Conforming Couplings

This occupied the "My Turn" column in NEWSWEEK on February 15, 1993.

To everyone who has ever asked whether I married my wife, Leslie, strictly for her name, I wish to state unequivocally that the answer is no. The woman possesses a multitude of charms, of which her married name is only one.

To be sure, neither of us initially appreciated just how charming a name Leslie Leslie is. Leslie herself was discomfited by its essential preposterousness and stuck with her serviceable but lusterless maiden name till we'd been married about a year. Then, emboldened by the delight our friends took in her prospective appellation, she at last took my name, in the process doubling her own. She immediately discovered that her new name is both a guaranteed conversational icebreaker and a sure means of detecting a sense of humor. Those who possess one typically laugh when they hear her name, while the others lamely ask, " No, really- what's your name?" or say nothing at all. The curious ask whether Leslie knew she would marry me as soon as she met me (she did not), or whether she had been looking for me all her life (conceivably, but certainly not because of my name). Those with a sarcastic bent mutter that she must have really loved me to saddle herself with a name like that (she did). A special few display wit of their own, as when a man said, " I suppose you're from Walla Walla." (She isn't.)

The name confuses many people. Convinced that her name cannot possibly be what it is, telephone solicitors apologize for what they presume is a clerical error instead of apologizing for the calls themselves. Business-data keepers frequently misplace her files and do not apologize at all. For some reason the California Department of Motor Vehicles is partial to Leslie's middle name, sending missives to Leslie Leslie Ellen. The recorder of deeds in a small Vermont town where she owns a parcel of land mysteriously refuses to honor her repeated requests to list the property in her new name.

Once they get their bearings straight, people most often tell us about other notable names. We've learned of actress Evans Evans, the late professional bowler Joseph Joseph Joseph, as well as Herman Herman, Judy Judy, Terry Terry, Ho Ho, Subas Subas, Kelly Kelly and Gonzales Gonzales Gonzales. We've been told about two other Leslie Leslies, including a man, the former owner of a car dealership a mere hundred miles from our house. According to a woman we met years ago on an airplane, there is even a club for people with the same first and last names. Months after the flight Leslie and I decided to find out more about the club. Although we thought we'd taken down the passenger's name, we couldn't find it. When we tried to call her, we ended up speaking to a passenger we'd met on another flight. She never heard of such a club, she said. All she knew about was a club in New York City for people named Ellen Levine.

By now, we've come to understand that double names are everywhere. Newspapers have reported on the exploits of Dudley Dudley, the former Democratic state chair in New Hampshire (who has the added distinction of being a woman with a double male name); pop singer Lisa Lisa; rapper May May; fashion designer Barbara Barbara; swimmer Yang Yang, and assassin Sirhan Sirhan. I like to imagine that people with double names are cultural connoisseurs whose tastes reflect their appellations. Their favorite books feature such characters as Humbert Humbert, Major Major Major Major and Meyer Meyer, and their favorite rock groups are Duran Duran, Mister Mister, Liquid Liquid and The The. When the musical production "Oba! Oba!" is in town, they see it. And they yearn for the Double Name Film Festival, showing "Author!, Author!," "Movie Movie," "Europa Europa," "Olivier Olivier" and "Tore! Tora! Tora!"

Of course, I haven't completed my roster of attendees yet. If we loosen our standards just enough to include double names camouflaged by extraneous initials, middle names and titles such as "Jr.," the list includes photographer Horst P. Horst, former Time Warner Inc. president Nicholas J. Nicholas Jr., writers Ford Madox Ford, Thomas T. Thomas and Jerome K. Jerome. And a few months ago The New York Times solemnly carried the obituary of Lawrence Shubert Lawrence Jr., son of Lawrence Shubert Lawrence Sr., father of Lawrence Shubert Lawrence III, and graduate of-where else? -the Lawrenceville School.

Further relaxation of the rules lets in U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, cellist Yo Yo Ma, theologian Martin Marty, Louisiana lawyer Robert Roberts, III, and Richard Richards, a California state senator in the '50s. William Williamses are so common that [italics]Who's Who in America[end italics] lists 10 of them. That doesn't include poet William Carlos Williams and the late New York disc jockey William B. Williams (who occasionally called himself Guillermo B. Guillermos). And A. A. Milne's James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree probably deserves a category all his own.

Children's books, in fact, have special resonance with Leslie Leslie, since one of her favorite childhood tales foreshadows her acquisition of a double name. The book, Carl Sandburg's " Rootabaga Stories," features characters looking for "a sign and a signal," a search that Leslie Leslie has tried to carry out in her own life. She didn't understand then, however, that one signal worth noting was in the story itself: many of its main characters possess double names. One of them, Jonas Jonas Huckabuck, is asked why his parents gave him "two names the same in front." He answers, "Two names are easier to remember. If you call me by my first name Jonas and I don't hear you, then when you call me by my second name Jonas maybe I will."

I know from experience that Leslie Leslie answers to either name- unless she's doing the cha-cha or playing the tom-toms. Ta ta.