Back in 2005, when Marissa Cooper was still alive on "The O.C.," and "The Simple Life" was still airing on Fox, Paris Hilton was engaged to a Greek shipping heir named Paris Latsis. I remember reading about Paris’s betrothal to Paris on Perez Hilton or in Us Weekly or some other tabloid, thinking about the absurdity of that situation.
I tried to imagine Paris Hilton turning to her fiancé every night before going to bed and saying, “I love you, Paris." There was something about seeing a couple share the same first name, especially a name that is so unique, that felt almost so perfect as to be manufactured.
I blamed the failure of Paris and Paris’s relationship on their matching first names, and made a mental note to never make that mistake. Given that my name—Maxine—hasn’t been popular since 1923, according to the Social Security Administration, I didn’t think I would ever have to worry about it. But what I forgot to account for was that I’ve always been called “Max,” which has been the most popular name for dogs for two years running, and consistently more popular of a name for human babies than “Maxine,” especially among human babies of the male variety.
For most of my life, people have called me “Max,” rather than my full name. Even when I was germinating in my mom’s belly, or however pregnancy works, my parents told me they referred to me not as “he” or “she” or “it,” but as “Max.” Really, the odds were never in my favor.
Fast forward to 2010, when I started dating a guy named Max. We went to the same college and had a class together when I was a freshman and he was a junior. We didn’t start dating until I was a sophomore and he was a senior, and I drunkenly bumped into him on the street. I recognized him from that class and used him to escape the terrible date I had been on. Max was funny and smart and rocked a great beard, so we started dating pretty quickly.
This was also my first serious relationship, and Max and I were together for about two years, but it only took a couple of months to figure out dating someone with the same first name comes with a lot of baggage.
Dating someone with the same first name was cute at first, if only because others thought it was sickeningly adorable, a sign of instant and lasting compatibility. I remember telling my friends that the guy I had been seeing was named Max, and getting coos of approval.
“That is too cute! You can’t hate someone with the same name as you!”
As the months ticked by, I realized there were some benefits, albeit small ones, to sharing a first name. Like when we ordered food or coffee at a counter, there was never be confusion about whose name to give. I also think I gave him more of a chance, the benefit of the doubt, at the beginning of our courtship because we did share a name. There was something just too serendipitous about it not to give it a real shot.
But there were many annoyances, and for every person who enjoyed the novelty of our matching first names, there was someone who scoffed at us or thought we must be joking.
Max and I would often be lumped together, which, in all fairness, is a problem many long-term couples face. But there was something about being referred to as, “The Maxes” that felt like we were being reduced to a single Max, rather than two unique individuals.
Often, when we were out together, people would call for "Max," and we'd both turn our heads. When the person actually being summoned was my boyfriend, not me, it was sometimes hard to pretend not to be a little disappointed. To solve this constant confusion, his friends took to calling me “Xine,” the second half of my name, since the first half was already taken by my boyfriend.
This was the first time I had ever not been called either “Max” or “Maxine,” and using the second half of my name had the unintended effect of making me feel inferior to the other Max in my life.
For two years, I felt like a piece of my identity had been stripped away. I was being denied my own name because of the person I was dating, not because I had changed or was a different person or really gave anyone approval to start calling me something different. I’ve always loved my name, especially how unique it is. Over the years, I’ve gotten used to compliments from strangers or new acquaintances about how pretty my name is, or how the person has never met a “Maxine” before. By dating a Max, I lost a part of that individuality, and was automatically, without consent, melded into a unit.
I think sharing the same first name as my boyfriend also blinded me to some of the problems we were having in our relationship. I refused to acknowledge some of the problems that had been building for a while because I loved the story of how we met and I bought into the romanticism of sharing a first name. There was something so cosmically perfect about finding someone who I loved who also happened to have the same name that it seemed silly to give that up, even as we started fighting more.
But sharing a first name wasn’t reason enough to stay with someone forever, especially if nothing else worked. I finally broke up with Max in March 2013, and with the break-up came a bit of a relief. My name was my own again, and that felt really good, especially as I started to find myself outside of this two year-long relationship and dating again.
Not long after Max and I ended things, I signed up for OK Cupid to find a rebound, and maybe even a new boyfriend. One of the first dudes to message me said, “My name is Max. In college I had a girlfriend named Maxine,” and I couldn’t just ignore this second lightening strike. This Max had to be different from the Max with whom I had ended things, and I had to give this Max a shot, too. We did have the same name, after all.
But after three dates I stopped responding to “new” Max's texts, not because he wasn't sweet and cute, but because I couldn’t stand the thought of dating someone with the same first name again. It seemed totally ridiculous to start dating a guy named Max after having just broken up with another guy named Max, and I didn’t want to go through the whole rigamarole of explaining why it wasn’t weird that we had the same first name…again.
It’s easy to say that your significant other’s name doesn’t matter, but names are an important part of our individual identities and dating someone with the same first name made me feel like my own identity was diminished in favor of a shared one.
I am Maxine, and although it might not be fair to the other Maxs out there, being named “Max” is a deal breaker in my book. It’s not you. It’s your name.