I am terrible with names.
It’s kind of like Charlie Brown in my head when I’m introduced to people. “Michelle, this is whah whah whah.”
It’s the strangest thing; the name just slides right through my mind like it was never spoken. Even long-standard names like Denise or Jason are hard to remember at first, and I’ll ask for a person’s name sometimes four or five times before it sticks. It’s embarrassing, but I’ve finally just started telling people, “hey, it’s not you, it’s me – I’m gonna ask for your name a lot .”
I’m better with short, unique names; I only have to hear them a couple of times. If a name is very unusual, though, I’m not going to get it no matter how many times I’m told. When I think of that person or speak to them, I’ll see a jumble of letters in my mind’s eye. It usually has the first letter right, but the rest is simply a mess. I have to ask for the spelling, and visualize it being spelled in my head. After that, I’ve got it – I guess because I’m such a visual person. I think that’s why I’m so good with internet names, is because I get to see them.
When I can’t remember someone’s name, it makes me feel bad. Because no matter what people might say about their name not representing their identity, knowing or not knowing someone’s name is a kind of social signal. Knowing someone’s name means you recognize them as a person apart from the crowds of this world.
Even after I’ve got a name memorized, when I am tired or stressed or overworked, names are the first thing to go. Well really, the only thing to go. It’s odd. My mind goes completely blank. Emptiness. Nothing there.
I lose other proper names as well, like machines or tools. I usually stutter or stare at someone stupidly for a bit before saying something like, “You know! That thing you use to turn screws in and out.”
It’s the same with people, “Go tell…go tell…ahh…” Gaping silence. “Who’s that other girl who does the same job as me?” It doesn’t matter that we’ve worked together for three years – her name is temporarily missing from my vocabulary.
It’s just how I’m wired. The same way that I’m going to tell you left when I mean right, and then I’m not going to understand why you turned in the wrong direction. The same way, if I see the number 351, the voice inside my head says 315.
It’s just me.
Some of these things are more easily worked around. At work, my brain automatically compensates for the number mix-ups. If my head reads 315 on the original ticket, when I’m looking for the match and I see 351, then I know that’s the right one. Even though my inner voice is saying, “315…315…”
If I’m giving someone directions, I just have to go through it slowly, double checking myself constantly. I can’t let myself get flustered or distracted. If I go too fast or say the directions without really thinking about it, there will be at least one wrong turn in there where I say left when I’m thinking right or vice versa.
The name thing is the only one that I haven’t fully compensated for. Except for just slowing down again, and putting in the extra effort.
And really, that’s not bad advice for any part of my life.
So what about you?
Are you a name person?
What are your quirks?
Items of Interest: