Upon learning that Chelsea Clinton used to use the name "Diane Reynolds" when checking into hotels, two questions immediately came to mind. First: Why would she do that? And second: Is that a good alias? There is also a third question: Can we use this as an excuse to explore other terrible political aliases? The answer to that one is yes.
First, let's talk about why Clinton (or another celebrity) would want to use a fake name. We spoke with two people over email who currently work for companies that manage high-end hotels. Neither wished to be identified, which is very much in the spirit of the discussion, so we'll call them "Carlos" and "Danger," in honor of former representative Anthony Weiner's chosen pen name.
How does the alias-at-a-hotel system work? Fake names are as useful to protect against staff as against the outside world, Danger pointed out, writing: "Staff is trained and required to sign confidentially agreements about guests overall, but when it's really big name sometimes they can get excited and forget." But why does it matter? Paparazzi, for one. "Paps often try to pay line-level hotel employees for inside info (room numbers, etc)," Danger said. "Leaking that info was a fireable offense at our property."
It's not only to shield celebrities from the paparazzi, but from stalkers, those horrible people from the media, and other guests. Or political opponents, according to Carlos. "We have had members of royal families who don’t want anyone to know where they are for political reasons." Clearly it is not the case that Chelsea Clinton is from a royal family and wouldn't want to be seen in Ottumwa, Iowa for political reasons.
If the celebrity doesn't want to be discovered, it's usually achievable. "If a celeb doesn't want to be found out," Danger wrote, "we could ensure that they stay anonymous with back entrances, private elevators, orchestrated security, etc." But some clearly want to be found out. "Sometimes they spend so much time walking around the hotel you’d think they were looking for paparazzi to photograph them," Carlos said, adding, "Jeremy Piven was like that."
When it comes time to pay, someone has to come across with a real name and a real credit card. As for the fake name itself, a stupid one like Carlos Danger doesn't make a big difference, but "they are usually pretty realistic sounding ones," our Carlos wrote.
That brings us to the next question: Is Diana Reynolds a good alias? We've established one important criterion for the name: Making it obviously fake doesn't do much harm, but it doesn't help. You probably also want a name that is 1) easy to spell, to avoid the annoyances that hard-to-spell names can cause, and, 2) a name that isn't too common. You don't want to be one of 17 Carlos Dangers at the Ottumwa Marriott.
To establish how unusual Clinton's pseudonym is, we turn to the semi-scientific resource at HowManyOfMe.com. This is a site that uses Census data to figure out how many people in the United States have the same first, last, and full names as yourself. (There are three "Philip Bumps," a.k.a. me, in case you were curious, which you weren't.) A name that is too common is John Smith -- there are 46,260 of them, from a pool of 5.2 million "John"s and 2.8 million "Smith"s. So we'll set that as the bar for "too common."
We looked at four nicknames in addition to Clinton's and Weiner's:
- "Richard Windsor," used by former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson
- "Eric Hoteham," the name (probably just a typo) used to register the Clinton's home internet access
- "George Fox," used by former New York governor Eliot Spitzer
- "Cage Hunt," used by Tom Cruise
Diane Reynolds is a pretty good fake name. It's not too common, but it is a name that sounds like a real name, unlike "Cage Hunt" (because "Cage" is obviously fake) or "Richard Windsor" (because "Windsor" isn't very common). If you search Facebook for "People named Diane Reynolds," you get a lot of results in response. None of them, we will note, live in Chappaqua, N.Y.
The moral of the story for celebrity seekers: Always assume every name you hear in any hotel is actually a pseudonym for a famous celebrity. At the very least, it gives you a bit of excitement during your stay in lovely downtown Ottumwa.