What’s in a Name?


by Ian Thomson

There was a boy in my form at school with the same name as me. Exactly the same name. There was no intrusive ‘p’ in Thomson. He was called ‘Ian’ like me, not ‘Iain’ or ‘Eoin’ or any other exotic variant. Neither of us had a middle name. Quite simply, we were both called ‘Ian Thomson’.

We were not related in any way. I was born in Colchester while Ian was born in Dumfries. However, we had both been brought up in Radcester, an unremarkable town in the East Midlands. At the age of 11, we both found ourselves in Shell 1, the top junior class, and since it was an old-fashioned kind of school, we were seated in alphabetical order across the room. I sat next to Ian and then there were Vulpage, Vines, and Wardle.

I don’t know what possessed the staff to put us in the same form. You’d have thought they’d have split us up to avoid confusion – you know, like they do with twins, who are usually separated, unless they pine for each other. There was always a laugh when the register was called and our name was called twice. Sometimes we used to swap desks and if we were challenged we would say, ‘No sir, I always sit here.’ The class would confirm this noisily and the master would be left scratching his head and doubting his sanity.

The coincidence of our names promoted a kind of confederacy at first and then we quickly became firm friends, even though our primary interests began to diverge quite soon. Ian showed an aptitude for the sciences and was proving to be a wizard at chess. I discovered a passion for the stage after starring in a junior production of Sweeney Todd. On the back of these talents we acquired nicknames: I became known as Johnny Depp and he was Garry Kasparov. It was the other boys who invented the nicknames but the masters began to refer to us as Kasparov and Depp, no doubt relieved to have a means of distinguishing us by name in class.

Privately, and between ourselves, I called Ian ‘Synonym’ and he called me ‘Homonym’, but that’s by the way.

His logical mind took delight in patterns. He was excited by configurations in nature: symmetries, spirals, waves, tessellations, and stripes. The fact that every single snowflake was different and yet they all had six sides thrilled him. Fractals had him in ecstasy.

Our paths diverged a little further in the sixth form. He went on the science side and I went on the arts side but we always met at lunchtimes in the common room and did The Daily Telegraph crossword together. I think I was probably better at general knowledge but he was a total ninja at anagrams. He could see letter patterns at sight.

I remember him giving me a lecture on coincidences.

‘You see, Homonym, the fact is that, mathematically, coincidences are quite random. In reality, they happen all the time. The coincidence of our names is amusing but it’s really quite trivial. ‘Thomson’ is a very common name and so is ‘Ian’, or it was when we were born. I’ll bet the country is seething with people with our name.

‘Thing is, we don’t notice most coincidences and, when we do, we find them cute or strange, or we invest them with magical or spiritual qualities. The fact that, for most of the time, we don’t register the coincidences around us is why we have a low tolerance of them in books and plays.’

‘You may be smart, man,’ I said, ‘but you shouldn’t dismiss the magical.’

After we left school, Ian went up to Cambridge to read maths, naturally, and then he began to rise in the chess hierarchy and will one day make Grand Master. I went on to Drama School and have been moderately successful. You will have heard my VoiceOver in a number of ads and I’ve had decent roles in a couple of soaps. We still exchange Christmas cards but otherwise we sort of lost touch.

One day last summer, I was driving back to Radcester from location shooting on Dartmoor when I decided to break my journey at a country house hotel. Kearston Hall was once a rather fine Elizabethan house and I thought I deserved a bit of luxury after my sleep-deprived exertions of the previous fortnight’s filming.

The receptionist signed me into the Thomson Room.

‘I expect you put me in there because of the coincidence of the names,’ I said.

‘Well, no, sir,’ she said, smiling. ‘It’s the only room free. We have a major function on this weekend. The rooms in that wing are all named after famous scientists. Mind you, perhaps the room was waiting for you, perhaps it’s fate.’ 

I laughed and went off to find the room, clutching the key with ‘Thomson’ printed on the fob.

Later, I was enjoying a vodka tonic in the bar when I was aware of a guy leaning over me.

‘It is you,’ he said. 

It was Ian, of course.

‘Hey man,’ I said. ‘This really is a coincidence.’

‘A fairly high order one,’ he said.

‘I’ve got an even better one for you,’ I said. I explained that I’d been given the Thomson Room and showed him the key fob.

‘Surely the hand of destiny is upon me,’ I said. ‘It was meant to be.’

He laughed.

‘It was the only room left, man,’ I said. ‘Seems there’s a wedding going on.’

‘Yes,’ Ian said. ‘It’s mine.’

The grey suit, the mauve cravat and the buttonhole registered at last.

‘Oh, no shit, man?’ I cried. ‘That is just the wildest coincidence ever!’

‘Not quite.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘What you just said is the wildest coincidence ever.’


Oh, no shit, man is a perfect anagram of Ian Thomson.’

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Very well crafted and amusing, as well as original. You always use your experiences well (some of which I recognise,;I suppose all writers do this).
I am sorry I have not read more of your writings. This is due to lack of time!! I have for years belonged to a literature class (not book group) which involves lots of close reading, then there is my theatre studies class, various Spanish groups and a tuition class, a recently joined philosophy class, all now on Zoom, let alone other activities. I can’t say Covid has ever found me bored…
I gather Michael Reidy has also turned his hand to writing? I was in touch with Annette German the other day, must give Prue a ring. I still go swimming to Eric Liddell – not at the moment of course. Herbert and I have both had two jabs of Pfizer – how about you? Keep in touch. Best wishes, Hannah

Thank you, Hannah. There was a Harold Ian Thompson in my class and another Ian Thompson played Macbeth to my Fleance and show-stealing 2nd apparition. Otherwise the story is fictional, though I did stay in the Thomson Room at Chicheley Hall Hotel in Buckinghamshire (highly recommended) and the final anagram is correct.
I had a letter from Annette the other day. I must reply.
No, I’m not bored either. I have several writing projects in train. It’s frustrating not to be able to see friends. Peter and I do a weekly video call.

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