Identity Theft

I’ve sometimes wondered what it might be like to be John Smith or, maybe, Bill Brown. In our corner of Connecticut we’ve been amused by the number of Bobs we know – one who built the house, another who dug our pond, still another who repairs my chain saw. What must it be like to hear your name called and realize it’s someone else? What if your name didn’t give you a clear identity?

I never faced the problem until Chris Webber became a star at Michigan State and in the NBA, but even then it was a sort of distant problem. We weren’t likely to be in the same room or see the same people.

This week identity theft hit home. I’d gone to Roanoke, Virginia to speak at a diocesan clergy day and a room was reserved for me in the Hotel Roanoke. I went to the reception desk and gave my name. They looked puzzled. “Did you check in earlier?” “No, I just got here.” “Just a minute, sir; we’ll get this straightened out.”

They were back shortly with my plastic room key and two warm cookies, a specialty of the house. “Have a nice evening.”

I took my bags to my room, came back down, and went off to dinner with the bishop and his wife at their home.

When I returned, I couldn’t open the door to my room. The inside latch was engaged as if someone were in the room. I went back to the desk for help. To my left another man was speaking to a clerk and I heard my name. “Are you Chris Webber?” I asked. “Yes,” he said; “What are the odds that two people with this name would register at this hotel on the same day?”

It turned out that we don’t have the same name at all. His middle initial is M not L, and he spells his name the German way, with one B. How could the hotel have been confused? We laughed about it and went our ways. The hotel sent a man to pry my door open. It’s a poor design that enables the latch to fall in when you close the door on the way out. No big deal.

Next morning a statement was stuck in my door showing the hotel’s charges – including an evening meal the night before. It seemed unlikely that I should have to pay the hotel for the meal at the bishop’s house so I went back to the desk. “I think that charge was for Chris Weber,” I said, “Not Chris Webber.” They apologized and reissued the statement.

But what do the John Smiths and Bill Browns of this world do? How often do they mutter about their parent’s choices of monikers? What must it be like to share your name with a multitude? A small taste of the problem is amusing; on a daily basis, I doubt it’s funny at all.

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