Are you related to…?
I thought I’d written about having a daughter named Brittany Spears before, and all the odd connections we have with the singer of the almost identical name and her family, but apparently not. I have, however, published a poem about it at the very least. Warning: this is going to ramble a bit.
So, it’s 1999, my daughter is 8 1/2 years old, my ex and I have been separated for nearly 4 years, and I’m in my final year as an undergraduate. I’m getting ready for class, checking email, drinking coffee; the alarm clock is tuned to a Top-40 radio station. It’s a song I haven’t heard before, and wouldn’t have given a second thought to until the DJ came on afterward and said “that’s local girl Brittany Spears.” Or at least that’s how I spelled it in my head, right about the time I wondered if my ex had been involved in something that I didn’t know about.
I learned later that Britney Spears was from Kentwood, LA, about 40 miles north of where I was living and going to school at the time. I learned that she’d been a minor star for quite some time, and that she was about to eclipse the last famous person to come from the region, Michael Jackson (not the singer).
I also learned, quite by coincidence, that she had a brother named Bryan who was a student at the same university I was attending. I found this out because a year earlier, a friend had asked why I wasn’t in math class that morning, to which I replied “I finished my math classes when I changed majors to English because I couldn’t pass my math classes.” (I’d been a chemistry major prior to that.) Bryan Spears was, I believe, a kinesiology major. Our mothers both go by Lynn as well.
All this serves as a great way to introduce myself to my classes at the beginning of each term, by the way. I dread the day when Britney Spears becomes so irrelevant that my freshpeople no longer recognize the reference. I wish for a Madonna-esque career for Britney, truth be told.
The question I always get is “are you related to Britney Spears?” and I will admit to often answering “yes.” This is especially fun when the question comes in the form of a drunken Facebook friend request. I usually follow up with an explanation like the one above.
But the truth is that we probably are. Amy, when she attended a writing workshop in St. Augustine a couple of years ago, met a woman who shared my last name, and who looked an awful lot like my aunts. She’d done some genealogical research and traced most of the southern Spears to a single man in north Florida who’d had two families–a black one and a white one. He had over 30 children between the two wives, and most of them had spread throughout the south. My branch–assuming I came from this lineage–made it all the way to south Texas, while the singer’s branch (same assumption, but not an unlikely one) only made it to Louisiana, where we glanced off each other before moving on.
The other funny thing is that my side of the family also has a connection to music. My grandfather was a fiddle player and my uncle Bee has been Willie Nelson’s bass player for almost as long as I’ve been alive. I have musical cousins, and Brittany was an in the All-State Honor Band when she lived here in Florida. Another connection?
My daughter dealt with name similarity about as well as can be expected. In some ways, the name was a blessing. My ex and I both moved around a lot when she was young, and Brittany attended probably 5 or 6 different schools by the time she’d reached 8th grade. The name made it a little easier for her to break the ice with strangers. At one point, when she was in the 7th grade, she asked us to call her by her middle name–Amy and I did so happily, but her friends refused to make the change, and so she went back. We call her Monkey more often than not anyway.
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