The Doc Project

A mixed-up phone call led two Anna Marie MacLeans to lifelong friendship

Two women, both named Anna Marie MacLean, were born on opposite sides of the country. But both women say a fateful meeting as teenagers at a performing arts camp in Nova Scotia fundamentally altered the course of their lives.

Nova Scotia women met when they were teenagers

When Anna Marie MacLean, left, who we'll call Anna 1, met Anna 2 as teenagers, they seemed to be cut from a different cloth. That friendship changed the paths of their lives, but may not have happened without a mistaken phone call. (Submitted by Anna Marie MacLean)

Anna Marie MacLean was a teenager at a rehearsal for Neptune Theatre's Junior Performing Arts Academy in Halifax when her friend Bruce came over, breathless, a total stranger in tow.

"Anna MacLean," Bruce beamed, "meet Anna MacLean."

Time stopped.

"I looked at her and I said, 'What's your middle name?'" said the first Anna, who we'll call Anna 1, "and I knew she was going to say Marie. I just knew she was going to say it."

Because Marie was Anna 1's middle name, too. That's right — two perfect strangers with the exact same name: Anna Marie MacLean.

No doubt we've all experienced an unusual coincidence: sometimes it's banal, like three Susans in one office. Sometimes it's more noticeable, like when a friend pops into your head and then they call moments later. But when Anna met Anna, it was just the first chapter in an epic tale of serendipity.

"The name alone didn't seem that huge, said Anna 1, "until we started uncovering more things. And then we were like, 'Well, obviously, we are aligned.'" 

WATCH | Annas 1 and 2 share the story of how they met:

Whether it was coincidence, fate, or something entirely beyond — that's up for debate. But the pair's alignment is impossible to ignore.

For starters, the Annas almost didn't meet at all.

Anna 2 had auditioned for Neptune's academy but hadn't been accepted.

"I had a feeling that I hadn't made the cut. But then, just two weeks later, they called and said, 'Congratulations, you've gotten into the company.' And I was thrilled."

Her elation was short-lived.

"Two minutes later they called back and said, 'We've made a terrible mistake. We didn't realize there are two Anna MacLeans on the list and we've called the wrong one.'"

Anna 1 (front row, second from right) and Anna 2 (back row, centre) pose for a candid photo with other members of Neptune Theater’s Junior Performing Arts Academy. (Submitted by Anna Marie MacLean)

It's a teenage nightmare: a momentary invitation to the in-crowd turned into a crushing rejection. Anna 2 was devastated, so her mom got on the phone and persuaded the heads of the program to reconsider. A compromise was reached: Anna 2 was invited to be the assistant stage manager. She wouldn't get to perform, but it was something.

"I was like, 'All right, I'll take it.'"

And that's how she wound up in the same rehearsal hall as Anna 1. The name Anna means "graceful" — apt for Anna 2, who was a ballet dancer.

For Anna 1, it was more of an inside joke.

"I feel like it was my destiny to be named something completely delicate and beautiful sounding," she said, "and then be, like, clumsily falling through life, breaking things, burning bridges, lighting dumpsters on fire, and all with this classy, stately name."

Both Annas in a group photo for a production of Alice Through the Looking Glass. Anna 1 as the Red Queen (back row, seventh from left) and Anna 2 as Rose (second row, fourth from left). (Submitted by Anna Marie MacLean)

However dissimilar, they became friends. Then best friends. And then inseparable. 

Sharing a name became an opportunity: Anna 2 lent her birth certificate to Anna 1, a year her junior, so that they could go to the bar together while she was still underage.

Soon they started wearing the same clothes. Both Annas dreamt of becoming serious actresses, and after leaving Neptune Theatre, spent their days touring the province performing in shows like A Midsummer Night's Dream. While on the road, they'd mimic one another's intonation until they could speak in perfect unison.

"I think we were probably really annoying for all the other people sharing the van with us," acknowledged Anna 2.

They moved apart in their university years, but the connection continued. Both Annas lived abroad in South Korea and, unbeknownst to each other, even briefly dated the same guy, though at different times.

Unbeknownst to one another, both Annas lived in South Korea and even briefly dated the same guy at different times. (Submitted by Anna Marie MacLean)

"It's interesting how life just puts us together," said Anna 2. "We haven't had to go out of our way to end up in the same place at the same time."

Despite living in different provinces, they'd bump into one another while running errands. One Anna would get Facebook messages intended for the other. At one point, even their family doctor confused them.

"She looked at me and then just stopped in her tracks. And then she looked at her chart and she said: 'Are you Anna MacLean?'"

Sharing a name did more than just forge a connection between two women. Both Annas swear that, from that first accidental phone call, the course of their lives was forever altered.

If not for sharing a name, Anna 2 never would have snagged a consolation spot in Neptune's youth academy. She would have made different friends and pursued different hobbies. Instead, she went on to study theatre at university and spent years working as a community arts facilitator.

"There were several decades of my life that just wouldn't have happened that way if it wasn't for meeting her."- Anna Marie MacLean

"There were several decades of my life that just wouldn't have happened that way if it wasn't for meeting her."

"The guy who made the phone call actually started referring to me as his favourite accident."

But was it an accident? Or was it fate?

"I choose to believe in fate," said Anna 1. "And I choose to believe that people come into our life for a reason."

Anna 2 agrees.

"I believe that it's fate. From that point on, I've had so many wonderful — I wouldn't say coincidences — but, like, a synchronicity of things just working out and things that wouldn't have happened [otherwise]."

For Anna 1, whatever brought about their chance meeting is inconsequential. 

"For me, you know, it doesn't matter if it was coincidence or fate because of what we've made it, what we've turned it into. It has its own magic, whether or not the earth is empty and meaningless or if there's a grand scheme of things."

Anna 1 with her son Sam, left, and Anna 2 with her daughter, Rose. (Submitted by Anna Marie MacLean)

Now both Annas have children of their own. And while they didn't end up choosing the same names — they didn't consult one another, either. They left it to chance.

"I feel like that if that happened," said Anna 2, "it would just be, like, meant to be."

 "Whether or not they find people with the same name," said Anna 1, "I want them to find people that give them a life like Anna gave me."

About the Producer

Trevor Campbell is a writer, designer and comedian whose work has been published by Xtra, CBC, Toronto Life, NOW Magazine, the Japan Times and the Puritan. He is the host and creator of You Made Me Queer!, a comedic interview podcast about 2SLGBTQIA+ origin stories, and is currently writing his first book.

This documentary was produced by Trevor Campbell, with Julia Pagel and Tanara McLean.