Many of us struggle to remember names. Research by Kansas State University came up with a theory that those of us who find names hard to remember are simply not that interested in people and relationships. I challenge this; as although I am certainly interested in people, I am much better at faces than at names. I can often describe people I have met in great detail but when it comes to their name, I flounder. The truth is, that I am usually so eager to find out more about the person I am speaking to, that their name is the last thing I pay attention to. Funnily enough, it is the unusual names which tend to stick in my mind, rather than standard ones. Perhaps their uniqueness sparks my curiosity, and my mind automatically registers? I feel there is room for a lot more research in on this topic. As a result of my own challenges in the name remembering department, I tend not to mind when people forget my own name. I do however, appreciate that some people can understandably take it very personally, as a sign of lack of interest, respect or care.
Below is a strategic action plan on what to do when someone remembers your name and you don't remember theirs:
1. Stay calm and breathe: Your initial reaction might be sweating palms, increased heart rate and panicked thoughts e.g. "Oh my goodness, they remember my name and I can't remember theirs, what am I going to do? Help!" The panic level will most likely be exponential to how much importance you place on the person/situation (e.g., potential career opportunity or love interest versus a friend of a friend). By staying calm and breathing regularly, you will be more centered and able to respond more effectively to the situation.
At this stage, you could simply return their greeting with "Hello," or an appropriate substitute such as "Hello friend, teacher, wise one", etc. However, that will only buy you time, so let's keep going.
2. If you are with another person/others: simply smile, and introduce the person whose name you can't remember to the people you are with (we are assuming in this case that you can remember their names). To the person who's name you have forgotten you may say "Hello! Nice to see you," followed by "let me introduce you to John", gesturing towards your friend. A this stage the "nameless" person will hopefully introduce themselves to John, allowing you to find out what they are called. (Clearly this will not work if you are on your own. For that situation, keep reading).
3. Look for clues: Is there anything on their person that gives you a hint to their name? A work or conference name-badge, an initial on a necklace or bracelet, a luggage tag or monogrammed briefcase?
4. Ask to be reminded of how they pronounce their name: "Remind me, before I say it: how do I pronounce your name?" They will at this stage say their name, the way that they like it to be pronounced, and you are safe and sound. (Please note this method will not work if they are named Tim or Bob or any other name can only be pronounced one way. If they do happen to have a very simple name that anyone could pronounce correctly; follow up with the below strategy).
5. Opt for honesty: If strategies 2, 3 and 4 do not or cannot work, you can opt for honesty. If you mix this in with random facts that you can remember about the person e.g. what you both did when you last met; something you remember is important to them, e.g. their child's skating competition; a career change they had recently made, you will be in better stead to then tell them the truth and say something along the lines of "I'm sorry, please remind me of your name? I'm not strong on remembering names". This way they will know that although you don't know their name, you certainly do remember them and hopefully will not be offended.
6. Keep conversing: If you genuinely cannot remember anything about them: allow the discussion to carry on for a while before trying to figure out their name. Perhaps it will simply pop into your head, or at the very least your memory will be jogged by something they say in which case you can revert to the steps in point 5. If your memory still draws a total blank then go for brutal honesty (see below).
7. Brutal honesty: tell them "I recognize you but I'm so sorry, I must be suffering from mild amnesia, please remind me how we know each other," and hope that they don't tell you you spent an amorous evening together watching the stars or that that it was during a job interview or client meeting.
8. The maverick option: When they smile and say hello to you, beam back at them and say the first name that pops into your head that you feel sounds like it could be theirs. If they come back to you and say "It's not Marie, it's Rachel"; you can respond with something along the lines of "Actually I'm dreadful at names and was hoping I'd got it right. Of course it's Rachel." I recommend going for this option if you feel you can pull it off in a humorous or cheeky way that the other person will be open to!
Whatever happens, remember to stay calm, do your best and keep a positive attitude!
What happens to you when you can't remember a name? What strategies do you use?
I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Feel free to comment below. If you wish to contact me directly you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via my website