Relatively recently, I dated two men in a row with the same first name—I’ll call them both Tom for the sake of this essay. One I fell in love with, and while I’m mostly over him, I’m not there all the way. Both are guys I was friends with before dating them, and I considered the possibility that the name thing would get weird with Tom 2.0, but I’d had a crush on him, so I overlooked it. They’re fairly different in personality, but the fact that in addition to sharing a name, both Toms have similar body types and professions adds to my sense that men with this name are not my type. Not to mention the fact that after I dated Tom 1.0, I had to keep calling Tom 2.0 by his full name when telling my friends about him, lest anyone get confused.
Dating men who share a name is not the same as, say, dating one guy who’s the spitting image of another, but it’s close. A name is something that pops up in your inbox and phone when you’re frantically sending all kinds of messages day and night. It’s what you whisper at the most intimate of moments. It’s an almost unconscious association. It’s a pretty omnipresent part of someone’s life. Even if you don’t start every sentence with it, as in “Tom, what do you think we should do on our date,” other people will use their name in conversation. You can’t avoid it. There’s a line in the Sleater-Kinney song “Good Things” that goes, “Got this feeling when I heard your name the other day/couldn’t say it, couldn’t make it go away.” Yeah, that.
When I was with Tom 2.0, once or twice I said his name out loud and it jarred me, because I was so used to thinking of “Tom” as referring to Tom 1.0. I’d have to pull myself back into the moment. I can only imagine that if I dated a third Tom, it would complicate the matter all the more, whether he looked like the other two or not. Maybe I’m overly sentimental, but to me names, even very, very common ones, are special. They’re woven into everything I associate with a person, whether it’s someone I’ve dated or not. Plenty of women change their last names, but what if your best friend—or your boyfriend—suddenly decided to change their first name to something completely different? It would be weird — and confusing. To wildly mangle Shakespeare, would a boyfriend by any other name be as hot?
Even nicknames take on added important. (Side note: only very special people are allowed to call me “Rach,” and if you try to without permission I will give you a dirty look.) I know that some people refer to Tom 1.0 by the full version of his name, and it sounds so much more formal and serious. It seems like a special privilege to call him “Thomas,” and I wonder if we’d lasted whether I would’ve gotten to call him that. Yes, these are the things I think about.
You know how sometimes you’re in bed with someone, or just sharing an intimate moment and you’re so overcome with relishing being next to the person that you say their name? Then they say, “What?” and you realize you literally have nothing to add (I’m a chatterbox so when I have nothing to say it makes an impact), and you say, “Nothing, I just wanted to say your name?” I had a lot of those the last times I saw Tom 1.0. I felt like I was trying to imprint what he looked and smelled and felt like, since it had been a very long time since we’d seen each other. I loved the sound of his name coming out of my mouth, whether I had something important to qualify it with or not.
To me, the way someone says your name is so powerful, almost like a magic spell. I’ve been in my fair share of relationships and hookups, but everyone says my name differently—not that it’s so exotic or there’s some wild pronunciation, but with their own inflection and warmth behind it. I fear that I would hear the echo of the other Toms every time I so much as sent a third one an email or spoke to him.
I’m working hard on moving on from the first Tom, but it’s a very slow process. There are days when I’ll see something that reminds me of him and I can actually smile and appreciate the moment without wishing I could tell him about it. Private jokes are, by their nature, private, and it would take too long and probably not translate if I tried to explain it to someone else.
I have an ex whose name actually appears fairly often in a certain type of restaurant name. Because we’re on good terms, it doesn’t bother me and I’ve eaten in these restaurants without having a fit of nostalgia. Right after our breakup, though, I wouldn’t have been caught dead in a restaurant featuring his name. A friend told me about dating multiple guys named “Ben”: “The first one beat me up, the second one cheated on me, the third one died of a drug overdose and the fourth one had the smallest penis I’ve ever seen in my life!” She’s actually friends with two of them, and says, “I’m not very superstitious, so I would still go out with one if he seemed otherwise great.”
Now, the real test would be is if I met the “perfect” guy and his name was Tom. It’s easy enough in the abstract to say I’d tell him to find a girl who didn’t have issues with men named “Tom,” but I don’t know if I would be able to truly reject someone just because of their name, or how I’d feel if someone did that to me. I hope I don’t have to put this essay’s premise to the test, though, because it seems like it would be a lose-lose situation. I guess a compromise would be dating him but calling him a special nickname to avoid having to say “Tom” over and over again. The universe would definitely be laughing at me if it presented