What are my kids' names? Err, um...

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The Independent Culture
WHEN I was child it used to perturb me that my mother could never remember my name. Not straightaway, at any rate. If she addressed me directly, she would usually get to "David" only after having run through all my siblings, my dad, my aunt Gill, and (I am not exaggerating) the gerbil and the dog. Sometimes even the dog's long-dead mother would feature in this list of "my" names.

Now I come to think of it, it's possible that this roll-call was like a mnemonic: the best way of recalling who I was, was to go through this elaborate process. Today, with my poor old dad, the dog and the gerbil all passed away, the whole thing takes less time than it used to.

And now I do it, too. Each of my three daughters is liable to be called by the names of the other two. Worse, almost any woman with whom I am having any kind of debate or animated discussion, will be called "Sarah", after my partner, or - in the most extreme and embarrassing circumstances - "Mum".

It's getting worse too. All my kids have friends, those friends have parents, those parents have names. The teachers, inconsiderately, possess names, too, as do the piano tutors and swimming instructors.

These are all, nowadays, names that you get into trouble for not remembering. It is one of the many curses of middle age that, just as your memory begins to desert you, you need it more than ever. So how the hell, I wondered this weekend - as I pondered the news from California - how the hell has Gordon P Getty got away with it for all these years?

Getty, of course, is a scion of that art-loving family of troubled billionaires, which originally made its money out of oil or pork bellies or both. The fourth son of J Paul Getty (who ensured himself a place in posterity by putting his initial at the front, instead of in between his other names), Gordon P is now 64, and - it transpires - a bigamist.

No, that's not strictly true; he's a polyfamilialist. In San Francisco he and his wife Ann, a "socialite" (an occupation which - in America - connotes someone who gives her money to the poor) have raised four sons, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter. However, for the last 14 years a Cynthia Beck, has been bringing up a parallel family of Gettys - all of them girls - who go by the names of Nicolette, Kendalle and Alexandra.

They hang out 400 miles down the coast in Los Angeles. Their existence only became publicly known when documents were filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court, supporting a petition that the girls - who are aged between 14 and eight - be allowed to change their surnames to Getty.

Now, I think that there are two improbable aspects to this story. The first is the claim that San Francisco high society is "shocked" by this news. I've read Armistead Maupin, and I know that this is a social group among whom auto-erotic asphyxiation is regarded as a bit passe. These people are not shocked - they are delighted.

But the second problem is far more intriguing; just how has Gordon coped with family life times two? It helps, of course, that he had only boys in San Francisco (how apt!) and only girls in LA. But even so, how does he recall that pony-tailed, bronzed Hal is tennis tutor here, whereas it's bronzed, pony-tailed Herb there? Which kid was elected "most likely to zero the Porsche" in their last year at High School? And who's in the junior detox clinic coming down from a cocktail of coke and Viagra: is it (a) Peter, (b) Nicolette, (c) both of them?

The logistics have been immensely simplified by the fact that, for much of this time, each mother has known about the other. Ann has "no plans" for a divorce, apparently, devoting all her time to the noble cause of "socialitism". And being hugely wealthy must help. But it cannot be the deciding feature, because there have been instances of much poorer men - usually long-distance lorry drivers or travelling salesmen - who have also maintained several families at once.

It throws new light on adultery, doesn't it? At first it seems that the proportions here are all wrong. Surely the happy man would have several inamorata, but only one bunch of sprogs.

Ideally, as in the golden days of the French aristocracy, the ratio of lovers to families should be about 4:1. Certainly it should never fall below 2:1. Unless, of course, men like Gordon haven't been leading double lives for the sex at all. Suppose that, rather than wanting wall-to-wall fal de rol, what guys really like is having many, many, many children by many, many, many women. Suppose, too, that more of us would do it, if we could just remember their blasted names.