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I’ve always had a fascination with names. As a child, I would come up with the most outlandish and elaborate names for my dolls and teddy bears. There was Pinké, my pink teddy bear, who was later renamed Porcelaine, because I preferred the sound. I remember writing a story in grade three with a female character called Mildew in it. I thought it sounded pretty – god knows what the teacher thought!

I even had a little notebook in which I wrote down all the names I liked so I had a comprehensive list by the time I was ready to have kids (my, times have changed!). Each letter had a separate page and was split into boys and girls (no sexual discrimination here). I was definitely ahead of the curve for all the out-there names going around nowadays. To this day, one of the most appealing things about having a child is picking their name.

And my fascination with names hasn’t stopped just because I’m supposed to be an adult. Working in hospitality, I see a lot of credit cards and ID when I’m setting up tabs at work. I’m always intrigued by the names you see on cards and the seeming lack of congruence with the person who owns this name and walks around with it everyday.

Knowing a person’s name makes you realise how many assumptions you make about that person without even realising. So many times I’ve assumed someone’s going to have an ‘ethnic’ name only to see the most ‘standard’ or ‘normal’ name ever made. And vice versa. Or you assume a particular nationality only to have that blown out of the water. What is a normal name anyways? Sydney is so multicultural these days, there’s no such thing as normal.

A few weeks ago, I attended my sister’s graduation from vocational college. She’d finally completed the theory part of her chef’s apprenticeship and my partner and me went to see her get her certificate. It was a pretty awesome event as she’d given up on the practical part of chef-ing but was determined to at least finish her studies. Anyways, while we were waiting for her name to get called, I couldn’t help but notice the diversity of the names we heard. So many different nationalities and such a huge spread of ages.

Not everyone was mid-20s like my sister, in fact, I don’t think her age range was even the majority. There were a lot of people my age (mid 30s) and older traipsing up there, all smiles, to get their certificate. I spent a lot of the time imagining these people’s lives and what had lead them to this point.

We heard the story of the valedictorian, a lady in her mid-late 30s who had quit her job to become a chef, unaware of how much of a pay cut she would take as an apprentice. She spoke about the crazy hours she now worked and how her husband supported her by taking on more of the kid-based chores, now that she couldn’t do things like drop-offs and pick-ups. Even though she said she was exhausted at the end of each day, she said she wouldn’t give it up for anything. She now loves what she does and hopes to own her own business one day.

At the end of her speech, the crowd applauded and I’d like to think that everyone in the room felt the same communal pride that I did, pride that someone had the drive to go out and do something really hard at a time when most people start to give up on their dreams and she did it because she loved something and wanted to make it her life. Good on her.

Hmmm… this story has kind of morphed into something else but I think I can bring it back. If I’d seen that woman’s name on her ID and credit card at work, I would’ve never assumed she had such an amazing story. To be totally honest, I would’ve probably thought wife on a night out away from her kids. And I would’ve been partially right, but nowhere near close to the awesome truth.

People are interesting creatures. Names don’t give us that information, sadly. Although, they can be pretty cool.