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November 27, 2012

A name of one’s own

For this columnist, the name game is a losing battle.

I don’t know if you guys know this, but apparently there’s a girl who goes here named Emma Stone. Like the actress. Superbad. Zombieland. The Amazing Spiderman. That Emma Stone. She of the wide eyes and fiery geek-girl charm. But I am here to give you bad news: The Emma Stone who goes here is not a sultry redhead. She’s not dating Andrew Garfield. She doesn’t even like the movie Easy A. Unfortunately, she is I.

Many people find this disappointing. “You don’t understand,” I once had someone tell me, somewhat aggrievedly, after I introduced myself. “You don’t understand how hot Emma Stone is.”

“Nice to meet you too,” I said.

This is all new to me. I went to the same tiny school (full enrollment: 430 students in grades K–12) for 13 years. To everyone there, the notion that there was suddenly an actress parading around as me was briefly amusing but not particularly interesting. But that is not so in college. Not so at all.

Of course, there are the obvious advantages. I am never short on icebreakers. And Googling me is a wasted effort: Of the 110,000,000 hits on a search for “Emma Stone” I am probably only related to about 12, and that’s being generous. Internet invisibility is a rare gift in these Nosy Nancy times. But the common annoyances of having to share my primary identifying trait are inescapable. These irritations are an army of nasty children that hides behind every corner, shooting me with rubber bands from their finger guns. I dread classes where attendance is called. I get asked if I am trying to be funny when filling out official forms. “Nope,” I always say. “Are you?”

To put it another way, sharing a name with someone far better known than you is like sharing a twin bed with a 12-foot-tall mountain troll. In such a situation, there are two possible strategies. You can push with all your might against the great wall of warty flesh, or you can close your eyes and try to pretend that the stench is just a figment of your imagination, and the hairy arm flung over your chest just an extra-lumpy throw pillow.

I tried pushing, for a while. As everyone who has read my writing in this newspaper has probably noticed, one of my strategies has been to resuscitate the use of my middle name. This not only reminds others that I am not a hot movie star, but also reassures my ego that something about it is still unusual. I believed that this strategy was working until I recently decided to complete the thought experiment for a name other than mine. At that point I was forced to accept the demoralizing truth that someone calling himself “Tom Thurber Cruise” would most likely not evade the problem of immediate name recognition and would also appear to be trying rather too hard. The veil of “Thurber” is therefore a thin one and, despite my meek urgings to the contrary, people here always seem to end up calling me by my celebrified name. The novelty for them, unfortunately for me, does not seem to wear off.

We all think we’re original. Just as I entertain the ridiculous notion that I am the first thing people think of when they hear my name, many jokesters entertain the even more laughable idea that I have not heard whatever Emma Stone pun they are about to throw at me. Even more oddly, people are often baffled that I do not spend more of my time chuckling to myself about how crazy and hilarious this whole thing is. I am told that I need a better sense of humor; I say that even the funniest joke cannot make a person laugh forever—especially when she herself is the joke.

I know I’m not alone in all of this. In fact, this whole phenomenon goes way past the plight of celebrity doppelgangers. Many of us are associated at name or face value with people we do not choose and whom we do not necessarily admire. Our name or skin color or way of dressing is bound to link us inextricably to other people in the mind of whoever is watching. We know ourselves first; everyone else knows us second at best.

It’s not a pleasant thing to think about. Pretending is better. It gets me through the little twinge of shame I feel when I write my name, at least.

When it comes to these things it is sometimes braver to admit that the fight is lost, which is why, tonight, when I snuggle up to my mountain troll bedfellow, I will imagine that he smells like roses; and that one day he will stop snoring; and that movie-star Emma Stone is no more of an Emma Stone than I.

Emma Stone is a second-year in the College.

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