On my walk to work in the morning, I regularly see the same older man walking in the opposite direction on the same stretch of sidewalk. He’s jovial, wears glasses, has white hair and a white beard, and clearly likes Ohio State sports from his choice of jackets, scarfs, and hats. We’ll wave, give each other a cheerful “good morning” greeting as Midwesterners often do, and occasionally say “Go Bucks!” as we pass by.
I haven’t introduced myself to this gentleman and have no idea of his real name, but I think of him as “Frank.” To me, he just looks and acts like a Frank. It’s an older name, and he’s an older guy. When I’m walking and I see him approaching, I think “here comes Frank.”
It’s hard for me not to assign names to the people that I see regularly, whether it’s on the morning walk around Schiller Park, or the jaunt to work, or the evening stroll home. Those people aren’t strangers, not really — they’re people I’ve seen multiple times in their same, specific setting, often enough that we recognize and acknowledge each other with a smile or small wave. There’s Candace, the square-shouldered, inexhaustible jogger who circles the park at least twice first thing in the morning, and Tom and Dave, who are usually out walking their dog, and Terry, who runs full tilt with his obedient two border collies right at his heels. And some other people get nicknames rather than real names — like Cell Boy, the skinny young guy who’s always sitting in the same chair by the front window of Snap Fitness, thumbing away on his smartphone, when I walk by. Hey, I inevitably think, does Cell Boy ever actually work out, or does he just belong to a gym to have a place to check his messages?
I’m not exactly sure how I come up with the names — after I see the same person in the same setting often enough, a name usually pops into my head — but I’m fairly confident that I know why it happens. Human beings have a well known tendency to organize experiences or perceptions into patterns, whether a pattern truly exists or not, and I think giving presumed names to people is part of that same impulse. It makes me feel better to think of these people who play a tiny but repeating role in my daily life as people with actual names, and not just faceless intruders into my corner of the world.