It started in high school, but it took me a while to notice. Sophomore year, my boyfriend dumped me in favor of a different girl named Katie who was perfectly willing to let him stick his hands under her shirt (I was not). I figured this was just the first in what would surely be a long string of instances where the bubbly blonde was found preferable to my brainy brunette. Little did I suspect that it was the start of a very different pattern.
Two years later, shortly before graduation, I met the boy I would believe (for the next seven years) to be my star-crossed soul mate. We remained pen pals all through college, and I visited him once. After a great week, I returned home to word that he had taken a girlfriend – someone he had met the day after I boarded my plane back east. A girl named Kate.
This exact scenario would eventually repeat itself a year or two later, with the same boy.
Because of the overwhelming survival advantage it confers, we humans are evolutionarily designed to detect patterns, even in what often turns out to be random information. Still, it wasn’t until a few years after college that I began to suspect a trend. Superman and I broke up due to irreconcilable aspirations, and with our amicable split it was easy for me to know when he had started dating again.
[Side note to all former lovers out there: we can tell when you are trying to hide something supposedly to spare our feelings (but really to avoid honesty). When your otherwise freely detailed responses to questions such as, “Where are you headed?” suddenly become vague mumblings about meeting “someone” or “a friend” for coffee, we know that “someone” is more than just “a friend”. You have a date. Just be honest – we can handle it.]
Superman’s quest for inner peace and truth got the best of him quickly, and he identified his new coffee “friend” – a girl named Kate. I couldn’t help but feel I’d been here before.
True, it is not like I have a terribly unique name. With all of the possible variations on Katherine – one of the major selling points for my parents – the odds of there being more than one in anybody’s life are pretty high. I personally have been several different iterations over my lifetime, changing my name regularly as the mood hit since childhood. From K.K. to Kay to Katie to Kate, and even Katherine on occasion, I have met the various phases of my life with the moniker that I felt served it best.
(Except for Kathy. From birth – or as close to birth as one can be and still recognize the concept of a name – I have been “Katherine-don’t-call-me-Kathy.” I have an irrational hatred as hot as the passion of a thousand Rumplestiltskins.)
But even with the impressive versatility of my name, the number of times I have been followed by a doppelnamen is unsettling. To date, I have been succeeded in the lives of former boyfriends, lovers, flirtations, crushes, and general eggplants by: two Katies, three Kates, one Cat, one Kitty, and probably a partridge in a pear tree (named Kit).
None of these replacement Kates ever lasted long – some were too young, some too crazy, and several both – but it is still enough to give a girl’s psyche a complex. Is my life some bizarre version of Good Luck Chuck, where instead of marrying the next one after me a guy only sees people with the same name? Or am I like an oxygen molecule to love’s hemoglobin – once I attach, I increase a man’s ability to attract more of me?
The naming of Kate’s is a curious matter; by my late twenties I decided to take on one last name change to reflect my reality. Like T.S. Eliot’s cats, I now have three titles – my everyday name (Kate), my fancy one (Katherine), and a third one just for me, that comes above all and remains (until now) unspoken. Want to know my ineffable, effable, effanineffable, deep and inscrutable, singular name? Just look to the top of this essay. I am The First.