Recently, I finished reading Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust (I didn’t like it much because I didn’t care what happened to the characters), and I rediscovered two things I think I learned and forgot in class somewhere:
1) Evelyn Waugh is a man.
2) He married (and later divorced) a woman named Evelyn Gardner.
So Mr. Evelyn Waugh was married to Mrs. Evelyn Waugh, which is so deeply strange to me I had to share it with you all. According to the book’s introduction (the Everyman’s Library version, if you care) people differentiated them by he-Evelyn and she-Evelyn.
If you have a unisex name, you’re bound to meet someone of the opposite gender who shares your name eventually. My name is solidly a girl’s name (as far as I know, though people being people you can never be certain), but I’ve met other women with my name. Usually spelled with a ‘k,’ a ‘y’ or two, and sometimes an extra ‘n’ for the fun of it. None of these other Caitlin/Katelynn/Kaitlyn/etc were ever really close to me, though, so it wasn’t an issue.
I shared a class with one in college, and we ended up sitting right next to each other. Which was funny, but less funny than the three Jennifers who were sitting in a group across the room. They were friends, and I wonder how people do that. Do you modify your name with a last initial? Or do you use nicknames?
What if you meet someone who shares your nickname, after it’s been firmly established for both of you? There’s really only so many ways you can shorten a name. You can try not to refer to people by their name, instead using a replacement like ‘your brother’ or ‘my friend.’ Or you can just embrace it.
* * * *
“How are you doing today, Chris?”
“Good. And you, Chris?”
* * * *
“Could you pass the salt, Jen?”
“Sure, Jen. Here you go.”
* * * *
And then you could drive everyone around you crazy. When the professor of that class was trying to get other-Caitlin’s attention when she was reading a book, I indicated to him that her name was the same as mine. He replied in the same mixture of hushed tones and pantomime that he didn’t remember my name either, so I called out her/my name to get her attention.
It felt strange. Like I was calling myself.