I never met many Mollys. Not in elementary school, or high school, or college, or since. As a child, I used to wish I was an Alyssa or a Jessica, to be one one of the kids who got to include the first…
I never met many Mollys. Not in elementary school, or high school, or college, or since. As a child, I used to wish I was an Alyssa or a Jessica, to be one one of the kids who got to include the first letter of their last name to help distinguish them. You had a club with the other Amandas or Natashas, I imagined; what you shared may have been trivial, but it was also, at an age when you’re barely even a person, an integral part of who you are. But I was the only Molly. (With the exception of the many, many golden retrievers I’ve met with the name.)
Then, in my late twenties, thanks to Facebook, I found the other Mollys—or, rather, they found me. They were legion. They called themselves the Mollarmy, and they invited me into their club. We’re not the only ones, either. There are groups of Steves, of Lances, of Mirandas—all out there, finding each other, Facebook messaging constantly, sharing the only thing they have in common: a name.
Unlike (parts of) Weird Twitter, Damn Daniel remixes, and much of Tumblr, this isn’t just a product of teen internet. The impulse to be part of this is far more than just boredom and Facebook phenomena—it’s also the fact that we just really, really love our own names. How they sound, when they’re written on paper (or on a screen), when words look like them. But since the echo chamber of social media is maybe the happiest place on Earth for narcissists, it’s also just fun to talk to a lot of other Mollys.
“You Never Get Tired of People Online”
Last last year, Molly Brooks was bored sitting at home in Indiana. “I thought it was a funny idea to add a bunch of Mollys into a group chat,” the 16-year-old told me via Facebook Messenger. Like me, she didn’t know a lot of Mollys, so why not just find a bunch of them on the Internet? She typed ‘Molly’ into Messenger, and added everyone who came up. She had never made a group before, but her first attempt stuck: almost immediately, the gathered Mollys began rapid-fire chatting.
When I ask Molly why Facebook Messenger instead of a Group, or another social network, she says, “Messenger is the only decent part about Facebook now.” (From the mouths of teens to your ears, Facebook.)
Part of what makes it so special, I realize, is that none of us know each other. I’ve always felt both cameraderie and competition with among the few other Mollys I’ve met IRL—but something about finding these unknown, mysterious people who share my name is part of the easy rapport. Molly (Molly B., not Molly Me) says that while the different time zones can make things challenging, there is something about this online-only friendship that works. “You never really get tired of people online because you don’t see them every day,” she says. “They’re just fun to talk to.”
The Mollarmy is far from the only same-name group chat.It, and others like it, seem to trace back to random-Internet-weirdness site The LAD Bible, which included a photo of a chat among Nathans in a round-up. As the practice spread, confused invitees would screenshot the chat and tweet about it. (I was one of them.)
The Internet didn’t invent this whole friendships-based-on-names agenda, of course—just ask theJim Smith Society, founded in 1969 by a New Jersey journalist named James H. Smith, Jr. (Motto: “We don’t shun fun!”) He simply decided, at a friend’s suggestion, to find other Jim Smiths and create a group. The organization still exists today. “Once a Jim has joined he is a member for life (and beyond),” says Suzie Smith, who handles public relations for the group. “Some of the wives continue to be active even after their Jim has died simply because of the attachment.” Once a year, the group hosts the Jim Smith Society Fun Fest—this year, it will be in Portland, Oregon. The only requirement to be a member is, of course, to be named Jim Smith.
But with only 25 active members, the Jim Smith Society can’t hold a candle to the Mollarmy, which includes about 150 Mollys and one rogue Marley who was allowed in. They’re mostly 15 to 18 years old, and I’m fairly certain I’m the oldest Molly of them. Most are British. I’m one of five Molly McHughs. Topics generally consist of self-promotion (“follow me on Insta, I follow back”), love lives, and complimenting the hell out of each other. Every once in awhile, after someone invites a spate of new Mollys, there’s a n’er-do-well who doesn’t understand what we’re doing. Bad Molly harasses us, we harass her back, she leaves, and the Mollarmy collectively shrugs because she clearly just doesn’t get it. Mollys share fun developments (“I got a new car today!”), talk about ruthless subtweeters, ask for hair advice, or just—and most commonly—ask “how’s all the mollys doing?”
When I was added to the group about three months ago, I tried to actively participate in the conversation, but there was a palpable disconnect. Some of that was age, some the UK-to-California time difference. I eventually had to mute the conversation because I was getting a flurry of notifications in the middle of the night. But I never left the group.
Sometimes the Mollarmy goes quiet for what feels like weeks, but then something simple gets it going again: someone needs help with boy or girl problems, or wants feedback on a new hair color. Whatever it is, the Mollys provide nothing but positivity and praise. There is no dissent: Every Molly is cheerleading every other Molly, because, as one Molly puts it, “Mollys are great.”
I’m inclined to agree.
The Power of Congruence
An oft-cited study found that thesound of your own name triggers brain activity, and you react to your name much differently than someone else’s. The middle frontal cortex, middle and superior temporal cortex, and cuneus, which are in the left hemisphere of your brain, are activated when someone says your name versus just another name. To be non-technical about it, though, we just really, really like hearing our own names.
Another study found that people were more attracted to people with similar names—Donalds and Donnas were likely to marry, as were Michaels and Michelles. This is called implicit-egotism. Butsome argue the theory doesn’t take into account how common some names are. “It’s been criticized because the researchers may not have done enough to make sure this wasn’t just a generational effect,” says Cleveland Evans, a professor at Bellevue University who specializes in onomastics and wroteThe Great Big Book of Baby Names. “If you look at everyone in an entire country, most people marry within their generation, and oftentimes certain names are popular within a generation.” So if the names Michael and Michelle were popular for a period of time, it becomes more probable that a Michael and Michelle would marry—not because of narcissism, but because there were just a lot of them.
However, Evans says, other parts of the study make sense: people moving to cities that share their names (Louises in St. Louis, Georgias in Georgia), say, or even taking jobs that sound like their names (Dennis the dentist).
And there’s yet more research that says we simply like hearing and seeing our own names—this 2010 paper found that we’re more likely to reply to emails sent from someone with the same name. “It seems…people’s behavior can be influenced on the web by using the ‘name congruence’ technique,” the paper explains.” All of which makes the Mollarmy make complete sense: It’s an echo chamber that makes you want to participate, while also giving its Mollys a rush of acceptance. How many group chats full of strangers go on for months?
“If two people have shared the same name reactions their whole lives, that’s something subtle but profound they have in common,” says Laura Wattenberg, author ofThe Baby Name Wizard, as well as founder of the site of the same name. “It’s almost like finding out you’re from the same town or went to the same school—but in this case, a little portable bubble of shared experience you carry with you wherever you go.” I think about whether the other Mollys get called Holly as often as I do, or if they feel infantilized by their name (probably not, since they’re mostly teens).
I asked Cleveland Evans if there were any interesting facts about the name that might help me understand what I have in common with my fellow Mollys. He told me Molly is a pet form of Mary, which I knew, but I didn’t know why: It has to do with baby talk, and how kids often pronounce “Rs” as “Ls.” The name really started becoming popular in the 60s, Evans says, and has maintained relevance since then—save for a recent “tsunami-like surge” a few years ago, after which it suddenly fell to its lowest popularity point since 1984.
“Perhaps you could ask the members of your group what they think of the statistic that Molly is a particularly ‘white’ name,” Evans suggested. “The authors of Freakonomics found about a decade ago that Molly was the ‘whitest’ name among fairly common girls’ names in California.” So I did exactly that.
“That doesn’t seem right,” a Molly wrote. “How can something be the whitest name?”
“i know a white dog named molly if that counts,” another Molly wrote.
And then we started talking about Hello Kitty t-shirts.
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