Too Many Freds

It's clear the world is overpopulated. You know this when you discover how many of those many people have your name. This happens to John Smiths and Jane Joneses. But not to Frederic Hunters.

Only it's happening.

At a luncheon the other day, an acquaintance who had written a musical sat next to me. During a lull she chirped: "Oh, I saw the other Fred Hunter yesterday." This "other Fred Hunter" is a landscape designer, also interested in the arts. We have met on the phone, sorting out mismatched messages from our answering machines.

"He is the most wonderful singer and actor," twittered my acquaintance. "He's made a CD of my show, in fact. I'll give you one."

"I'll bet it has my name on it," I said.

"Sure does," quoth she. "You can put it on your coffee table, and everyone will be impressed!"

All Fred Hunters are pleased when another Fred Hunter turns out to be talented and productive. Trouble is, there are just too many of them.

The real shock came in these very columns. I had been publishing the occasional essay here for years. Then, curiously, I read one by me that was not by me. In a style that was not my style. Discussing a subject I knew nothing about. Sometime later, this newspaper sent me a 1099 form: I owed tax on writing I had never written.

Still later, the college I attended decades ago sent a bookstore bill made out to me. But I had not been there for years. Turned out it was this same fellow, the one who'd published an essay with my name on it but not written by me, a London Fred Hunter.

You wouldn't think there were two Frederic Hunters, both writer-types, both bookish, inhabiting the same tiny subculture. But there are.

You wouldn't even think there were many Freds at all. For Fred is a name of the past. Unlike Jasons and Jeremys and Jedediahs, very few Freds are under age 30. No Fred has won the girl in a Hollywood movie in more than a generation. Fred is what TV sitcoms call the pooch. Or the parakeet.

You probably don't remember, but time was when every reprehensible act described in - it was either Ann Landers or Dear Abby - was done by "I'll call him Fred." I wrote the columnist, whimpering that, on behalf of the Freds of this world, could she please let up? (Those good women must read their mail, because Fred is off the hook. He isn't the heel anymore.)

The other Fred Hunter in my town, the landscape designer, sometimes writes letters to the editor of our local paper. Moderate letters. I admire their carefully reasoned positions. But I don't always agree with them. (I write letters, too, and he probably doesn't agree with mine!)

Fortunately, most people do not remember the content of your letters (in this case, not my letters). They only recall their existence.

"Saw your letter in the paper," friends will greet me on the street.

"Not mine," I will say.

"Not yours?"

I explain. Deep frowns.

"Really! Well. What was it about again?"

I explain, again.

"I didn't know you thought that," they reply, hurrying on their way.

"I don't!" I call. And feel ever more anonymous.

Fred Hunters are a dime a dozen. Bob Hope played one once in a movie.

There's a Fred Hunter in Anaheim, Calif. He is (or was) the mayor, in fact. His critics charge that he accepts too many free passes to Disneyland.

Thanks to the Internet, it is now possible to check out almost every other person in the United States who has your name. There are 81 Frederic or Frederick Hunters listed in telephone directories throughout the country - and who knows how many unlisted ones.

ACTUALLY, the situation in America is only annoying. In China, it is catastrophic. China's 1982 census found 87 million people with the surname Li. Wangs were 80 million, Zhangs 78 million. (In America we have a mere 2.4 million Smiths, our most common surname.) Given names are in short supply in China, too.

So why am I complaining? Because I grew up believing that I was unique. I am a twin, and our parents always stressed that we were different even though there was another guy who looked exactly like me. People everywhere have my name. There is a Freddye Hunter in Los Angeles. Also a Fredericka. And Freds and Fredericks and Fredrics. There are probably Fredrix out there, too.

I can't beat 'em. But I don't want to join them. Maybe I'll just sign myself...

PhredRik Hunter

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