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?