There’s something about a name.

Tonight, I went down to the local Shawarma joint (Mr. Shawarma, for any Ottawa west-enders looking for the best meal in the ‘hood). I am quite a regular there, stopping in probably once or twice a week – it’s my default meal when hubby is working.

The same man is almost always behind the counter; I think he is the owner. His face lights up when I walk in the door, and it’s not just me – he absolutely beams at every customer that comes in. As he prepares your meal, he always asks how you are doing, makes conversation. Not only is the food great, but this man’s personality just makes you want to keep coming back.

One thing is kind of strange though. I have been going there upwards of 3 years now, and I have never known the man’s name. To me, he’s simply “the smiling guy at Mr. Shawarma”. It has never really even occurred to me what his name is or could be.

Tonight, I walked in, and there he was – beaming from behind the counter as always, as if I had just totally made his day by stepping in the door. “Good evening, my friend!!!”, he said. And then I saw it.

He was wearing a name tag. And suddenly things changed.

Until you know someone’s name, they are just a face. A guy behind a counter. A woman crossing the street. A man sitting next to you at a conference. But once you know their name, your relationship with them changes. Once you know someone’s name, you can introduce them to others, file them in your contacts list, and associate them with particular experiences. Once you know their name, you can really start to relate to them.

Until tonight, the guy at the Shawarma shop was another face. But now, I know that his name is Moustafa. He’s no longer “the smiling guy” to me. He’s “smiling Moustafa”. I feel like somehow I know him better, just because I know his name.

What I’ve realized, is that he still does not know my name. I fully intend to rectify that the next time I drop in.

The people that you see and interact with on a day to day basis – the postman, the newspaper carrier, the pizza delivery guy – do you know their names? We all interact with so many people online, know so much about who they are and what they do. But do you know the name of the woman who sells you lottery tickets at the corner store? Do you know your neighbours’ names? And if you don’t – why not?

I’ve realized that I am guilty of this too. So from here on in, I’m going to make a point of not only expanding my network and my community online, but looking around at the people right next to me, and finding out how I can engage them too.