It all started in March, with the charming “To Get Into This Party, You’ll Need the Right Name. (It’s Ryan.)” Assigned by the New York Times’ metro news desk, the story visited a “Ryan meetup” at a Manhattan bar (Ryan Maguire’s, of course) where hundreds of Ryans communed, drank, and said, “Hey, I’m Ryan.” Alyson Krueger’s story was enlivened by a bunch of great gags (a table full of name tags reading RYAN, for example) and cute quotes. “I love them all already,” one Ryan said of all the other Ryans. “They understand me.”
In April, the Styles page got in on the fun with “It’s Time to Talk About the Emily in the Room,” a long essay about the sudden visibility of Emilys in pop culture, from Emily in Paris to Emily the Criminal to the boygenius song “Emily, I’m Sorry.” Though I dock points from this essay for not even mentioning a certain recent novel that contains not one but two Emilys, I must grudgingly admit that it’s very funny that the piece was written by Emilia Petrarca. She (almost) knows whereof she speaks!
At some point, a memo must have gone out, and the Times flooded the zone. Though “We Are All Margarets” turned out to be slightly deceptively headlined (it was about Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret), today the National desk reported from Kyle, Texas, where local officials are pushing a “Kyle Fair,” a quixotic effort to assemble as many Kyles in one place as possible. (They’re hoping to break a world record set by 2,325 Ivans in 2017.) That came after Thursday’s moving exploration of Asian American identity, “Generation Connie,” in which the veteran TV newswoman Connie Chung met nearly a dozen women whose parents named their children in honor of her. This story sets the bar high for future Nomenclature Journalism, as both the story’s author and its photographer are also named Connie (Wang and Aramaki, respectively).
It is the Same-Name Stories era at the New York Times. These pieces are great because, like many journalistic modes, they are entirely adaptable. The format can accommodate a fully realized, beautifully told personal essay with bonus celebrity appeal (as in the Connie story); it can accommodate a simple, whimsical scene story with hilarious details (as in the Ryan happy hour, to which someone brought their 9-month-old Ryan in a BabyBjörn). It appeals to readers who love serendipity, and to readers who love a little quirkiness with their news, and, obviously, to readers who have the same name.
That might be the ultimate genius of the Same-Name Story. Appeals to personal identity have driven online readership since before the days of the BuzzFeed quiz. The Times has now figured out the perfect identity story, the most granular possible I-can-relate material ever seen on the internet, the online-media equivalent of those keychains in souvenir shops. Unlike stories about “Karens,” these stories make people feel good about their names. Short of assigning a separate 1,200-word profile of each and every subscriber—not a bad idea, honestly!—it’s hard to imagine a New York Times story getting more relatable than this.
And so I look forward to the Times playing the Name Game for months to come, finding more and more stories to put in that little “What’s in a Name?” recirc module on the Kyle page. I’ll read them all! The story about the 1992 spike in American children named Malcolm. The story about Bobs sending one another the “Not great, Bob!” meme. Stories about Erics marrying Ericas, Sams marrying Sams, and Sydneys marrying Sidneys. Heck, I’d read stories about totally boring names with no particular valence to them, like Katie, or Heidi, or Jennifer, or for that matter Dan. Actually, I’ve got an idea for a writer for that last one.