Photo of a group of people all texting other people

Strangers on the Internet with My Name

by | April 27, 2023

According to, there are 3,568 Jennifer Lopezes, 3,208 Michael Jordans, 936 George Washingtons, 478 Jessica Simpsons, 468 George Bushes, 1 Beyonce Knowles (there can only ever be one), and about 50 people named Zach Zimmerman. Through the interconnected wonder and curse of technology, all 50 of us had been placed in a Facebook Messenger group chat.

Best idea ever lol, was the first reply.

For sure lol, replied the ringleader, a “Zack” with a “k.”

WHAT IS LIFE, asked another ZZ.

It was the type of unhinged social experiment I might have done had I thought of it first, uniting the alphabetically last. But it wasn’t my idea, so I didn’t like it one bit.

You did it, you really did it, a fourth Zack said.

It had to be done, the first Zack said.

You blew it up, a fifth Zach said.

I observed in silence. The Double Zs were really bro-ing out.

Can we all finally agree that CH is the proper spelling?

Zack the First shared a screenshot of where he’d gotten the idea. A meme of a man named Will Hodgson had added 8 other Will Hodgsons to a group chat and wrote, Evening fellas. A second Will Hodgson, inspired by this chance connection and opportunity for brotherhood, replied, Can you fuck off mate?

So my full name is Zachary but I go by Zack… If there was a war between the CH’s and the CK’s, who do I fight for? And what about the K’s and the C’s….That’s a whole different animal.

Yea, I’m a full on Zachary, but I prefer the ak approach lol

I’m just Zack sooooo

Anybody not have the nickname ZZ Top growing up?

Definitely sticking with c as the final ending with the zachary spelling. I always got Zac-attack …yugh

Messages from strangers are one of the great hazards of social media. You spend your life curating an intimate group of peers who share your interests, passions, and bedtimes, only to receive dopamine-inducing alerts from tech conglomerates: Someone would like to disrupt your peace. Here, we all did have something in common (clever, alliterative parents), but was it the extent of our bonds?

Someone asked what everyone did. The jobs were varied: a tree trimmer, a real estate agent, a folklorist, a stock trader, and a management consultant. I clicked on the management consultant’s profile, and found an inspirational quote worthy of a bad driver’s bumper sticker: It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice.

This is creepy! said another Zac Zimmerman. I clicked through his profile, too, and saw he was an extreme-adventure trail runner in Utah, a profile full of photos at the tops of snowy mountains with his equally white wife and three kids. According to a caption, he recently tried to bribe each kid with $100 to give up the family dog, but they all said no.

We should probably plan a reunion, he said. Or would it just be a union since we’ve never met?The dangerous bedfellows of boredom and curiosity sent me clicking through all of their very public profiles. A few clicks revealed that the ringleader Zack had recently visited New Orleans and is very into jujitsu. The first Zach to reply is a Packers fan who works at Men’s Wearhouse. The third Zach was jumping in his profile picture. Another Zach likes dumplings or at least liked a dumpling video. Another Zach in a cap and gown, then at a dance with his mom at a wedding, and his favorite quote from a song by the band The The: You didn’t wake up this morning because you didn’t go to bed, you were watching the whites of your eyes turn red.

Then, the chat went silent. If you’ve ever been to an acquaintance’s birthday dinner, you know how hard it can be to get strangers with one thing in common chatting. The conversation will never so much reach a fever pitch as it will cause people to become feverish. The most boring person at the dinner party inevitably turns to you to ask, “So, what’s new?” 

The ringleader tried to revive things a few weeks later.

Hope all you Zimmermans grab the bull by the horns today, Jujitsu Zach wrote with a picture of the bull sculpture from the financial district in Manhattan.

Wall Street mother fucker, said the rebel Zach who likes The The.

What the hell is this 😂 😂 😂, an as-of-yet dormant Zach commented.

I did a deep-dive on this Zack, and he’s actually quite funny (a potential threat to my brand.

Dear people of the world, he wrote on his wall, It’s hot out. Use deodorant.

And on a Monday a few years ago: Motivational Monday: Everyday you gotta wake up and be yourself, even if you suck, especially if you suck, because no one else sucks like you suck.

I went back to the group thread recently (I have a lot going on and am in demand in many ways), and I saw he did ask in November 2020, Sooooo what’s everyone going to do with their Trump flags? I’m choosing to filter that post out of my opinion of him.

More clicks showed me how some of their lives had changed since the messages were first sent. Jumping Zach lost his dad in the spring. A few more clicks showed me where the memorial was held and a peek into his story: he was born to Holocaust survivors, immigrated to the U.S. at eight, and opened a kosher bakery in Wisconsin.

Three months passed with no posts. The experiment was failing. Maybe Will Hodgson was right. There was no secret camaraderie of the same-named. Then, a reminder we can all leave the birthday dinner at any time came:

Zach Zimmerman left the group.

Followed by:

Zak Zimmerman left the group

Zachary Zimmerman left the group.

Zack Zimmerman left the group.

Zach Zimmermann left the group.

Zac Zimmerman left the group.

Z Lo Green left the group.

Zach Zimmerman left the group.

Every time a Zach Zimmerman left, it sent an alert to all remaining Zach Zimmermans, like replying-all to an email chain, please stop sending me messages. It was a selfish act, leaving. It spared you future alerts, but made those left suffer another.

Zac Zimmerman left the group.

Zac Zimmerman left the group.

Zack Zimmerman left the group.

Zack Zimmerman left the group.

Zak Zimmerman left the group.

Eventually, there were more messages that someone had left the group than messages in the group.

A full year of silence in the group chat passed. We must have been sitting digital shiva. Then, a random Facebook game bot messaged the group. I finally saw my moment.

And then there were 21, I wrote.

Bitches, Jujitsu Zack responded.

Can everyone be an adult, a first-time Zach commented. Stop being gay. No one needs to be this happy.

I stalked this Zach with purpose. Homophobic Zach, I learned, is the founder of a start-up that helps you throw a party. I’d encourage you not to use it, but the website currently redirects to a spam site, so there’s already a Zach Zimmerman running it into the ground.

Zach Zimmerman left the group.

Zach Zimmerman left the group.

Zachary Zimmerman left the group.

I decided to give myself the same Facebook stalk treatment I was giving the other Zach/ks, to see what someone would see if they clicked through on me. Stalker Zach likes Death Cab for Cutie, The Great Gatsby, and The Rugrats Movie; and was very active on the platform from 2006 to 2017, posting far too many photos of underage drinking. I can only assume after 2017, Stalker/Rugrats Zach had refocused their energy on a competing, yet possibly just as evil, social media platform.

We never had much to say in the Zach Zimmerman chat, or much in common, but I know from my snooping that there are Zach Zimmermans out there who like jujitsu, dumplings, Trump, basketball, trimming trees, and The The. I know there are Zach Zimmermans who love their moms, their jobs, and their boyfriends. And I know the Zac Zimmerman who loved his wife, his kids, and whose kids loved their dog, is no longer with us.

We hope people who love Zac will find comfort in visiting his profile to remember and celebrate his life, wrote Facebook under a cover photo of a snowy mountain. The Zac who asked if our reunion would be a union because we’d never met, had a new first name: Remembering.

I looked back at the chat recently, 18 of the original 50 remaining: 2 Zac’s, 4 Zach’s, 5 Zachary’s, 5 Zack’s, 1 Zak, and 1 Zephyros who changed his name since the group began. I clicked through some of the profiles, like I was looking at a house normally hidden by trees but the leaves had all fallen. The cost of peering into this tiny, semi-private portholes of people’s lives was the reminder that they all end.

I clicked through to Zac’s memorial site again, and a phrase jumped out.

He’s like our brother because we know him, wrote a fellow hiker, even though we’ve never hiked with him.

I had a strange, brief urge to message his wife. I didn’t. In this random, strange, interconnected way, I knew her late husband, but I was just a stranger on social media. The reason I knew him (our name) was the reason I couldn’t message her.

I wondered which Will Hodgsons was right: the first one or the second. appears to now be offline.

Zach Zimmerman is a writer and stand-up comedian whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, The Washington Post and elsewhere. Zach’s first book “Is It Hot in Here (or Am I Suffering for All Eternity for the Sins I Committed on Earth)?” is available now. Instagram/Twitter/TikTok: @zzdoublezz and