“We must learn to wear our names within all the noise and confusion of the environment in which we find ourselves,” Ralph Ellison once wrote.
For Jaelyn Brown and Jaelynn Brown, grade school and high school were roughly what one might imagine considering the circumstances — which is to say, punctuated by confusion.
No, the two unique names that appeared on this year’s list of Oak Park and River Forest High School graduates were not the result of a typographical error. The two young women do exist, in flesh and blood, separated by one “n”.
They aren’t exactly “twinning,” as Jaelyn’s mother, Gina Harris, said when her daughter was contacted for an interview last week. Neither girl is related, nor are they exactly best friends. Their relationship has been forged largely due to the proximity of their names.
Jaelyn, who plans to study photography at Columbia College Chicago in the fall, said she met Jaelynn (whom the former described, fondly, as “a really sweet person”) at an orientation event at Brooks Middle School.
“It was an event for all incoming sixth-graders to get to know each other and when they called our name to get a name tag, we both went up,” Jaelyn recalled (Jaelynn could not be reached for comment by Tuesday afternoon).
Since then, they’ve been locker neighbors, they’ve sat next to each other in some classes and during this year’s commencement ceremony, and have been confused for each other more times than either probably knows.
“The other Jaelynn’s aunt works at the school and people would come up to me and ask if my aunt works there,” said Jaelyn, whose complexion is lighter than Jaelynn’s, although their skin tones fall somewhere along the spectrum suggested by their last names.
But it gets even more coincidental. During a parent night in middle school, Jaelyn said, her mother, Gina, discovered she had attended OPRF with Jaelynn’s father.
Jaelyn said she was named after her father’s close friend, who passed away before she was born.
“His name was Jae,” she said. “That’s what I go by now, because it’s easier. My family is notorious for spelling things in a way they find original. They thought, ‘If we do Jaelyn, we’ll spell it J-A-E-L-Y-N and no one else will do that.’ Next thing you know, someone else did. It’s just a little different.”