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May 20, 2003

Spam Names

I get upwards of 250 pieces of spam mail a day, which is enough of a representative sample that I notice certain trends: Which misspellings of Viagra are popular today, the rise of the "Deck of Weasels" playing cards coinciding with the fall of the "Iraqi's Most Wanted" deck, and of course, whether this week it's the wild Russian teenagers or the bored suburban housewives who crave my, um, presence more (this week: bored suburban housewives! Good for me. They're already in the country).

However, the trend I'm noticing today involves the names the spam headers carry. As most of you know, spam often comes with someone's name attached, to give the impression that it's a real live person, and not a soulless spambot, who is flooding your e-mail box with offers for porn and miniature digital cameras. It used to be that the spammers would at least attempt to make the name sound reasonable, but at this late point, they've abandoned all pretense and are just going with crazy stuff. So now I'm treated with spam from the likes of Conley Haupert, Ignacio Cummings, Santiago Whitaker and (my favorite of the moment) Kermit Bolton. Oh, the terrifying mental images that name conjures up.

This is one area in which I find spam somewhat useful. As you may know, I'm writing a novel at the moment (just finished another chapter less than five minutes ago, actually -- many high-powered politicians leveling accusations at each other. Also, sheep). One of my writing secrets is that I'm flat-out awful with giving characters names; usually I just take names of people I know and mix and match first names with last names. Which is why Agent to the Stars features partial names of people I went to sixth grade with, and Old Man's War features the mixed names of members of the rock band Journey (the main character: John Perry). With spam, I don't even bother mixing and matching the first and last names. I just cut and paste.

This doesn't mean I want more spam -- really, I'd rather have no spam and go back to using the names of programmers I find in the credits of the video games I play. But as long as I get spam, it's nice to have some benefit from it. And when my next novel features the hero Ignacio Cummings battling the evil villain Kermit Bolton, you'll know why.

Posted by john at May 20, 2003 04:52 PM

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Captain Button | May 20, 2003 06:16 PM

I suspect that the silly names may be more an attempt to fool spam-sniffing programs than the human victim.

The thing I'm seeing more and more is deliberately deceptive subject lines, which have absolutely nothing to do with the content. Who are these people who not only buy from spammers, but buy from spammers whose very first moment of contact with you was a lie?

Doug | May 20, 2003 08:24 PM

It is my theory that the random strings in the subject line and body of spam are an effort to thwart Bayesian spam filters.

JohnPopa | May 20, 2003 08:40 PM

I considered mixing and matching names of people from my favorite band in my book also but, alas, I figured people'd be distracted by a guy named Tico Bon Jovi.

Sue | May 20, 2003 09:57 PM

My favorite spam is the one that comes with the subject line, "Tired of getting spam?"

I know that I'm jinxing it, but I don't think I've received more than three spam since we moved and I got a new e-mail address. Not that it's a terribly convenient way of getting rid of spam, of course, but it did work. So far.

Scott | May 20, 2003 10:48 PM

Here's a name generator for you based on the US Census: http://www.kleimo.com/random/name.cfm

It appears to generate perfectly "normal" sounding names.

rick mcginnis | May 20, 2003 10:51 PM


Man, it always comes back to Journey, doesn't it, dude?

John Scalzi | May 21, 2003 07:56 AM

Oh, come on, Rick. Don't Stop Believin'!

Guy Matthews | May 21, 2003 10:00 AM

Well hey now you can start using the names of folks who comment in yer blog ;).

Tripp | May 21, 2003 10:34 AM

Not that I'm paranoid, or worried, or anything, but have you noticed an increase lately in spam that offers to, how shall we say, enhance the normal male endowment?

I mean, I'm pretty sure they are not targeting ME per se. Why would they need to? I'm normal. I mean, above average.

Captain Button | May 21, 2003 03:15 PM

Spammers don't target individuals, that's the point. I've received lots of spam about increasing my male endowment, and also plenty about increasing a different dual endowment, usually associated with individuals of the female variety.

In point of fact there aren't any bits of my body I wish were larger than they currently are.

Bill Peschel | May 21, 2003 05:11 PM

Here's one subject line I'd thought I'd never see

About Love by Anton Chekhov and 3000 more

Chekhov a big draw among spammers. Who knew?

Here's a few names from the last batch: Rufus Hurley, Frances Love, April Dupree, Woodrow Stein, Buckingham Books and Jakada Mail.

Good luck!