What’s in a middle initial?

Its no wonder parents struggle to choose unique names. No one wants to share a name with someone.

I was in high school when I realized that I shared my name with another woman.

I was picking up dry-cleaning and looking at pants that appeared to have shrunk. I wasn’t sure they would fall past my calves, if I managed to pull them on at all. Noticing my hesitation, the store owner went back to the rack and selected another bag. Same name, very different stature.

There was another Jill Duling in the village. Two same-named individuals living among 2,500 residents. Small world. Eternally grateful that my pants hadn’t been miniaturized, I didn’t give my shared identity a second thought.

Until the first week of gainful employment at my first professional job. I received a congratulatory phone call from someone who, in the course of conversation, asked me how my boys were enjoying Cub Scouts. Not having small children, I told the caller that perhaps she was speaking with the wrong Jill Duling. She was embarrassed. To which I said, “Don’t be! There are two of us; it could happen to anyone.” Secretly, I thought, “It’s really my name though. The other Jill married into hers.”

However, I thought it wise to begin using my middle initial. One of my professors in college loved to tell the story of Ron Smith being indicted for an alleged assault, while Ron Smith helplessly read newspapers and watched news shows and was assumed to be the suspect Ron Smith. His point was that you can never spend too much time fact-checking a story, and just because two individuals share a legal name does not mean that one wants to be confused with the other and his/her actions.

You can see where I’m going with this.

The third time I thought about my shared name was when I received a phone call from a former employer notifying me that she had received a peculiar call from someone who needed to contact me immediately. That was all the more information the caller would give. Unsure of where this was going to go, I decided to return the call.

The number belonged to a collections officer at a collections agency. One that was looking for Jill Duling.

“Collections?” I thought in a panic. “But, I pay off all of my bills well before their due dates!” When read “my” home address, I stopped the gentleman.

“That’s not my address,” I said.

“You don’t live at XXXXX Rd. Y?” he re-asked.

“No, I don’t,” I said. “But, I’m not the only Jill Duling in town. Perhaps you’re looking for her.” The collections officer apologized profusely for taking up my time. No big deal, I said. It could happen to anyone. “Thank goodness I’m using my middle initial,” I thought to myself upon hanging up.

Thank goodness, indeed. Because, surely we wouldn’t share a middle initial, too, right?

About a month after that call, I was reading through the public docket in the local newspaper. Guess whose name appeared under Foreclosed Properties” That’s right. “Mine.” Jill A. Duling. Printed for all to see.

“We share a middle initial, too!” I exclaimed in disbelief. What is this world coming to? And, why had I not considered this possibility before? Two Jill Dulings? Fine. Two Jill A. Dulings? Come on! While I felt badly for her situation, I took some solace in seeing her husband’s name printed alongside hers. But, I knew people who knew of me but didn’t know me well could assume I was her or she was me.

And that’s when I began to think this whole shared-identity thing could potentially be very annoying. It’s bad enough that identity theft is rampant in today’s world, but to be concerned simply because you share a name with someone? And, to know that a future employer (or anyone for that matter) can conduct an Internet search and see both names with the same hometown and come to an incorrect conclusion?


Earlier this week, my mom e-mailed to tell me that she’d again read “my” name in the public records of the local newspaper. This time for a judgment owed. She was pretty certain I wasn’t the person being described, but she wanted to let me know that my name was in print. Or, not my name, but, well, it is my name.


I contacted the county’s Clerk of Courts office to see if public records could be changed to indicate a full middle name versus a middle initial. Surely, her middle name cannot be Ann, too, right?

“Oh, there are several lawsuits filed against that name by different attorneys’ offices, and you would need to contact each one, I think,” said the assistant. “But, I don’t really know. What an inconvenience for you!” Yeah, thanks. The newspaper reporter who filed the information wasn’t much more helpful.

“The court dockets only list middle initials in their records,” he said. “I know this is an unfortunate burden for people with the same name, but to make this change we would have to get the court system to change the way they list things.”

Get the court system to change the way they do things? How about I just poke my eyeballs out now and call it a day?

So much for hoping my middle initial distinguishes me from the next Jill Duling. Mom thinks I should simply start going by Jill Ann. My friends think I should take my husband’s name. At this point, I’m uncertain which would be more painful: being accidentally mistaken for someone I’d rather not be mistaken for OR resubmit every last scrap of paper with my name on it to several different American and Canadian government organizations and wait for re-issuance.

It’s going to be a tough decision.

In the meantime, if someone asks, I’m NOT the Jill A. Duling in the daily docket or public records of your local newspaper.

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4 thoughts on “What’s in a middle initial?

  1. Josh Smith says:

    Tell me about it!

    Someday I hope to use the fact that I share the name with an NBA player to get great seats in a restaurant.

  2. well. the way i see it, anyone who had a brain would know its not you.

  3. Jason Duling says:

    I think you should legally change your name to include “Patty”. Maybe “Jill Ann Patty Duling”, if you like

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