Nice to Meet Me

Connecting with others who share my name made me look at myself in a different light.

It started six months ago with a friend request to a stranger who bore my name. This other Jesse Hughey and I had no mutual Facebook acquaintances among our collective 1,572 friends, and I knew of no family members who lived in his home state of Alaska or his current city, Seattle, or anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. I lived in Dallas and was about a decade older—or a lifetime older, if I accounted for the vitality that parenting has sapped from me over the past 21 years. From how we each looked in photographs, nobody would peg us for relatives. Still, I thought, we didn’t look terribly dissimilar if you compared our eyes and noses. Then again, you’ll start to see yourself in anyone if you look long enough.

I’d been aware of the Seattle Jesse Hughey for more than a decade. Ours was an uncommon enough name that he was the only other one I found on MySpace when I signed up. Like me, he wrote songs and played guitar, but he also sang, whereas I was content to let others handle vocals, and it was obvious he was a more serious aspiring rock star. Back then he lived in Oregon, but his band’s name, Jack Ruby Presents, referred to the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of Dallas.

From what I gleaned, we went through similar phases in music tastes, clothing, grooming, and politics. We both played in bands that featured banjos a few years before groups following the Mumford & Sons template made the twangy instrument seem ubiquitous. And if you would expect two 21st-century folk-rock dudes to go through extended periods of plaid-wearing, facial-hairing, and earnest political post-sharing, you won’t be shocked to learn we both did those things too.

After years of not acknowledging him, I reached out to the Seattle Jesse in January, at a time when names were on my mind. My wife and I were trying to have a child, and every conversation about it included a discussion about names. None sounded right. During one conversation, Emily, my wife, asked if I had any desire to go with Jesse Jr. if we had a son.

“Of course not,” I said reflexively. Why start a new life with a hand-me-down name? But as we rejected idea after idea, I reconsidered. There was nothing wrong with the name. I’d always liked it.

It made me think of the Jesse Hughey in Seattle. If he had so many similarities to me, maybe others did too. I set out to find as many other Jesse Hugheys as I could on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, hoping to dig up strange coincidences, those uncanny revelations that give you goose bumps, like when you talk with a stranger in an airport and discover that you once lived on the same street or have a mutual friend, and it makes the world seem just a bit smaller. I wondered how much, if at all, our lives had been guided by this particular combination of vowels and consonants.

On a Thursday afternoon, I overcame my reluctance to be seen as a cyberstalking crackpot and clicked “Add Friend.” As I waited for Seattle Jesse’s response, I scanned the profiles of the other Jesse Hugheys on the platform. Some seemed to have odd things in common with me. Others could have been from another planet.

One had a wispy beard and sported a nose ring in the same nostril on which I still had a scar from a youthful piercing. A sous chef, he could have been me had I become serious about my off-and-on kitchen and service industry employment in my early 20s. (I’m now 40.) Another Jesse featured a profile picture of a young man with two black eyes, a split lip, and various facial abrasions. The pic was from April 2014, a few months after I’d been on the losing end of a donnybrook that left me looking about the same. A third bragged, in all-caps, about juggling four romantic relationships. His last status update was eight years ago. Perhaps he matured out of treating women that way, or at least stopped using all-caps.

I imagined him as me in a parallel universe where I focused on creative pursuits in my 20s.

I eventually friend-requested all my name fellows—there were five to seven, I think. The Seattle Jesse Hughey accepted my request within hours, but only two others replied to my messages, and neither divulged much information. One had a ponytail like mine in high school and posted memes with captions like “Wolves don’t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep.” He asked how many of us were out there and when I guessed at least five, he joked that he didn’t know his name was so popular. The other Jesse was the nose-ringed sous chef in South Carolina, whose page featured photos of gorgeous steaks and desserts. He declined to provide further contact info, saying, “FB messenger will be just fine,” in his final response to me.

Things got eerie a few days later when Seattle Jesse answered the one question I had sent him: “What’s your story?” He too had studied creative writing in college, though where I focused on fiction and journalism, his emphasis was on song lyrics. He sent me links to music from his various projects. One, a band called Grey Waves, was how I had dreamed a friend and I sounded in high school when we would stay up until morning in his smoky apartment recording onto a four-track cassette, improvising and experimenting with guitar pedals and effects—except this Jesse Hughey’s music was good. For the last couple years, he’d been supporting himself as a freelance writer and photographer.

It turned out that our full names were identical: Jesse Thomas Hughey.

I imagined him as a version of me in a parallel universe where I focused on creative pursuits in my 20s, untethered by the need to buy diapers and child care and health insurance. In the real world, the course of my last two decades was steered by two choices I’d made at 19. Twenty-one years ago, I asked my first college girlfriend to marry me and just weeks later embraced the accidental pregnancy that produced a strange and wonderful child. That child became a young woman with such astonishing talent and disarming kindness that I accepted her own monumental late-teen decision: to attend a ludicrously expensive art college. She was joined by an equally brilliant and thoughtful brother, who was now considering out-of-state pre-med programs, each costlier than the last. Now here I was with their stepmother trying to add a third to the brood.

faces illustration

At 31, this other Jesse Thomas Hughey looked, at least from my vantage, open to any possibility, whereas my 40th birthday coincided with the decision to have another child, essentially eliminating the possibility of any drastic mid-career, midlife risks I’d have been inclined to take otherwise. These hypothetical adventures that I pictured myself embarking on in my 40s but was unlikely to hazard when I was pushing 60 included—but were not limited to—quitting my day job, selling our home and using the money to travel, moving to another country, and buying a motorcycle.

Being a father was far and away the most meaningful thing I’d done with my life, and I was pretty good at it. Still, I envied the younger, childless Jesse.

A few days later, I called him. The longer we talked, the more similarities popped up. We listened to many of the same bands—both of us were Radiohead and Thom Yorke fanatics. Both of us were the oldest of three, with near-identical age gaps between siblings, and our birthdays fell on the same day of the month, though a month apart. He’d worked for a coffee shop and bean-roasting franchise, making at least three Jesse Hugheys who had done long stints in the food industry. And both our wives worked in healthcare.

Seattle Jesse was now the creative director on what he referred to as a “startup screenplay,” overseeing the narrative arc on a sci-fi series about superhuman protagonists who help create the internet. My cross-country doppelganger just happened to be conceiving a TV series about connecting people.

A half-hour later, we said our goodbyes. I sat and reflected, wondering if our parallel paths would cross again, if we were linked in some strange cosmic manner. I almost offered to buy him a drink if he ever came to Dallas but didn’t. I wondered what he left unsaid. Two days before the conversation, my wife found out she was pregnant, but I didn’t mention it, nor did I ask him if he and his wife planned to have kids, or if she happened to be expecting too.

That night, as Emily and I batted baby names back and forth yet again, my ambivalence about having another kid slowly gave way to excitement about being a dad for the third time. Eventually, we found out we were having a boy. We decided to name him after Emily’s father, Malcolm. He deserved the honor, though no more than my father (Mark) or a few other family members whose names we considered recycling. Malcolm Hughey was simply a cool-sounding name.

In the end, we had ruled out Junior, but not because my name had determined my path. It hadn’t. My choices and reactions to life’s circumstances—falling in love, becoming a dad before I was out of my teens, dropping music dreams to focus on a writing career that had turned out to be fulfilling if not enriching, parental pride, heartbreak, falling in love again, becoming a dad once more—were what made me who I am.

Jesse Hughey is an editor at Cowboys & Indians magazine. Email him at

Illustrations by Rob Wilson

Originally Published June 2018