My surname is the tenth most common name in Britain, according to available information. Johnson is a simple enough name, but I have spent my life having to spell it to people. Because there are other spellings, such as Jonson, or Johnston and Johnstone, both very popular in Scotland, I always have to say “No ‘T’, no ‘E’ “. But my first name, Peter, is now actually quite rare. It is very much of its time, and to anyone who knows about such things, gives a good indication of when I was born. You would be hard-pressed to find many boys called Peter these days. I suspect most of us with that name are at least fifty, or much older. Times have changed, and now the most popular names for boys are Oliver, Jacob, Freddie, Henry, Leo, and Muhammad.
So at least my dog has the number one name.
When I was at school, one of my best friends was also called Peter. Many of the teachers, all around ten years older than us then, also had that name. Years later, I started working at a small ambulance station that had only fourteen staff. Five of us were called Peter. But despite eventually meeting a huge number of colleagues over the years, I only met one other Johnson. A long time after that, I received a letter in the post. It was on headed notepaper, from The Peter Johnson Gallery, with an address in fashionable Sloane Street, London. It was an invitation to attend a ‘Peter Johnson Party’, arranged to promote the launch of this new art gallery and sale room. I was in the phone book at the time, so easily found. My first reaction was that it was a joke. Perhaps a carefully-contrived prank by some friends, to lure me into something that would embarrass me.
I decided to phone the number anyway, and play along. A serious young lady assured me that it was genuine. They had come up with the promotional idea to launch both the gallery, and the new collection it was featuring. Newspapers and local TV stations had been informed, and the guest list only contained men named Peter Johnson, (plus one partner) which was also the genuine name of the gallery owner. There would be some light food served, and drinks, all free. We could peruse the art on display, without any need to feel pressured into buying anything. She was adamant that this was all for the benefit of publicity, and added that it might be very interesting for me to meet many other men with the same name. It was quirky enough to attract me, so we went on the evening shown on the invitation. On arrival, a young lady asked our occupations, then drew a design on a large white sticker we had to wear. As I was an EMT, she drew a big red cross, and stuck it to my jacket. With everyone having exactly the same name, we would have no need of introductions. It was a pleasant enough couple of hours, but we all learned that just having the same name doesn’t mean you have anything else in common. And it didn’t make the TV news.
When I was diagnosed with Glaucoma, I had to attend the eye clinic at the huge University College Hospital, in London. As this was only a short walk from where I lived in Camden Town, I was on time for the afternoon appointment. The waiting room was huge, and full to the brim, with no free seats. When an elderly lady was called in, I slipped in to her vacant seat, and waited. After a wait of almost thirty minutes, a nurse appeared in a doorway, holding a file. In a loud voice, she called out, “Peter Johnson please. Peter Johnson”. I stood up, and was surprised to see that three other men had stood up too. We looked at each other. All around the same age, and all white men. The nurse checked the file again. “OK, born in 1952 please”. We all remained standing. By now, a couple of us were smiling too. She looked again, her expression one of exasperation. “March 1952 please”. Only one man sat down. Shaking her head, she looked at us as if we were teasing her. “Just the one born on the 16th of March then”. She turned back into the room as she said that. But only one other man had sat down. Moments later, she came back out, her arms folded. “Do either of you have any middle names?” We both shook our heads. She pointed at the taller man to my left, and said, “OK then, you first”.
In that one clinic, on one afternoon, I encountered four men with the same name. They were the same age exactly, having been born in the same year. And one of them was born on the same day.
Ever since, I have been very careful to make sure they are talking to the right person.