There were twelve of us out for dinner in Buenos Aires, discussing baby names.
“Of course, in Cuba,” said Harry, whose wife is expecting their third child, “it’s common to name your son Usnavy.”
I reached for some more blood sausage. “What navy?”
“Usnavy,” Harry repeated. “As in, U.S. Navy.”
A journalist named Mateo was sitting at the head of the table. “It’s true,” he said. “Also, Usmail, Usarmy and Usa. It’s thanks to improved relations with the people of the United States. Or, at least, with their Army and their Navy.”
“And their mail?” I asked.
“That too,” said Mateo.
“Don’t forget Onedollar,” said Jimena, who was sat to my left, chain-smoking. “That’s a very popular name in Cuba.” She turned to me, blowing a thin plume of smoke over the top of my head. “Onedollar González. Can you imagine?”
“I once met a chap in Havana named Garycooper,” Harry said. “That was his Christian name: Garycooper. One word. I can’t recall his surname.”
“What’s Garycooper?” Mateo asked.
“A cowboy,” someone said.
“An actor who plays a cowboy,” said an attractive Columbian woman whose name I’d forgotten. “Or a sheriff. Have you not seen High Noon?”
I mentioned a woman I’d once seen on TV who’d named her son Hisroyalhighness. This was back when I lived in Philadelphia. “Hisroyalhighness Jackson,” I remember her telling the blonde news reporter from the steps of her trailer. “My boy gits respect. On account of he a king.”
“That’s amazing,” Harry said. “I had a Spanish teacher at school named Juan King.”
Everyone collapsed into laughter, except Mateo, who didn’t get it.
“Juan King,” Jimena said. “As in…” She hesitated, before making the universal hand gesture.
“You know there’s a school around here called Morning Glory?” said the Columbian woman, and everyone howled with laughter again.
“What’s funny?” Mateo asked, and for some reason, it was left to me to explain.
“I’d never heard of that before,” said my girlfriend, Catherine.
“The school?” Jimena asked.
“The expression,” Catherine said. “Morning glory. I didn’t know it was rude.”
“I don’t think it is,” I said, “in the United States. Though I may be wrong.”
I brought up a wealthy Texan I was sent to wine and dine as part of my first real job. We needed him to help fund the magazine I was working for, and my mission was to pick his pocket. “The problem, though,” I said, “was that I couldn’t schmooze him without wetting my pants.”
“You were scared of him?” Mateo said.
“No. I mean I was always wetting myself with laughter.”
He looked revolted. “Why?”
“Because his name was Randy Bender—which doesn’t mean the same thing in America as it does in England.”
Again, there were great howls of glee.
Mateo had his hand in the air. “Excuse me,” he said, “what’s a Randy Bender?”
The next morning, a stranger named Ben sent me a Direct Message on Instagram. “Hi,” he said, “are you by any chance the same Dominic Hilton who used to write for Guitarist magazine?”
I apologised, telling him I’m another Dominic Hilton. “I do write, though,” I added, and he thanked me for my time.
His message inspired me to do something I hardly ever do. Opening a new browser window, I nervously typed my own name into Google. To my relief, the top eight results were about me, none of them horribly embarrassing.
Things changed, though, when I clicked on ‘Images’. The first image was clearly me, but the following twenty were of another Dominic Hilton. A Dominic Hilton described by the Daily Mirror as “a male model, mental health worker and ex-escort”.
I realised my life was never going to top that of Dominic Hilton, the ‘gay sex worker’, and it was starting to depress me
“Promiscuous ‘gay’ man becomes attracted only to women after living celibate one year”, screamed a headline on something called LifeSiteNews. I clicked instead on a link to a special feature in the Daily Mail, headlined “Former male escort who slept with 150 men has realised he’s STRAIGHT after being celibate for a year – and now he wants to lose his virginity to a WOMAN”. The article was accompanied by photographs of a naked Dominic Hilton bound in chains. “Growing up Dominic loved dressing in makeup like Boy George,” read one of the less bizarre captions, “but he said now everything down to his dress sense and mannerisms have completely changed”.
I took a sip of my coffee, reading about the time my namesake appeared on the Channel 4 TV show Naked Attraction, “where contestants judge would-be suitors by what they look like in the buff.” To me, this didn’t sound at all appealing, but to the other Dominic Hilton it was “a real laugh”, something he would “recommend absolutely anybody do”. By contrast, his year of celibacy was described as “a major undertaking”.
Turning to a more recent article, I learned that Dominic Hilton lost his virginity in April 2019, after he “struck up a conversation with a girl he met on Facebook”. It made no sense to me how a man who’d previously slept with one-hundred and fifty people could be described as having “lost his virginity”, but what did I know? “It wasn’t some big romantic moment,” Dominic told the Daily Mirror, “more of a drunken fumble, but she said she was surprised I was a virgin which was a compliment.”
On the subject of his new-found attraction to women, Dominic Hilton said that he “felt more inclined to pay for things, like contributing towards her train ticket when she came to see me”. But not everyone was buying it. According to Cocktails and Cocktalk, which took a sceptical line on Dominic’s alleged conversion, “Hilton appears to have attended—or at least, expressed a keen interest in attending—at least one predominantly gay- and erotically-oriented party in the past month.” The dress code for this party was described as “jockstraps, and, er, very little else. Though Hilton took it a step further, wrapping himself in chains and sporting furry handcuffs.”
Further down the Google results page, alongside the caption “Did Abstinence Really Turn This Gay Sex Worker Straight?”, were more photos of me, the Dominic Hilton who has never been employed as a male escort and never practised celibacy. There was one of me with an ex. One of me in Ray-bans. And, most unpredictably, one of me on Pinterest, as the poster boy for “Bowl haircuts”. I realised my life was never going to top that of Dominic Hilton, the “gay sex worker”, and it was starting to depress me. I wasn’t even the other Dominic Hilton. The one who used to write for Guitarist magazine. The one who authored The Bonehead’s Guide to Guitars.
“I’m thinking of changing my name,” I said that night over dinner.
“Huh?” said my friend Beatriz. “Why?”
We were sitting on the pavement outside a neighbourhood restaurant. A man in a waistcoat was leaning against the streetlight on the corner, playing the bandoneon. I told Beatriz all about Dominic Hilton, and she said, “I don’t see the problem. You can trade on each other’s fame.”
“Fame?” I pulled apart a bread roll. “What fame? Are you joking?”
She shrugged. “Well, I wouldn’t mind having so many newspaper articles written about me. For that matter, I’d like to have slept with one hundred and fifty men!”
“I was talking about me.”
“Oh.” She took a sip her wine. “Well, I’m sure you’ll be famous one day, too.”
“Famous for what?” I asked. But just as she opened her mouth to answer, the waiter appeared with our great hunks of steak and we conveniently forgot what we were talking about.
I always quite liked my name. By pure coincidence, I was born on St. Dominic’s Day. This happy accident delighted the nuns at the hospital, who fawned over my crib, leaving my devoutly Anglican mother mystified. “You were misnamed after a Catholic saint,” is how my father always liked to put it.
My grandmother, meanwhile, was deeply unimpressed. “What kind of a name is Dominic?” she scolded my parents. “You’ve set him up for a lifetime of merciless teasing. He sounds like a… like an actor.” But my name never caused me any problems growing up, and when I moved to the United States in 2005, I discovered it had secret powers. “Dominic Hilton,” potential mothers-in-law used to say, eyeing me like their daughter was banging Prince William. “Now that’s a name with class.”
It typically took them two months or so to realise their error, which was when their husbands got involved. On one such occasion, I was invited to smoke cigars on the back deck of the house by a wealthy insurance broker. Somehow, it brought to mind that scene in The Godfather when Fredo is taken fishing.
“So, tell me, Dominic,” he said, tossing a book of matches into my lap, “what are your intentions with my daughter?”
“I meant in life.”
Of course, I had no answer of any kind. My brain had turned to guacamole and I mumbled some worthless guff about families and kids, by the grace of God.
“Uh-huh,” he said, puffing heavily on his cigar. “You’re a writer?”
The chirp of nearby crickets rang in my ears. “Sort of.”
“So how come you haven’t written a bestseller yet?”
He emerged out of a cloud of smoke to squeeze my kneecap. “You’ve been here, what, three months already? I’d say it’s time you got your writing-shit together, wouldn’t you agree?”
“My writing-shit,” I said. “Absolutely. Yes.”
In my childhood, barely a day went by when I didn’t listen to my mother say in a weary voice, “Yes, Hilton, like the hotel. No, I don’t own it—more’s the pity.” Then Paris Hilton became more famous than her family name. “Like Paris?” people started to ask.
To which I developed a stock response: “Bitch took me for everything I had.”
The lame joke still works to this day, even in Argentina, which surprised me when I first tried it out. “Haha!” said the woman behind the reception desk at the hospital. “So now you are poor and without money?”
“Right,” I said, handing her my UK credit card, thinking, Fuck you.
At university I of course told everyone I was named after F. Scott Fitzgerald
In truth, the only name that has ever benefitted me belongs to my girlfriend. We were in Punta Ballena, Uruguay, staying at a boutique spa in the hills that had seen better days. It was lunchtime when we arrived in our rented car, and the open-front restaurant was bustling with diners. Catherine took care of our booking, while I scanned the bookshelves in the atrium-style lobby, hoping to find something mindless to read by the pool. Suddenly, there was a massive commotion and the handsome gym bunny behind the reception desk shot across the stone tiles, crashing through the door of one of the staffrooms.
Catherine reached for her handbag. Standing serenely from her chair, she smoothed down her dress and stole across the lobby towards me. “Prepare yourself,” she said, “this could get weird.”
But before she could explain, we were surrounded by dozens of hotel staff in identical black uniforms. They stood staring, hands clasped behind their backs, freakish smiles glued to their faces.
“Just roll with it,” Catherine said out of the side of her mouth.
I said nothing as, one by one, each member of staff stepped forward to have their photos taken with me.
“This young man is your biggest fan!” cried the hotel manager.
A mop-haired teenager materialised alongside me, trembling so violently he could barely shake the hand I offered him. He flashed his train track braces for the cameras, before being escorted away, unable to hold himself upright.
Eventually, the manager clapped his hands twice and the staff dispersed, twittering excitedly amongst themselves. “Please,” he said, with a subtle bow, “when you are ready, you will follow me to your deluxe suite.”
I glanced at Catherine. “Upgrade,” she said through a grin.
The suite was the size of a large house. As he flung open the silk floor-to-ceiling curtains, the manager took the time to point out its many luxurious features. “And here you have your exclusive hydromassage tub to enjoy on your private veranda. We will be glad to serve you whatever you desire as you relax and soak. Please, just pick up one of your phones. Anytime—day or night.”
He straightened his tie, eyeballing me. “May I say that it is a great honour to have with us, Mr. Beck? It’s not every day that we have a famous rock star stay at our hotel.”
He left the room, refusing the tip Catherine offered him.
She turned to me, smiling. “Rock star?” I said.
“They think you’re Beck,” she explained. “As in, the Beck. On account of my surname.”
“Who knows? Who cares? Just don’t disabuse them. This is their finest suite and we’ve got it for the entire week—at the rate of a standard room. All you have to do is let people take your photograph. Maybe sign one or two breasts.”
“That grungy boy was about to faint,” I said, pointing towards the door. “I don’t get it. I don’t look anything like Beck, do I? I’m not even American. What kind of a fan mistakes me for Beck? Don’t they have Google?”
Catherine fell backwards onto one of the extravagant king-size beds, kicking her loafers towards the wet bar. “Let’s hope not,” she said.
A similar thing had happened to me several months before, back in Buenos Aires. I was playing cricket for the Hurlingham Club and was introduced in the changing rooms to a man named Piers.
“We’ve met before,” said Piers, grabbing my hand. “It’s been a few years, hasn’t it? How’s Sting?”
“I’m sorry?” I said.
“How’s Sting?” Piers repeated. “Is he… doing well?”
“He’s fine, I think. We don’t talk much.”
Piers frowned. “Why not?”
Things went on like this for some time. Later, it emerged that Piers had mistaken me for Dominic Miller, Sting’s long-time guitarist, who grew up in Hurlingham and was a member of the club. I was puzzled, as, aside from our hair, Dominic Miller and I look nothing alike. Plus, Piers had clearly met Dominic Miller on multiple occasions, so how, I wondered, did he account for the facial change?
The closest I ever came to real-life rock stardom was when I was twelve years old. My friend Janey and I formed a pop group with my ten-year-old sister, Sophie. We named our band Red Heart, after my underpants, which had little red hearts on them. This was information we left off our application form for Opportunity Knocks, the TV talent show hosted by Bob Monkhouse.
“We need to think of new names,” Janey said, chewing on the end of her biro.
“You’re right,” I said. “Red Heart is bollocks. Plus, how will we explain it? I’m not wearing my pants on national television.”
Janey shook her head. “I mean, our names. We need to sound… cooler. No offence, but Dominic Hilton sounds too posh. It’s not nearly sexy enough. And if we’re going to be famous child pop stars, we need to be sexy. I mean, really sexy.”
I thought it over. An Italian friend of my family had recently named his new son Lucio, and I was obsessed with how exotic and un-English it sounded. “How about Dominic Lucio Scott Hilton?”
Janey’s face lit-up. “Perfect!” She wrote it down on the form, adding little hearts over the i’s. “I’ll be… Stephanie Scott.”
“Well, Scott is you, silly,” she said. “And Stephanie is from Grease 2.” She wrote her new name into the box. “So, that’s it, we’re set. All we need now are some songs.”
Scott is a family name on my mother’s side, but at university I of course told everyone I was named after F. Scott Fitzgerald. I even started using the affectation D. Scott Hilton, which fooled a surprising number of my bookish peers. After reading a selection of my deranged literary ramblings, one of my girlfriends took to calling me D. Scott Fitz ‘n’ Starts. For reasons I only pretended to understand, she even had the name stitched into the front of an apron for me.
“Aha!” I said, slipping the apron over my head, trying to not look completely stumped. “Very clever, yes.”
“Isn’t it?” She threw her long, elegant arms around my shoulders, smothering me with passionate kisses. “I knew you’d appreciate it.” Her eyes glistened with tears as her cut-glass voice took on a serious tone. “One day, when you’ve written your Gatsby, we can share the joke with the world.”
“Oh, absolutely,” I said, holding my breath, living for the moment.
At the restaurant, Beatriz paid our nine euro bill, and I saw her into a taxi. Then I walked the few blocks to my home, where I intended to continue my vanity search. It was two in the morning by the time I sat at my desk with a mug of peppermint tea. I felt self-conscious, framed in the window under lamplight, typing my own name into Google, again.
I’m glad I did, though. Otherwise, how would I have ever known about Dominic Hilton, the fictional billionaire?
“Just like his father, Dominic Hilton had striking good looks,” began the blurb to The Billionaire and the Coffee Girl by Dani Douglas. “He was what every girl dreamed of having. He had a few exes. He had a few toys. But he’s never found love.”
I copied the link and shared it with my friend Luke, who lives in London. Then I closed my laptop and climbed into bed. That night, I dreamt I was a famous billionaire who drank coffee and wore an apron. My stratospheric success as a rock star was surpassed only by the universal frenzy surrounding my blockbuster first novel, The Great Gatsby Returns.
The next morning, I woke to a message from Luke. “WTF?” it said. “I guess Dominic Hilton sounds rich.”
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