Friday, September 25, 2009

Identity Theft

We all know and fear some hacker in a basement somewhere getting ahold of our personal information and using it to open Old Navy accounts or to smuggle endangered species into the US so they can vote Republican, but what about the identity theft that happens everyday as mothers name their children or comedy writers decide on the name of a new character?
When I was 8 years old my sister told me there was a girl named Erin Hannon in her baton twirling class. Being the sad and lonely child I was, I immediately latched on to the idea that this girl, this other Erin Hannon was somehow connected to me. That was my name. When people thought about me, they attached that name to me and now there was this other girl named Erin Hannon with a different face and personality. You know the game where you take your name and assign each letter a numerical value and then add all the numbers together and reduce until you receive a one digit number that is supposed to be an indicator of your personality? Well, our numbers were the same. We were like twins. So, it was with great anticipation that I waited alongside my mother at the next baton lesson trying to figure out which one was the Other Erin. Finally a girl a few years older than me walked up to the sign-in sheet and wrote that intimately familiar name with a strange, flowery hand. I could wait no longer. Our cosmic reconciliation was at hand.
"My name's Erin Hannon too!" I eagerly exclaim.
"Oh," says the girl.
Her mother comes to stand beside her as my mother is standing beside me. The two women chat amicably about the coincidence until practice begins and the Other Erin scampers off to join the others and I am left on the sidelines angry and confused of the Other Erin's outright rejection and abandonment. It must have been because we had different middle names. No one with her middle name could truly understand me.
And so the years went on. I sometimes met another Erin and never met another Hannon I wasn't related to. Then one day, almost two decades since that day in the community center gym, I discover another Erin Hannon, different from the last in a few notable ways.
First off, she is famous. She is on the hit NBC sitcom The Office. She has all the things I ever wanted: a reasonably well paying job, her pick of the men, and the ability to look great on almost anything she wears. Yes, I'll admit I'm jealous. How can you not when someone with your name has all that? It's only pathetic when you factor in that she isn't real. She is a character. I almost wish it was the actress who had my name. At least then I would know she had it first. Somehow realizing that a group of writers were in a room somewhere and thought "What kind of name should we give to this character that really doesn't contribute much to the show other than as the girl who replaces the much more popular, more lovable girl who goes off to scheme in a major sub-plot?" Erin Hannon.
I feel just as strongly affected by this new Erin as I did by the Other Erin. It's just that time has changed the way that I feel about it. Before I was sure that it meant something to have a name twin who turned to look when someone called for you. Now I am horrified that I have to share something as personal as my name with another being I have no control over. What if she does something really awful and becomes a villain? People will always associate Erin Hannon with evil! But if she'd too good and too kind, I won't be able to live up to the expectations of my name! "Well, she certainly isn't anything like the Erin Hannon I know." I have worked long and hard to create an identity for myself that I am proud of and that others can depend on. Suddenly a very public figure comes on the scene and threatens to destroy it all.
Most likely, this fake Erin Hannon will continue to be a part of the scenery on the show and I'll continue to confound and amuse like I always have, but now I am more aware that my name isn't mine alone and though I wish I could copyright it, some other Erin Hannon out there somewhere may be willing to fight to the death to make it her own.

The Erin Hannon

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Brandon and Erin