broadsideblog

The other people with “your” name

In behavior, children, culture, domestic life, family, journalism, life, Media, men, Money, urban life, US on April 24, 2012 at 12:14 am
Brief History: Civil War Pensions: The busines...

Brief History: Civil War Pensions: The business card of one of the many attorneys specializing in pension claims, circa 1895. SSA History Archives. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you have a doppelganger?

It’s very odd when you discover one, let alone dozens, or hundreds. I grew up in an era when Caitlin, (a variant of Cathleen), was unheard of, at least in Toronto. People called me Cakelin.

(In Ireland, they pronounce it Kawtch-leen, in Wales, Cawth-lin. I say Cate-lin, thereby mangling my own name in two places. Ooops.)

My name, then, made me unique and distinctive, so much so that I wanted, for a teenage while, to become a less-unique Jennifer.

Now the Google alert on my name brings up daily mentions of “my” name — almost always high school athletes. When someone hollers my name in public these days they’re usually scolding a toddler.

When I began writing for a living, at 19, people accused me of creating a euphonious pseudonym. “But what’s your real name?” they’d ask, indignant.

Now Caitlin Kelly’s are bloody everywhere! There was even another one living for a while in my suburban New York town of only 10,000 people. When I once airily asked my mortgage company to look something up under my name, lists of them appeared. Ouch!

Here’s an amazing story from The New York Times about a reporter named Alan Feuer who reached out to his doppelganger — and discovered a Gatsby-esque tale of re-invention:

Beyond our name, we had nothing in common. He lived on the East Side; I lived on the West. He wore top hats; I wore baseball caps. When he asked about my family, I told him I was from Romanian Jews, most of whom fled Europe after World War II. Alan told me that he was from a family of Austrian bluebloods transplanted to New York. There had been, he said, a family fortune once; but, he added wistfully, “Mother lived too long.”…

Dear Mr. Feuer,

Ever since reading your article about the other Alan Feuer, I have thought about writing to you. I had no desire to disrupt his life while he was alive, but since he has passed away, I am wondering if you would be interested in learning the truth about his background.

The writer, I was shocked to find, was the other Alan’s stepniece; she told me she had known him since she was 5. Her letter laid out the family’s relationships — I knew that Alan was estranged — and then concluded on a melancholy note.

While the adult life he described to you was certainly true, his background was far from the one he claimed. If you would be interested in further information about this sad and, I think, somewhat troubled man, please feel free to contact me.

This is such an American tale! The hiding of one’s working class or less-affluent origins; the re-invention, hiding behind a European mantle of sophistication; the (correct) assumption that fellow Americans will be too polite or bamboozled to unmask you.

I grew up in Canada, whose entire population, (about 30 million), is that of New York State — only ten percent of the U.S. Social, educational and professional circles are smaller and tighter and lies usually easier to detect. The best universities number no more than five, so soi-disant backstories are harder to create from whole cloth when a few phone calls or mouse clicks can reveal the truth.

Here in the U.S. where bluff, bluster and the right clothes can go a long way to impressing people, you can become — and many do – whomever you choose.

At best, it’s charming and a testament to social mobility.

At worst — which I’ve experienced — it’s catnip to con artists, who know that an air of suave self-confidence can fool a lot of people for a long time. I dated one of these in 1998. He pretended to be a physician, while living in Chicago, and his business card, (doctors generally don’t have business cards!), boasted a string of credentials that mean nothing to anyone knowledgable. But the women he wooed didn’t know or care.

Do you have a doppelganger?

Have you met or been in contact? Are they like you?

  1. How about the other side of the coin–being the only person with your name in the world? Amazing? Marsa is a rare name to begin with. And for some reason, the few Marsas that populate this world never saw fit to name one of their daughters Linda–other than my folks. It’s good, in a way, because as a journalist, I’m easy to find. But bad, too, because, well, I’m easy to find. :-)

  2. My name is unusual, but apparently it’s becoming more and more common with babies so there are a bunch of two year olds and under running around with it. I won’t pretend I’m not a little disgruntled.

  3. I have 2! One who is the spitting image of me and she lives in Inverness Scottland not the same name. One who is an artist in California living my dream of an artist living off here work! Good for her, or me or whatever ;)

  4. LOL Great post! I was endlessly irritated as a child by the mundanity of my name – there were six Susans in my school year alone! Now when I encounter someone called Susan I just say, “Another Susan! The world can’t have too many of us!” – they’re usually around my age. Funny how names go in cycles, isn’t it? When I named my eldest daughter in 1991, I thought I was being original – till I met the other three girls with the same or variant-spelling similar names that were in the same nursery!
    My full name is better – there aren’t that many Sue Ranns out there – when you Google my name you get pages and pages of me and my book, but there is a Sue Rann on Etsy who lives in Colorado and makes picture frames. And one in this country, living on the Isle of Wight, which makes sense as there is a cluster of the surname in that area.
    Good fun! Good post!

    • It does tend to be generational — and also cultural. I grew up in Canada and knew a lot of girls named Barbara and Marcia. I have yet to meet a woman here in NY named Marcia and I know several in Canada. I have two friends, about the same age, both named Jessica Brown. That was a hot name for a while.

  5. There is another Nadine Feldman who lives, I think, in Toronto. We haven’t been in touch, but we have both been known to frequent the same yoga center at times, a place that’s nowhere near where we live. Whenever I call to register, they ask me, “Which one are you?”

  6. Ouch! So far, I’ve not been mistaken for another CK. I suspect a few may have been asked if they’re me (only because my byline is fairly well known.)

  7. I had not run into others of my name before, so I did a Google search and now feel slightly less unique. At least “I” was the top result in the search, but the next result was the obituary for one of the 11 or so of my name in the U.S. that Google found–poor me. I–at least my name twin–died in March of last year!

  8. I confess I am curious about some of these other people…where they got the name from, for example. I was named for Dylan Thomas’ wife. My mother considered calling me India, which I think is a gorgeous name, but might have made life for people who wanted to tease me.

  9. I found out about 2 other Ginny Bales’s when an old friend googled my name and thought both could plausibly be me! One is a songwriter and has a record company called Tall Cotton Records and the other has a degree in Public Health from Johns Hopkins and has dealt with nutrition. I’m a songwriter with a long-lived band, but also did counseling and research at the Yale Weight Reduction Clinic in a former life! I had no idea there were any more people with my name, but apparently there are!

  10. Too funny! I wonder, then, if our names somehow leasd us to certain kinds of work…? This is a very unusual coincidence, no?

  11. No, I am not part of some gang of dopples. There has only been one kenyatta yamel. Ansd my cat is responsible for that fact.

  12. @kenyatta2009 – I bet everyone wants to know, so I have to ask, how is your cat responsible?

  13. If I search Australia’s (the entire country’s!) personal phone directories there are only 307 hits for my surname. Now obviously there’ll be more real bodies than that, but even so we’re not talking huge numbers. How weird then to know there are two of us with the exact same name in greater Darwin with its population of 127,500.

    Of course Pauline/Pauleen is a generational name so I’m guessing she’s much the same age as me. We follow each other from shop to shop, library to library. At least we live in different suburbs and spell our first names differently (not that all the shops have grasped that fact!) It would be easy to pick up the phone and say hello but so far we haven’t bothered.

  14. Fun story! It might be great fun to meet her…or she could be nasty. Hard to tell!

  15. There are SO MANY Matthew Wrights out there it isn’t funny! I rang the chief electoral officer a while back and was told there are 42 other Matthew Wrights on the New Zealand electoral lists alone. Two write and publish stuff, besides me – and I’ve been confused for one of them. It’s why I make sure my publications list is up to date and openly available on the internet. I did think of writing as ‘M J Wright’, but there are lots of those too.

    Just hope none of them do anything embarrassing… :-)

    • Along these lines — I spent all day today at a writers’ conference. At it, a male writer stood up to describe his very particular problem — he shares a name with a porn star.

      OMG.

  16. I’m a Canadian, too. I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto. There were no Patricia’s anywhere. It was even hard to find those “personalized” tchotchkes in gift shops. When I moved to NJ, I found they were everywhere. It was such a surprise.

    • How fun! I don’t think I knew that you were Canadian. I actually knew quite a few Patricias in Toronto.

      There were NO objects for sale, ever, with the name Caitlin until about a decade ago.

  17. Love your writing. And this is a great topic! My “name clones” are either everywhere, or nearly nowhere, depending on where I am in the world! Pros and cons for both situations. The first is that I feel so unique, and people get fascinated by my name and tell me how pretty it is when they first hear it. The latter situation is having people call my name left and right when I personally am not called (I try to ignore it constantly) and having to be “another” girl with “that” extremely popular name.

    In any case though, at least people love it both ways, so I will not complain! =)

    • Thanks!

      It’s too weird when your hear “your” name called…
      I know that a few of these were named after seeing my byline on stories, so that’s a little comforting.

      • Funny! =)

        I can learn a lot from you and your writing, you’re obviously a great story-teller, it’s a gift to have really, and a skill worth having in a world where there are people and voices.
        It’s either through the eyes or ears.

  18. I have quite a unique name haha…self confession :p. Well at least not ten out of 1000? And it’s awkward to come face to face with anyone with the same name, obviously. I have seen some on facebook.

    Anyway it pissed me off whenever people spelt it wrongly -which happens most of the time , sadly. Hmm…

  19. I have often thought of my doppelganger. I know where she is – LA, while I am in Melbourne, Australia. She is a jewelery maker for the LA set which includes FAMOUS people. I on the other hand am a under-the-radar kind of person, architect/post-grad student. It’s funny because I occasionally have a peek at her website and I feel a sense of pride – she is doing our name proud!

    • How fun! I actually know there’s another “me:” who is also (!) a writer in NY…she has chosen to add a middle initial to her name. Wisely. :-)

  20. My name is very common, Mary- plain, simple., boring. My next door neighbour’s aunt had the same first, middle and last name as me. Our mail used to get mixed up even though we lived in separate communities.
    When I have done a Google search of my name there are literally thousands of people with my exact full name and most are writers. It is hard to stand out.
    Growing up I really wanted to change my name to Samantha, because I knew of no one named that. I have accepted my name and know that this is the name I was supposed to have, it fits me.

  21. Really loving your blog and unique voice. Even if there are other Caitlin’s out there, your writing style is surely unparalleled.

  22. There is someone at my pharmacy with the same name. Its unnerving.

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