was reported in Sunday’s News-Miner.

Prostitution (Charleston Gazette):

Tammy Melton-Orders, 38, of Charleston, is not the Tammy Melton, 37, of Charleston, listed in Friday’s Charleston Gazette among those arrested for prostitution.

Murder (Lexington Herald-Leader):

Courtney Rae Bishop, 32, a psychologist for the Fayette County Public Schools at Millcreek and Athens-Chilesburg elementaries, is not the same as Courtney Diane Brundige Bishop, 24, who is charged with murder in the death of her infant son, Caleb Eli Bishop.

Or being a lingerie model (Orlando Sentinel):

A Weekend Watchdog item on Page D2 of Friday’s Sports section incorrectly stated that Fox Sports Net reporter Charissa Thompson is also a lingerie model. The model named Charissa Thompson is a different person.

Of course, you don’t see papers issuing corrections when someone shares a name with an award or lottery winner. On those occasions, people are happy to bask in the glow of shared name fame.

Correction of the Week

“Erroneous information appeared in an article about condom safety in Sunday’s Sun. A quote from Dr. Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale should have said people must ensure there is no air in the tip of the condom. Air pockets contribute to breakage and slippage.” – Ottawa Sun

Sources of Error

“AN article published under the headline `Guards take bribes’, on page 4 of yesterday’s Townsville Bulletin incorrectly identified Iain Miller as Turnell Security Services operations manager.

“Mr Miller has no ties to Turnell Security Services.

“The Townsville Bulletin apologises to Mr Miller and Turnell Security Services for the error.

“The story also quoted Liquor Licensing executive director Chris Watters.

“Mr Watters no longer works for this office” – Townsville Bulletin (Australia)

Parting Shot

“In a story posted March 5 on The Hook, The Tyee reported that B.C. Supreme Court Justice Elliott Myers described a defence argument in a lawsuit involving a parody issue of The Vancouver Sun as, “with respect, inept.”

“The story was based on oral reasons for judgement delivered in chambers by Justice Myers.

“A written version of those reasons made public today shows that, in fact, Justice Myers said the argument was, ‘with respect, inapt.’

“The full text of the reasons can be found on the B.C. Supreme Court website.” – (Canada)

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Craig Silverman is the editor of and the author of Regret The Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech. He is also the editorial director of and a columnist for the Toronto Star.