Daze of My Life/The Same but Different

by Kenneth B. Lourie


Recently Iíve had business dealings with two women - Dina and Celia - who were given the exact same first name as my wife and my mother, respectively. To say my side of those conversations was a bit awkward would be an understatement; to say it made me downright uncomfortable would be more accurate. Words, inflections, gestures, etc., typical of exchanges between me and my wife and/or mother, formed after years of such interactions, have to seep into the conversations, almost instinctively, and therein lies my fear.

When it comes to women named Dina and Celia, certain habits of mine are difficult to break. Itís easy to fall into familiar patterns, both verbally and non-verbally (body language), that given the current environment might be considered a bit inappropriate. Granted Iím not going to grope another woman simply because she has the same first name as my wife, any more than Iím going to ask Celia for some milk and cookies. After all, I still have some control (and awareness). Iím not an animal. (No comments, please!) But the familiarity of their names does create a dynamic - in my head, anyway - where there is much less contempt than there otherwise might be. And thatís the danger that could lead to Problem A.

Certainly the sight (seeing is not only believing; itís convincing) of business-Dina or business-Celia is a clear indication that the women with whom Iím conversing are not my one and only. In fact, the mere presence of another woman answering to your wifeís name, as an example, simply means that your wife is not the only one. But if youíre any kind of husband (or boyfriend), youíve become accustomed to thinking and feeling that she is the only one. Ergo Problem B. And thus Problem A begets Problem B.

Problem C is not exactly related - by birth and/or marriage - to Problems A and B, but nevertheless similarly confusing. Have you ever met, had business dealings or regular conversations with a person who shared the same name as one of your pets? And I donít mean a pet name like Snuggles or Fluffy, but rather a pet given a human name (my preference) like Gus, my firstborn dog, given to me as a surprise birthday puppy back in September 1974, along with a kitten whom I named Tillie (a la Tillie and Gus, the W.C. Fieldsí movie).

Years later, while still a parent to Gus, I met and interacted with a man named Gus. It was weird. Simply saying ďHello, Gus,Ē and then hearing words in response, instead of barks or other dog noises, was unsettling enough. But as the conversation continued, I didnít know whether to praise, pet, feed, discipline, command or shake with him. Exchanging words with a human being named Gus was certainly an unnatural experience for me, but I canít imagine that my body language, facial expressions, word usage and pitch didnít seem equally unnatural to him as well. I canít remember if I apologized to Gus for my tone or manner, or explained to him that I was having difficulty talking with him because he had the same name as my German shepherd/St. Bernard mixed-breed dog, who was waiting for me at home, usually on the roof of one of my roommateís cars. Probably not. That might have made a weird situation downright uncomfortable, just like with Dina and Celia, as it turns out.

With respect to business-Dina and business-Celia, however, I told each of them about the other similarly named woman in my life. Both ladies sounded mildly amused at the coincidence. Still, it didnít seem to affect the quality or content of our conversations, so far as I could tell, anyway. But maybe it did. And maybe it was awkward for them to interact with a man who associated them with his wife and mother. If so, I think I know how human Gus must have felt, like a dog.

Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.