Tag Archives: names

Mistaken identity

Growing up, there was another family named Mintz in our town. They must have been more popular in aggregate than my family, because I got used to saying, “No, those are the other Mintzes.” Despite that, I still thought Mintz was a unique name in the universe of last names. That is, until my doppelganger started acting up in western Massachusetts.

I started getting messages on my home answering machine from accounts receivable representatives. “Miss Mintz (this was the mid-eighties and people were still routinely using Miss, and answering machines) your payment is past due. When can we expect a check?” Then collection agencies, who were not as friendly, started calling. “Your account has been turned over to us for collection. Payment is due now.”

Initially I was concerned that I had, in fact, missed a payment or bounced a check, because the caller asked for me by name, and how could there possibly be another Judith A. Mintz out there? By the second or third call I was getting suspicious. When I heard from a hospital that I had never visited, I became convinced that someone had stolen my identity.

At the time, I worked with someone who commuted a long way to our office. He arrived one day with a copy of his local paper, the Berkshire Eagle, and dropped it on my desk. “What have you been up to?” he asked. There, on the front page, was a story about a woman with my name, first, last and middle initial, who had been passing bad checks and otherwise wreaking havoc in the Berkshires. The article included a picture, and it was with great relief that I saw that the culprit was not me!

I contacted a State Trooper named in the article and explained my fear that this woman was going to ruin my credit. He was kind enough to look her up in the DMV records and report back that she had her own social security number, which meant she didn’t need to steal my identity, she had her own.

After that, I started noticing the name Mintz cropping up everywhere. Today, a quick search on the Internet shows that, in and near Boston alone, there are over one hundred Mintzes! While I was relieved to find out that the other woman existed and could be held accountable for her own debts, I was sad to discover that my name was not, after all, unique.

My husband, however, is a different story. His last name is Kleppner. Chances are good that if you meet another Kleppner, it’s a relative of his. If you do, tell them I said hello.

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A cousin by any other name

I’d like to take a quick, virtual poll. If you have a brother-in-law, do you refer to their wife as your sister-in-law; or a sister-in-law’s husband as your brother-in-law? I’m not certain, but I don’t think that’s the way we’re supposed to do things here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Those in-law spouses have no direct relationship to you. They are the nomenclature equivalent of an appendix, purely vestigial.

When I refer to my brother-in-law’s wife as my sister-in-law, I typically hasten to explain, “She’s not really my sister-in-law; she’s married to my husband’s brother.” This clarification can cause my husband to become impatient, and roll his eyes at me, because he’s thinking, ‘does it matter, who cares?’ But there are people who care. They’re the same people who will point out that you’ve mispronounced gorgonzola. This is a risk I’m not willing to take, hence my need for full disclosure about the relationship.

It will come as no surprise to you (you are, after all, reading my blog) that I love to tell stories. Many of them involve family members. When I introduce the characters I like to identify who they are in relation to me. I could take short-cuts and, for instance, refer to my husband’s cousin as my cousin, thereby saving two syllables, but what happens when someone asks, “Is that on your mother’s side, or your father’s?” I’d have to backtrack and explain that it wasn’t really my cousin, but my husband’s cousin. That takes a lot more syllables than the two I originally saved.

Other cultures have words for all these relationships. (Trust me on this. I remember writing a paper about it for a sociology class in college.) Why don’t we? I might not be as bothered by this if I didn’t have a child, but I do. And her relationship to my appendix of a brother-in-law’s wife is ‘niece.’ That person is her Aunt. If my daughter has a name for her relationship, why don’t I?

And while I’m on the subject, why do some parents insist that their children call me Mrs. Mintz, and others are fine with their kids calling me Judy? First of all, I’m not Mrs. Mintz. If I were any kind of Mrs., it would have to be Mrs. Kleppner, which is my husband’s last name. Since my last name is Mintz, that pretty much makes the whole Mrs. thing a non-starter. The really surprising thing is that the title ‘Ms.’ hasn’t made more inroads than it has. My daughter’s unmarried female teachers are Miss. So-and-so, not Ms. We’ve had plenty of time for Ms. to become mainstream, what’s the hold up here?

While you ponder these questions, I’m going to go research what I’m supposed to call my cousin’s children’s children. There aren’t any yet, but I want to be prepared.