Help me shut down conversations
January 23, 2015 7:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm related to a person of moderate fame in a (global) community I'm part of. We share a last name. When people ask me my name, I don't tell them my last name, but if it comes up, they ask "Oh, are you related to [famous relative]?" How do I gracefully shut down, redirect, or prevent this conversation?

Note: I cannot remove myself from this community.

I basically don't want to talk about [famous relative]. My family's all messed up, there's a bad relationship, and I don't want to feel like I'm listened to because of the relationship, and I don't like talking about it. I have had numerous awkward conversations where I've just said "yes." and left it, and the other person always asks me more. I've tried redirecting "yes...and about those knicks." I usually get more questions. What can I do to avoid this? Do I have to change my name?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (54 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"Only distantly." Even if it's your mom and you have a poor relationship, it's not entirely untrue, and it seems like this would shut down any follow up looking for juicy stories.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:16 AM on January 23, 2015 [33 favorites]

I'm not sure how closly related you are but could you get away with a grin and saying " no relation" or "no real relation" when introducing yourself?
posted by Carillon at 7:16 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is it possible to lightly deny the connection and dismiss it? - on preview, same point as above.
posted by Hugobaron at 7:16 AM on January 23, 2015

I have a relative I don't like to talk about due to a bad relationship. We were close as children.

I've had the best luck diverting the conversation by saying, "Ah, we're not in touch." And then then asking about the Knicks, etc.
posted by mochapickle at 7:17 AM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best way to change the course of the conversation is on a crazy train.
Have three or four set responses about this person that change the conversation so radically that it will flow away from the point.

- Are you related to Elvis?
- Well, I certainly do not like peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Elvis loved those things. How can anyone eat those.
- Yeah, but are you related
- I could see eating peanut butter and jelly, but peanut butter and banana - that is just crazy.

Stay hard on your re-direct, and they will eventually take the cue.
posted by Flood at 7:18 AM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Do you HAVE to admit to that relationship?

What I mean is - how would you feel about telling a white lie and saying that "not that I know...."? It happens a lot that two people have the same last name and yet aren't really related (everyone assumes Weird Al Yankovic is related to a famous polka player named Frank Yankovic, but they're actually not), so why not just claim that no, you're not, because how would they know?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:18 AM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

"I think maybe he/she is a distant cousin or something."
posted by bondcliff at 7:18 AM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I tended to dismiss family connects with a very literal wave of the hand and say "vaguely related", shake your head as if to say it's too complicated with once removed, 2nd cousin of your 5th aunt kind of vaguery, shrug, and continue moving on with the conversation. I found people lost interest quickly with that kind of brush off and moved to other topics.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 7:26 AM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

posted by empath at 7:27 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is it worth trying "wow, I get asked that a lot", and moving on? It doesn't answer the question, but it does sort of gently point out that it's perhaps too personal a question.
posted by greenish at 7:30 AM on January 23, 2015 [9 favorites]

"Yes, but we're not close."

You could be pretty good friends/colleagues with a "distant" relation, so just saying "distantly" will just invite further questions. "Oh yeah, but did you see his talk at the last X event?" type things.

By saying that you're not close, I think you'll be more effective at shutting down the conversation right there. I mean, this person could be your sister, but if you "aren't close," normal, polite people aren't going to try to pry any further.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:31 AM on January 23, 2015

posted by marimeko at 7:31 AM on January 23, 2015 [12 favorites]

Pretend the question is a joke. People probably don't actually expect you to be related.

- "Haha... people always think it's clever to ask that."
- "Yeah, I'm also the next King of Belgium."
- "Haha... maybe I am!"

Then redirect.
posted by zennie at 7:34 AM on January 23, 2015 [10 favorites]

Yeah, saying you're not close is probably the best way to make the best answer to any possible further questions be a *shrug*.

-Hey, are you related to XX?
-Sort of, but I'm not in touch with that part of the family, so *shrug*.
-But did you hear about XX doing xx?
-*shrug*..and then change the subject.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 7:38 AM on January 23, 2015

I'm acquainted with someone who had a relative privy to a major historic event. When I asked if they were related he answered, but made it clear by his tone of voice that he didn't want to further discuss it.

A poet with the same last name as a film director told me point blank that this was one of the ?s he wouldn't answer.
posted by brujita at 7:39 AM on January 23, 2015



'I don't know'
posted by edgeways at 7:43 AM on January 23, 2015

I think people usually ask that question expecting you to just say, "Ha ha, don't I wish!" or the like. My maiden name is the same name of a large multinational corporation, and people would always say, "Oh, are you related to *the* Wedgwoods?" (It wasn't actually Wedgwood, but you get the idea.) I don't think they actually expected me to say yes -- I think it was just an icebreaker. So in your place, I would just sort of respond in a mildly joking way, assuming you don't mind telling people an untruth.
posted by holborne at 7:43 AM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

"Not biblically."
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 7:48 AM on January 23, 2015

"If I was, I wouldn't admit it."
posted by Jairus at 7:50 AM on January 23, 2015 [6 favorites]

"Not really" is my favorite noncommittal answer-- it sounds concrete enough to shut down most follow up questions but doesn't really say much at the end of the day.
posted by fox problems at 7:52 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just say no. Anything else will lead to further comments about the person.

If it's someone you become close to later on you can admit the relation but by then you should be able to explain that you are not close and you don't like talking about it, and that's why you lied about it. Assuming at that point that they are enough of a friend to be understanding and let it drop.
posted by vignettist at 7:53 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

"In name only."
posted by davidmsc at 7:56 AM on January 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I get this. I had exactly that problem for a while.

I used to have this conversation:
"Oh wow - are you related to x?"
"x? No - he's related to me."

"x? Have you seen him? Dude owes me 10 bucks."

Ultimately, the problem wasn't with him. The problem was with me. I'm proud of his accomplishments. They do nothing to overshadow my own. I'm proud of those too.
posted by plinth at 7:59 AM on January 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

You know, it's okay not wanting to spill all the nasty details and to redirect. It's hard because often people who ask can seem like good online friends and you feel you owe them the whole sordid truth. With that in mind:

"man, wouldn't that be a story if we actually were?"
"I get that a lot - I'm tempted to change my last name at this point, ha ha."
posted by kariebookish at 8:00 AM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

Einstein used to tell well-wishers he wasn't Einstein and how he was always mistaken for the professor on the street. Deny the association.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:02 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's probably a good idea not to be too cagey or clever with your answer, or say anything that implies even a whiff of drama, because people might not get the hint, and you probably don't want anyone digging around for gossip. Something simple like "distantly, but we're not in touch" should work.

I'd also recommend adding something like "You know, I get that question a lot. I know people are just curious and it's a harmless question, but it's starting to get old." Even if you're on excellent terms, "are you related to [famous person]?" can be a really annoying question.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:11 AM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

"Are you related to X?"
"So I'm told."
posted by dywypi at 8:16 AM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

"They're probably in the family tree somewhere."
posted by quince at 8:17 AM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you've discovered the redirect just does not work so I agree with vignettist's suggestion: just say nope, no relation. There's nowhere for them to go after that. Anything else will not deter continuing the conversation.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:20 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

"No." "That last name is more common than you'd think." "As far as I know he's a distant relative, but we've never met." (That last one is actually true for me and someone who used to be moderately famous and who shares my last name. People never follow up.)

Remember that people are just making small talk and trying to find a connection. They don't want to make you uncomfortable with their questions, and you're under no obligation to answer them truthfully. (In the unlikely case that you've denied the relationship and it comes out at some point, you could follow up with "we're not in contact, so there's no family relationship in any practical sense'.)
posted by rjs at 8:20 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

"My so-and-so met him once and asked him if he was related to me, because we have the same last name. He just got up and walked away. So, really I don't know if I would want to be his relative."
posted by parmanparman at 8:21 AM on January 23, 2015

I use a version of what quince said.

I have a fairly unusual last name (in the U.S.) Because of that, if anyone knows anyone with the same last name they assume that I must be related to that person. My stock answer to shut things down when I get the question (and I use this whether I am actually closely related to the person they are asking about or not, because I only want to talk about my family with certain people) has become therefore something along the lines of "it is an unusual last name so I assume anyone with the same last name must be related to me somehow ... yawn ...".
posted by gudrun at 8:21 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

"Yeah, but we're not in touch" seems best. If they insist on asking about this relative anyway (which is quite rude), you should feel entirely free to say, "look, this is not a very interesting conversation for me."

That will shut it down.
posted by 256 at 8:24 AM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Since it's none of their business, I would just say "no". You're not obliged to tell the truth about this to strangers.
posted by Koko at 8:25 AM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

"Technically, but we are not close."
posted by 724A at 8:31 AM on January 23, 2015

I agree that being too evasive (like not giving a yes/no) will just bring more questions. Unless you feel comfortable saying "no," I think your best bet is something really anticlimactic like "yeah, isn't that weird? But our families aren't close, so it's more just a curiosity than anything. I don't have any good stories. Anyway, how about [redirect topic]"

Give them a clear impression that you understand why they might be interested, but there's just nothing interesting to pursue along that conversational line. It might be good if your redirect topic was something that could scratch a kind-of-similar itch for them, like if your famous relative is from a certain area, you could offer something about how you did once go to that area and they had great food, or if you have a more interesting relative on the other side, you could swing into a funny story about them instead, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:38 AM on January 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

I like the, "I get that a lot" + eye roll. It communicates: "I do not want to talk about that and it's none of your business and further inquiry would be rude."

There is probably no perfect answer that will prevent this problem. Unless you change your name, people will continue to be curious. It seems to be a fact of human nature.
posted by latkes at 9:26 AM on January 23, 2015

I'd either lie and say no, or if I really had to (very rare last name, tight-knit community where everyone would immediately know I was fibbing), I'd say "distantly" or "yes, but we're not close" or something that is a conversation ender. The goal here is to imply that you're second cousins twice removed and have potentially never even met. Nothing to see here, move along.

I wouldn't do "I get that a lot", because it invites more conversation where you don't want to. Especially with an eyeroll. It comes off like there's some meaty gossip in there waiting to be unlocked, or even that you're eager to vent about this person.
posted by Sara C. at 9:38 AM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

If I was the questioner and you answered with some sort of evasive I'm-the-next-king-of-peanut-butter-and-banana-sandwiches statement, I would probably smile politely and excuse myself from your company.

Stick with vague and non-committal.
posted by BurntHombre at 9:52 AM on January 23, 2015

I almost agree with the people who say "distantly", but to me something sounds off about it. The formalness of the word seems to me like it invites more interrogation. I would expect a followup of "how"?

For that reason I would, if it is arguably true, say "barely" instead.
posted by bswinburn at 9:56 AM on January 23, 2015

"Yes, and, wow, the stories I could tell! Unfortunately, she made all the family members sign a non-disclosure agreement, can you believe the bitch?"
posted by Dragonness at 10:08 AM on January 23, 2015

I was married to someone with a well-known last name; the celebrity was his mom. I loved her and was close with her but I think the answer would remain the same. When people would say, "Oh! Your last name is ____?! Are you related to ____?" I would respond, "Yes, she's my mother-in-law," and then change the subject. In your case, I don't see why you can't just affirm that yes, they're you're ____, and then change the subject. I think giving a cagey or smartypants answer will raise more questions than answer. If pressed, you could just say you're not close and change the subject again; I don't see why you'd lie or change your last name.
posted by kinetic at 10:14 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I like "distantly" but with the relation included, like, "He's a distant cousin" or whatever. Then if they follow up you can just tell them you're not close and be done with it. Or just say it's a common last name in the fatherland if you don't want to disclose any relationship.
posted by jabes at 10:19 AM on January 23, 2015

Oh, I have one other suggestion. I have an unusual last name and my dad has a distant cousin who's a bit of a rowdy troublemaker, in and out of jail. When people ask my mom if we're related to him, she says, "Same tree, different branch."
posted by jabes at 10:35 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

In the military, people sometimes jokingly answer inappropriate questions with "If I told you, I would have to kill you."

It sounds to me like the real issue here is not the name nor the questions per se, but that you are too nice and feel some obligation to be honest, tell people what they want to know and so on. As someone who is prone to that, let me suggest that these people will fall into two categories and each category requires a different approach:

1) People trying to make small talk.
With these people, it should be easy to redirect. No big deal. They are just looking for some means to get the conversation going. They should be just as happy to talk about whatever subject you try to insert as a substitute.

2) Assholes who are using you to try to touch greatness or get gossip or whatever.
These people are not owed anything. You don't have to be "nice" to them except insofar as you don't want to make problems worse by provoking people with zero manners and terrible boundaries. I would be inclined to give them a look that attempts to signal "God, that is the rudest fucking question I have gotten all day, I can't believe you are doing this." if it persists beyond my initial attempt to blow it off. And if push came to shove and they just won't let it go, I might just say "I actually consider it to be rude that you are not taking the hint that I don't want to talk about this." and then excuse myself.

Some people just don't have any manners. They often need things spelled out directly as to where your boundaries are and what you deem to be not okay.

Your other alternative is to make it more well known that you have the same last name, that, yuppers, you are related and, nope, you don't really want to be hounded with questions about (famous relative), thanks.

That might pre-empt these discussions. I think your error here is refusing to give out your last name as if that is something you can realistically hide. I mean, you could change your name if you really want to avoid it altogether, but since you choose to keep the same name, I think hiding it is making your problems worse, not better.
posted by Michele in California at 11:06 AM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am distantly related to a (regional) celebrity chef who shares my last name. When I get the question, I just answer "Distantly, but I've never met him." It's never gone further than that.
posted by telophase at 11:38 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can you go by a pseudonym in this community? A cool one? Then if people who knew you before ask you why you changed it, you can just say you think it sounds cool?
posted by kapers at 12:07 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have an uncommon last name that I share with some moderately known historical people so if someone asks me "are you related to Avery so-and-so?" I say "probably we have the same many greats grandfather." This may work for you, especially if it's a tightknit cultural community. It acknowledges that there could be a connection but you don't know the details or enough about them to talk about it.
posted by fiercekitten at 12:49 PM on January 23, 2015

"Yeah, but I don't really know anything about them."

If people ask more questions: "I don't know."

If the questions continue beyond a couple of repetitions of the above: "Meh" (or other expression of complete lack of interest) and redirect.

That's what I'd do, anyway. It tells people that you have nothing of interest to say, and if they persist, that you find the whole thing tedious.
posted by velvet_n_purrs at 12:55 PM on January 23, 2015

My maiden name was the name of a very well known tv personality. I was asked frequently as a kid if we were related. We are not. I usually replied, "Yeah, he's my dad" or "Actually, I am [tv personality]." Either way, it was a ridiculous and obvious lie. Everyone knew I wasn't being serious, but they almost always dropped it. If they persisted, I just said I was just joking. I don't remember anyone bugging me about it beyond that point.
posted by Dojie at 2:32 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

To paraphrase Fletch:

"Are you related to X?"
"Not as far as you know."
posted by Room 641-A at 3:52 PM on January 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

I get asked this question all the time because I have the same last name as a) a famous actor and b) a historical figure who was very important in the early days of a religion I belong to, and I can confirm both that being asked about it gets tiresome, and that saying no is an effective stopper on the conversation.

Unless you have a really unusual name, lots of people share last names with better-known folks, and I see nothing wrong with just saying, "Nope," or, "Not that I know of," or, "I get asked that a lot, but no," or, "maybe really distantly," or any other answer that says, "I don't know this person or anything about them that you couldn't read in a magazine." Sometimes it's easier to tell a social lie than to get into complicated family stuff; some chatty acquaintance recently asked me if we'd taken our kids to my parents' for Christmas, and I said my parents were dead. This isn't true. One of them is dead; I'm estranged from the other one. But who wants to get into that with somebody just trying to make conversation in a doctor's office? If you don't want to talk about your family, it may be that the only way to put a damper on people's curiosity is to make it seem like they've got nothing to gain by continuing to pry.
posted by not that girl at 4:13 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Unless you are likely to get busted for lying about this (say, your relative admits to knowing you or word gets around your community that you are his relative and a liar), I'd totally say "no relation." However, if it's somewhat well known you're Famous Douche's cousin or Douche claims you as a relative, it'll probably make you look bad if you lie and get caught at it. Maybe just go with "distantly, but I don't know him so I can't tell you any dish, sorry?"
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:57 PM on January 23, 2015

"Well, Anonymous is an unusual last name, so it's possible."


"Eh, probably."
posted by bunderful at 6:47 AM on January 24, 2015

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