There are students at Harvard who regularly receive letters and phone calls from total strangers, accept compliments for work they never did and discover friends and relatives they did not know they had.
They are the "Harvard Doubles," the official designation for students who share the same first and last names.
Michael A. Kennedy '80 never had an identity crisis until he came to Harvard. He got his first shock at registration, where the biographical information about his mother in his registration packet bore no relation to the woman who reared him.
Kennedy avoided further trauma when he happened to meet Michael L. Kennedy '80 struggling through the line at Memorial Hall. The two Kennedys have not met since registration, but Michael A. says Michael L. is never far from his mind.
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Recently Michael A. found he is part of a Harvard Triple. A third Michael Kennedy surfaced as an employee of the Faculty Club, where Michael A. also works. They met because of a mix-up in paychecks.
Michael Novak, a graduate student in history, is used to hearing kind words about his latest article or his recently published insights into Catholicism. But Novak says he does not write articles and his studies of Baptist history leave him little time to think about the Roman Church. Novak shares the name of a prominent Catholic theologian and journalist who recently studied at Harvard.
Misplaced phone calls are the most common ailment of the Harvard Doubles. Michael A. Brown '80, who discovered he was half of a Double when he received an expository writing assignment for Michael G. Brown '80 in his registration packet, often receives calls for Michael G., who does not have a phone.
"Most of the callers don't believe it's a mix-up," Michael A. says. "They insist it must be a joke."
David E. Cohen '80 is one-fourth of Harvard's David Cohen population. He too is plagued by wrong numbers, but he finds lists his biggest headache.
"Whenever I sign up for anything. I usually make it clear to the person in charge that I'm David E.," he says.
David A. Cohen '77 says, "most people say they've met a David Cohen somewhere around."
One Harvard student who prefers to remain anonymous shares a name with a "preppy jock playboy."
"I'm always getting phone calls from the girls he's picked up," he says.
In addition to phone calls, party invitations and Christmas cards, the anonymous student even received an unexpected relative. The first week of his freshman year a "dazzling blonde" presented herself at his door, he says. claiming she was a cousin. She spent several minutes chatting with him about family matters before he confessed he did not know any of the people they were talking about, he says