Why you should care

Because most people have a name twin — and sometimes they cross paths.

Last year, we ran an essay by New York Times best-selling novelist Katie Crouch titled “The Other Me,” about her name twin. Recently, we received this rebuttal essay by the other Katie Crouch, also a writer living in San Francisco.

The first thing I ever googled was my own name. That’s when I discovered her: my name twin.

Same spelling, same age. I’m from the Midwest; she’s from the South. I went to the University of Michigan; she went to Brown. We both graduated in 1995. This was around 1998 — the information was limited, and there was no photo. I was amused and curious and made a mental note of her existence, because while Katie is an extremely common name in my generation, I’d never encountered anyone with the Katie Crouch combo other than my own grandmother. Who was she?

The crossed wires started gradually. When people looked up my number in the phone book, their messages were inevitably left on her machine. She was listed; I wasn’t. Before long, I realized that she was lurking in close proximity in my adopted city of San Francisco.

After several years and countless wrong numbers, I attended a friend’s wedding where I met a guy who knew her personally. He told me she also had red hair and also worked in publishing and was also in the process of moving to New York. By coincidence, following a breakup and a career move, so was I. The coincidences were seriously adding up.

He passed along her e-mail, and I jotted off a friendly note. It went unanswered.

In the early aughts, the big social media site was Friendster. She lived somewhere near Central Park; I lived in the West Village. People started friending me, thinking I was her. At this point, I thought, “Is this really happening? They’re looking at my photo! Do we look that much alike?” Over and over, I explained to her confused friends that I was not her. One day, I was idly googling my name to see what the guys I met on online dating sites could unearth about me. I discovered that she was in an M.F.A. program at Columbia and was doing a reading somewhere in the city.

I wrote her a message that contained a summary of these virtual encounters and concluded with something like, “Finally! Wow! How crazy that we not only share a name, but now we have this shared history of mixups and crossed wires, not to mention the coincidence of living simultaneously in SF and NYC!”

Her response: “Neat. Take care.”

What does it mean to share a name? Not much, apparently. According to www.howmanyofme.com, there are 16 Katie Crouches in the United States. I could organize a meeting where we could talk about schoolyard nicknames and the overwhelming number of Katies in general. But it’s jarring to realize that you’re not necessarily a special snowflake when it comes to your name. It feels like a weird violation of privacy, as if someone could just walk right into your house or wreak havoc on your Netflix queue, a form of identity theft.

With this particular Katie Crouch, though, I was most intrigued by the continuous points of contact between us, triggered not just by our name but by all that we had in common. Her unwillingness to engage with me frankly made the situation even more fascinating.

In a small victory, I grabbed the Twitter handle @katiecrouch.

 

In 2005, I moved back to SF for my dream job and a new boyfriend. Not long after my return, signs started popping up that she was back in SF as well. The virtual run-ins got wilder as social media and her writing career heated up. She published her first novel, and I received many misdirected congratulations, including one from a former colleague of mine proclaiming, “When on Earth did you find the time?”

I read Girls in Trucks. I didn’t want to like it, because she took my name and became a New York Times best-selling author and that could have been my story. Anyone who knew me during my bohemian postcollege years in Paris would have been unsurprised to find me writing a novel — I was a creative writing major, after all. I wrote angsty poetry and overly self-conscious short stories. I nearly went into a Ph.D. program in comparative literature but instead detoured into publishing.

“Katie Crouch the Writer” now officially refers to her. Her public persona dominates the Internet, which means that finding me is like finding a needle in a haystack. In a small victory, I grabbed the Twitter handle @katiecrouch.

Upon visits to local San Francisco establishments, such as Kabuki Spring Spa, I found that our contact information was scrambled in their systems. Clerks would confirm my identity by inquiring, “Katie Crouch on Upper Terrace?” I’d say, “That would be nice.” Upper Terrace is a fancy hilltop street in Ashbury Heights with glorious views — I lived down the hill in the gritty Lower Haight. I tried e-mailing her again to suggest meeting up for coffee. No response.

I know I have the right e-mail address — our Gmails are so similar her mom once sent me a link to summer vacation photos on Walgreens.com. Books Inc. e-mailed me about the details of “my” upcoming reading. As I responded to each inquiry and mistaken Facebook friend request, I cheerily asked everyone to tell her I said hi. By then, I knew it would bug her.

This story has always felt anticlimactic. As I recount it, including each latest twist, most people find it intriguing. But the end has always been so unsatisfying. “Really? She never responded?”

And then, last year, she wrote an essay titled “The Other Me” admitting that she deleted the e-mails and can’t stand the thought that somehow I’m a better — or, worse, identical — version of herself. So she chooses to ignore my existence altogether, except, it seems, when she’s publishing an essay about it.

Are we destined never to meet or even negotiate the friendly terms of this name share?

A few years ago, she became a mom. Last year, I did too. I thought I saw her sitting outside a café downtown last week, staring into her smartphone. We’d have so much to talk about! The forces of the universe insist that we’re two sides of the same coin, but I want a better ending.

The writer in her should too.

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