The woman who made my coffee today was called “Ebony”: I saw her name flash up on the till. At first I wondered if she’d borrowed somebody’s login, but no – her name badge said the same. Her skin was a sun-starved white, her hair dyed red (some time ago, I’d have guessed), her smile wide and unforced. She talked to the man next to me, clearly a regular, in an easy, friendly way. And part of me was thinking Isn’t this nice, but the other, bigger, part was thinking: Ebony?
The lady on duty at the train station is called Scarlett. Her bright red hair fits the bill but nothing else does; she’s a surly child of the Home Counties bearing little resemblance to Margaret Mitchell’s Southern belle. She never cracks a smile as she takes tickets and ushers chattering schoolkids through the barrier (I like to think she’s daydreaming about being given a taser, I certainly am). I try imagining Vivien Leigh in the livery of South West Trains, but I can’t pull it off.
When my father divorced he went from Bob to Rob. A cosmetic change, you could say, a blob of Tippex at the bottom of the capital B, but I don’t think so. The new name was the start of his second life, a life where he doesn’t lose his temper all the time, where he stands up on stage and performs, where he travels and eats out, dances, smiles and looks happy – or as happy as he’ll ever be. Only his sister and nephews call him Bob now; he’s not all that happy when he’s talking to them.
My manager’s name is Reuben. He hates it, so he uses his middle name instead. “Reuben” is confined to his birth certificate and his passport, locked away like an ugly secret. Or it would have been – except when he joined our company they made a mistake and put it in his email address, so now it confronts him every day. I tried to tell him once that I think it’s a lovely name, but he was having none of it. He doesn’t feel like a Reuben and he doesn’t want to be one; yet, although I wouldn’t say this to him, I rather feel he looks like one.
One of my friends has a new boyfriend called Trevor. “I haven’t been able to say it out loud.” she tells me – not across the pub, not over the phone, not in the bedroom. She says that he’s lovely, kind and thoughtful. Nothing like a Trevor at all, the implication seems to be. And yet what’s a Trevor like? From the pictures I’ve seen her boyfriend could easily have had another name. Maybe he’s a Dominic, an Alex, a Sebastian even, trapped in a Trevor’s body.
My name? I like it. It fits me better than most of my clothes. I’m grateful to Bob for many things, not least that he didn’t call me Trevor.