A Field Guide to Byline Doppelgängers
Similarly named journalists can be confusing. We’re here to help.
Last week we delved into the eerie phenomenon of “byline doppelgängers” when journalists discover another with a similar or identical name. It can provoke a range of reactions, from jealousy to annoyance to confusion to delight. It can also be a reminder of the many different and specific beats journalists cover and the peculiar coincidences that can crop up on a rock flying through space with nearly 8 billion people aboard. We focused on just two sets of doppelgängers — the British author Julian Barnes and New York Times national security reporter Julian E. Barnes, as well as Washington Post humor writer Alexandra Petri and New York Times news reporter Alexandra E. Petri — but after an outpouring on Twitter, we discovered quite a few others are lurking out there. As a service to careful readers seeking to avoid cognitive dissonance or the embarrassment of misidentification, we’ve assembled this field guide to help elucidate the differences between the byline doppelgängers you might come across in your news reading travels. Happy spotting!
Habitats: Zach C. Cohen is a writer for National Journal who will be joining Bloomberg Government in the new year. Zachary Cohen is a national security reporter for CNN. Both live in D.C.
Distinguishing features: This one is tricky. The National Journal Zach Cohen reports on Congress; so does the CNN Zachary Cohen. More specifically, the National Journal Zach Cohen covers the Senate (and will report for the leadership and elections team at Bloomberg Government), while Zachary Cohen’s national security focus means he reports on, in addition to Capitol Hill, the Pentagon, the intelligence community, and the State Department. So you may be best off keeping a close eye on their bylines: National Journal Zach C. Cohen uses his middle initial, while CNN Zachary Cohen uses his full first name.
Field notes: Zach C. Cohen and Zachary Cohen first connected when someone on Twitter tagged the wrong Zach(ary) Cohen in a post, the first in a long line of confusion. “We’ve been mixed up enough times now where we have a running joke about it,” said Zachary Cohen. When Zach C. Cohen announced his new position at Bloomberg, Zachary Cohen tweeted that he received an “overwhelming” amount of congratulatory messages, including some from former colleagues. “One of CNN’s producers, who happens to be a friend of mine, texted me once looking for [Zachary Cohen],” said Zach C. Cohen. “We’ve had sources reach out to the other, but we can usually figure out if they’ve confused us.” The errors go beyond colleagues, too: family members of Zach C. Cohen have seen Zachary Cohen’s CNN bylines and wondered if he had switched jobs without telling them. “I even heard from some people I hadn’t talked to in a while, said Zachary Cohen, “so it was an opportunity to reconnect.”
Encounters in the wild: So far, the two Zach(ary) Cohens have only corresponded online. “We’re trying to fix that, but first the pandemic and then Congress’s hectic calendar have made it a little tricky,” Zach C. Cohen said, adding that both Cohens are “tentatively scheduled” to get drinks this week.
Habitats: Kevin T. Dugan is a writer for New York Magazine’s Intelligencer. Kevin Duggan is a reporter for amNewYork. Both are based in New York City.
Distinguishing features: Kevin T. Dugan uses his middle initial when he writes about finance, business, and New York City, often covering cryptocurrency. Kevin Duggan has two G’s in his last name and reports on transit and the New York state government.
Field notes: A few months ago, said Kevin T. Dugan, when Kevin Duggan was covering a “contentious” community board meeting on Twitter, “my wife was getting texts from her friend about how good of a job I was doing.” This summer, before Dugan began working full-time for New York, he was mistaken for Duggan (who was then at Brooklyn Paper) while reporting on Newtown Creek for The New York Times. “Duggan did a lot of great reporting on the Gowanus Canal, and when I talked with the environmental agencies that oversaw the cleanup of both waterways, I had to make it clear that I wasn’t the same guy,” Dugan explained. This isn’t the first time a misidentification has had professional consequences for Dugan. When he worked at the New York Post, a story he wrote with his colleague Lisa Fickensher quoted a spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association, also named Kevin Dugan, requiring the article to note he “is not related to the reporter on this story.” As a remedy, Dugan began using his middle initial on Twitter and in bylines last fall.
Encounters in the wild: “Unfortunately, I don’t have any stories about a pack of Kevin Dug(g)ans chasing down a story, hot on the trail of a bad guy,” Dugan said. “I wish, though. Maybe one day!”
Habitats: Emily Kaplan is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn with work in Harper’s, National Geographic, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. In Chicago, Emily Kaplan is an ESPN hockey reporter.
Distinguishing features: The Brooklyn Emily Kaplan writes about immigration, Guatemala, and Mormonism. The Chicago Emily Kaplan covers the National Hockey League and co-hosts the In the Crease podcast. “She’s a very big deal sports journalist, and I know absolutely nothing about sports,” said the Brooklyn Emily Kaplan, who includes the disclaimer “not @emilymkaplan” in her Twitter bio. “When I first started getting DMs asking my opinions about football, I was super confused until I realized that people thought I was her,” she said. “We cover very different topics, so it’s not as much of an issue as with some name twins, but I find it entertaining.”
Encounters in the wild: The two have not met, but the Brooklyn Emily Kaplan said she would like to.
Habitats: “There are at least three journalists and two authors named Kate McKenna, and it’s brutal,” tweeted the Kate McKenna who is a reporter for the CBC based in Montreal. In fact, there are at least four journalists named Kate McKenna. Even more confusingly, they all work for TV companies: There is a Kate McKenna in Huntsville, Alabama, who is the chief meteorologist for channel WAAY 31, a Kate McKenna in Toronto who is a producer for The Social, a daytime TV show on CTV, and another Kate McKenna in Brisbane, Australia, who is a state political reporter for ABC.
Distinguishing features: We have to agree with Montreal Kate McKenna’s assessment of the difficulty here. The best we can offer is that Brisbane Kate McKenna is in a different hemisphere than the other three.
Habitats: This flock of Amy Wangs is widely dispersed: Amy B. Wang, a reporter for The Washington Post, is based in Washington, D.C., while Amy X. Wang of The New York Times Magazine lives in New York City, and Amy Wang, an editor and columnist for The Oregonian, lives in Portland.
Distinguishing features: Post Amy B. Wang is a national political reporter, where she also covered the 2020 election. Both she and the Times Amy X. Wang, assistant managing editor of The New York Times Magazine, attended Yale. Oregonian Amy Wang oversees arts and book coverage. Given their complementary skills and interests, an all-Amy Wang newsroom has potential.