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Ah, to just be plain Jane Doe

Scarlett O'Hara, the one who lives in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., remembers arguing with her husband one day while they were standing at the door.

"I tried apologizing to him, but he wouldn't listen," Mrs. O'Hara, 55, recalled. "Even though I said I'm sorry, I'll be darned if he didn't turn to me and say" _ you guessed it _ " "Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn.' "

Our names define us. More than mere labels, names often possess the strange ability to shape _ and at times change _ one's destiny.

Consider Abraham Lincoln, a retired flight engineer in Pepper Mills Village, Md. Though Lincoln, 62, says he was not named for Honest Abe but for his own father, he has created a name for himself in recent years through his deep involvement in township politics.

"It's my duty to get involved in the community," said Lincoln, who recently won a battle against real estate developers who wanted to build a baseball stadium in his suburban town. "My name's recognizable. Who can forget me once they hear it?"

In Colonial Heights, Va., Rhett Butler _ who, as fate would have it, has never encountered his potential soulmate, Mrs. O'Hara _ said his sister's name was Scarlett. "My mother watched the movie one too many times, I guess," said Butler, 56. "She was going to name my sister Scarlett O'Hara Butler, but her initials would have been S.O.B., so she named her Scarlett Diane instead."

Last month, when President Clinton was in Africa, a 2-day-old Ugandan boy was named Bill Clinton in his honor. Years from now, will this Bill Clinton feel compelled to seek his fortune in politics? Will his name somehow instill in him a passion for greatness, or will it simply dog him through life, evoking memories of Monica Lewinsky and other White House escapades?

A well-known name can indeed deeply affect the person who bears it, said Dr. Cleveland Kent Evans, a professor of psychology at Bellevue University in Nebraska. "It is certainly true that for a few people, their names can be a very important anchor for their own self-understanding or for others' reactions to them," he said.

Rock Hudson, a 41-year-old construction supervisor in Mansfield, Ohio, felt the impact of his name largely because as a younger man, it helped him meet women. Though Hudson, who is married now, enjoyed "the little bit of fame" that traveled with him, lately he has realized his name may have outlived its usefulness.

"I met a girl named Jodie Foster in the store the other day," he said, "and, God, she didn't even know who Rock Hudson was."

For Frank A. Sinatra, a second cousin of the legendary crooner, life with a celebrity's name has not been kind. "It's been a curse," said Sinatra, an aircraft parts distributor in Hollywood. "Hassled _ that's what I get because of this name."

Sinatra recalled the scores of schoolyard fights that erupted in his youth when classmates, jealous of his family ties, confused his rather humdrum life with that of his famous cousin. "They thought that I was uppity, that I was the rich one," he recalled. "Actually, it was just the opposite. I went through life hearing: "There goes Frank Sinatra. No, he's not the REAL one.' "

Evans noted a significant distinction between people like Hudson and Sinatra, who are born with famous names, and others who adopt their names later in life.

Evans said parents who give their children famous names are often trying to live vicariously through their offspring, while those who take on famous names themselves, like Sherlock Holmes, a senior flight attendant from Chicago, usually have an affinity for their namesakes.

"I've always been a real investigative type," said Holmes, 50, whose real first name is Winfield and who assumed his new moniker 10 years ago. "Whenever something happens, I'm the first one out there, asking who and what and why."

Evans said parents can do irreparable harm by pressuring their children to match the illustriousness of their namesakes, but people who change names in midlife are often trying to express an unexplored identity.

Of course, not all people with famous names are greatly affected by them. Marilyn Monroe, 45, of Raywood, Texas, has been married four times but denied that her husbands were attracted to her name.

"We met as people, not as words on a name tag," said Ms. Monroe, who works in a wig shop and occasionally models blond wigs for her clientele. "I don't think my name has done a thing for me."