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Rand Paul is erasing Paul Rand

Rand Paul is erasing Paul Rand

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A Google Image search for "Paul Rand"; I scrolled down a lot

Paul Rand is one of the most influential graphic designers of the 20th century, creator of iconic logos for IBM and UPS, among others. He pioneered the logo as corporate identity, defined by simple shapes and primary colors. He has been dead for 18 years.

Rand Paul is the junior senator from Kentucky, elected in 2010 and currently in the running for the Republican candidacy for president. He has taken outspoken positions against the War on Terror and the criminalization of drugs, and is one of the leading proponents of libertarianism within the US government.

Rand Paul is erasing Paul Rand.

The problem starts with Google. A quick search for "Paul Rand," reveals a striking Rand creep in the results, a trend first noticed by Ernie Smith. Google's first two results are PR's foundation site and Wikipedia page, but the third is RP's Wikipedia page, followed by a batch of Google News results that are basically all for RP. After that the results more or less trade blows: a museum exhibit about Rand, a New Yorker profile of Paul, a Fast Company piece about Rand, a Vogue essay on Paul.

Put simply, if you go out looking for Paul Rand, you're likely to find Rand Paul in his place. In the world's collective store of knowledge, the junior senator from Kentucky has largely replaced the designer of the UPS logo. The "Paul, Rand" effect has also cascaded to Siri, which now returns the Wikipedia page for Rand Paul when asked "Who is Paul Rand." The only exception is Flickr, where "Rand Paul" searches return "Rand, Paul" results thanks to a localized interest in graphic design, but that's surely small comfort to the (first name) Paulites.

You can't blame the algorithms entirely; even the sources are going wonky. A recent New York Times column titled "Rand Paul, Paul Rand Quiz" passed by without mentioning the designer at all. The Wikipedia page for Paul Rand now begins with the warning: "Not to be confused with Rand Paul." Too late.

Even organizations dedicated to the preservation of Rand (first name: Paul)'s reputation have been forced to concede the overwhelming reality. If you attempt to contact the Paul Rand Foundation through its website, you will be greeted by the following warning:

It's hard to say if this is a problem that can be fixed, or even a problem at all.

Ernie Smith is a surname-Rand partisan, believing that P.R. is inherently more Google-worthy than R.P., but the reality is more ambiguous. Google's implicit assumption is probably correct: a given person looking for the words "Paul" and "Rand" is most likely searching for "Paul, Rand" rather than "Paul Rand" — or in the case of a single name search: Rand (Paul) rather than (Paul) Rand. Paul Rand is famous on a historical scale, but he has been dead for years, which has effectively removed him from the news cycle. By contrast, Rand Paul (or "Paul, Rand") is actively running for president. Perhaps outside of America, "Rand, Paul" is more famous than "Rand Paul," but that's why Google geotags search queries. As long as you're in America, your searches will be driven by the whims of her citizenry.

Rand, Paul might still overtake Paul, Rand — the Senator might drop out of politics, or the designer's work might have a renaissance — but the broader war for nameshare isn't going anywhere. As long as there's a global search function, the Rands and Pauls of the world will be at war. They will be getting each others tweets, reading each other's emails, and slowly chipping away at each other's identities, a pain I have experienced personally in my battle with Russell Brand. It is a bitter struggle, and it is endless.

Still, the Casey Newtons seem to make it work, so perhaps there's hope for us yet.