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First-Name Basis

The text came through from an unknown number: “Caroline is here.” It had the ring of a pronouncement made by a footman in a Jane Austen novel. But Caroline was already here. For one, I was there. At least five other Carolines were also there. I surveyed them in my living room, tallying them up. Taking roll. Then I went to get the door. Because, well, Caroline was here. Which is to say, another Caroline was there. The other Carolines waited expectantly to sum up the new addition to our set.

With each arrival, we wanted to know how this Caroline would fit into the pantheon. How the name-bearer bore our name, if she would be worthy of a glass of mediocre white wine, tolerant of the gluten free vegan cookies I had made to please all the various versions of her, regardless of her preferences and health needs.

For years I dreamed of hosting an exclusive party for every Caroline on campus. I had wanted to meet them. I had wanted them to meet each other. I had wanted to learn their middle names. At the time, I was not aware that the Sams of Yale apparently have an annual standing brunch. At last, this evening had come. But my efforts were almost thwarted by one of my own—“it’s a Rumpus prank,” a certain Caroline had told her friend Caroline, starting a rumor that prevented perhaps a dozen Carolines from discovering their other selves. Despite this act of betrayal, the evening of Saturday, March 28 had arrived, and of the twenty-six of us at Yale that spring, nine ultimately gathered in my Park Street living room.

At points in my life, I have felt distinctly not Caroline. That the name produced a first impression out of line with the one I wanted to create. It seemed too prim, too Southern. This stance has mellowed since coming to college, a moment at which I could have switched to another name but chose not to, mostly for the sake of simplicity. I wondered if this evening would affirm my decision to remain in the league of Carolines.

Now gathered, when our language mirrored one another’s, and it often did, so too would our actions. “Caroline” someone would say, and we would all turn. In a setting where we were reminded constantly that we were Caroline, in every encounter our very Caroline-ness was questioned. One Caroline, upon receiving my email, subject line: “Hello Caroline,” initially thought it was an email from herself.

As if seeking to extrapolate my influence in the Caroline hierarchy, I constantly did the math on attendees and no-shows. Three Carolines were tied up at the Whim concert (two performing, one watching), and one wrote to me in advance to apologize for being out of town, leaving thirteen who were either too busy, too cool, or too scared to show up. To those who were too scared: should there be a next time, please come! To those who were too cool: you are a disgrace to your name. If Caroline falls from the Gawker’s rankings of popular Yale names and our numbers dwindle, don’t seek solidarity with me.

You see, as it turned out, the Carolines of Yale do in fact have commonalities extending beyond the first letter of our net ID. For one, we were all white—an uncomfortable, Freakonmics-in-the-wild realization. Even with this small sample size, we nearly confirmed the inkling that we were on the whole slightly more southern than the general Yale population. I anticipated that discussion would migrate away from Caroline-centric topics toward standard getting-to-know-you discussions, but this never really occurred. After the obviously streamlined introductions, conversations gravitated back to our established common ground. This micro-smalltalk was more amusing and personal than garden-variety conversations with strangers.

Somehow, the opportunities to discuss the impact of growing up Caroline never dwindled. We debated “Sweet Caroline” versus “Roses” (Neil Diamond beat out Outkast by a narrow margin) and the fact that Carolyn just isn’t Caroline. It would be unfair to argue that anything profound happened in that period of just over an hour. A random set of Yale students came together on the basis of a chance common denominator. Yale loves to do this to us, we love to do this to ourselves, the cycle continues. We were not so similar as to reveal an obvious underlying commonality, previously invisible outside of this context. Yet, neither were we so different that one looking hard enough at the Rorschach test of my living room couldn’t come up with some generalized conclusions.

We arranged my laptop for a photo booth picture. Unfortunately, no Carolines came prepared with a selfie-stick. We invented a hand sign for the occasion: double Cs, crossed, Chanel-like, a symbol of our newfound kinship. Later, on Facebook, someone I don’t know would comment on the picture: “I think its really awesome that yer in the nerdy girl frat.” Well. At the very least, we seemed to be friends, and I guess that’s saying something, given that many of us were complete strangers less than an hour before the flash went off.

Soon after, a Caroline had to go. Once the set had broken, the appeal of lingering dwindled. But each of us would turn the next time we heard our name called now able to imagine at least eight others who might respond, knowing that in this encounter we were the intended Caroline.


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