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Name Dropping

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:

How important to you is your Name?


23 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oh, this is me too! The librarian I work with knows the first and last name of EVERY STUDENT! I try so hard with every trick in the book but the names don’t stick. I remember everything they ever said to me except their name. 😦

    The Charlie Brown, Waa waa waa is it exactly!

    June 10, 2013
    • I’m glad to not be alone! I would do terrible in that kind of situation, so many people and most of the names coming at you verbally. But it’s crazy interesting that you can remember other things they’ve said. I can retain other info too. And I’m great with faces, I just can’t put the name to the face.

      I wonder if it’s something like the people who can’t recognize faces? I know it’s nothing so serious or complicated brain-wise, but it’s interesting that it happens at all – just struggling so hard for names to stick. And my sister has the left/right thing too, so there’s something to that – I can’t imagine that we were taught wrong, so it must be in our brains.

      June 10, 2013
  2. Alright, I admit it, I’m good with names. When you have been called by the wrong name, your sister’s name (our names are very close) or asked, “Which one are you?” you tend to care. And in teaching, names are power. I’m not good at giving directions, but strangely able to find my own way around.

    June 10, 2013
    • Haha, that’s a good thing to admit! And “which one are you?” has to be one of the most careless, awful thing to be asked ever! That’s interesting about names being power in teaching – and that makes sense, because if they’re getting in trouble, they don’t want you to know who they are, huh?

      I can get around too, but then my mind knows which way I want to go, it’s just that the wrong information gets sent to my mouth, lol!

      June 10, 2013
  3. I used to be bad at names, but then I learned the trick of repeating their name immediately as you greet them and that helps a lot. “Hi, John, nice to meet you.” Seems silly, but it helps.

    June 10, 2013
    • That’s good advice, and sometimes that helps, but mostly it doesn’t for me. I think I need to start visualizing everyone’s names.

      June 10, 2013
  4. Boots,
    Nick-naming people helps avoid this. Also when you consider we all have known one another in previous lives / various dimensions…….it really can’t be considered awkward that Melinda’s name just won’t stick in your head – at your subconscious you clearly remember her as Jeff (a guy you had a crush on in grade two from another universe). It’s gonna take one hell of a long time before you tag her correctly on this plane of existence.

    June 10, 2013
    • Haha, that’s one way to look at it! Of course, you know me, so it’s not going to surprise you that I don’t see it quite that way. But it’s good for me to keep an open mind. Anything is possible 🙂

      June 12, 2013
  5. I have a name switch: I can turn it either on or off. It’s on in the classrooms, especially the first week of school (I have 92 students). I pride myself in learning them all, including pronunciation of both names, that first week. If I play a name game, I usually have nearly all first names by the end of the first day.

    With adults, I can be great or not. If I’m in a new situation, I try to be great. After being introduced to someone, I”ll try to use their names immediately in conversation. “So nice to meet you, Marge.” or “Can I get you another glass of wine, Marge?” This helps.

    BUT… if my name switch isn’t on, I forget everyone’s name!

    June 10, 2013
    • Now that is interesting! A name switch. I can’t even imagine having to memorize all those names – and new ones every year.

      You said my name a couple times in our interview, actually. And while writing this, I was thinking about how I rarely use people’s names when I’m talking to them. And it throws me off guard a little bit when people say my name while they’re talking to me. I think I feel thrown or surprised because it has a negative association for me, like when people say your name in derision, “Sure Michelle, whatever you say.” kind of deal. I must have had a bad friend when I was a kid who did that or something.

      June 12, 2013
  6. Ricky Anderson #

    I’ve always been like that with names. Then I took one of those memory trick classes. Now I can name everyone in the room after hearing their name only once.

    June 10, 2013
    • I’m thinking there’s a trick in there for me somewhere, but I have to ask you: what is the memory trick you learned?

      June 12, 2013
      • You can make it as complex as you want, but it basically involves picking a visual attribute they have, combining it with some part of their name, and visualizing a ridiculous action with the combo. Our brains think in pictures and actions are memorable.

        June 17, 2013
        • That sounds interesting and also a bit complicated. I’m going to try it though – I am definitely a mind pictures person. I have to turn just about everything into pictures as I’m listening to people talk.

          June 18, 2013
  7. I am pretty good with names. When I was in sales I usually could remember the furniture the person bought, how they paid, where it was delivered, if they had kids or pets, their job…but now I don’t have to remember all that so I don’t. Straight commission sales is a great memory booster.

    June 10, 2013
    • I bet! Plus at least the names and some information would be written down, and that always seems to help sear stuff into the old noggin. I’m okay with details, and way better with details than names. Though I have to say that as I get older all of it is starting to dim a bit.

      How did you like sales? I don’t think I’d like the pressure of commission sales, but I really enjoy the sales process – getting to know people, chatting them up (but just in that environment where I feel knowledgeable and in my element), etc. I really like knowing about things, and I have no problem remembering item details and features – and I like teaching people about things and informing them about features and benefits and stuff like that. That is fun to me. Was that a fun job for you?

      June 12, 2013
      • The furniture company I worked for was the best! And yes, I loved the job. When it ended (the store was sold and went out of business) I lost my heart for sales and now work for a furniture store as an admin asst. I really like this job, too. Commission sales only work if you have a great product and the company has good training programs and support and the employees work together, not just for themselves but for the whole.

        June 12, 2013
        • It’s so sad when a job you love dies. And that all makes sense! I used to hate going into Best Buy when they were in commission – all vying for your attention, trying to beat each other out. Teamwork, great product, good training…a very good formula!

          June 12, 2013
  8. I’m like you, Michelle. Probably worse, even. I had most of the kids’ names learned by the end of the first two days, but then spent the rest of the school year getting their names all mixed up. I finally resorted to calling most of them sweetheart, honey, sweetie, baby, etc. Maybe that’s more of a southern thing, but it worked!

    June 12, 2013
    • Oh yeah, I’m big on pet names. I sometimes get a bit crazy with the effort of trying to pull the names out of the ether, and I just give up. There are periods when I’m just really struggling with it on a daily basis, not grasping names of people I have worked with for months and years even. It’s odd, but some people I never lose their name, and other people I always do during those times.

      The other weird thing is that sometimes these periods come when I’m not sleeping well and excessively tired and sometimes there seems to be no reason for it at all. I’m thinking now that the vitamin D deficiency must have been pretty long term, because that will make your mind fuzzy and vague, and that’s what it feels like.

      But I start reverting to “honey” a lot and some people are sweetie or baby. It became a joke when I worked at the toy store and would go through a name loss phase and I’d call one of the girls “that girl” and another one “the other girl”. They always knew who I meant, and they started calling each other that and it kind of turned into nick-names. One of the guys I could keep his name if I called him “that Jason boy”. If I just tried to call him Jason, my mind would go blank. But that environment allowed it because we were all close.

      June 12, 2013
  9. Haha I could have sworn this post was about me! I’m terrible with names and faces!! I can be happily chatting with a person for a good half an hour, and then completely forget the name, and even worse what that person looks like days later. Or if I haven’t seen a person in a few months, that face and name gets erased from my memory bank. It’s embarassing especially when I bump into people who expect me to remember their names or at least their faces. So I just pretend although all the time in my head, I’m going … hmmm.. let’s see … I wish they had a pill to fix this 😀

    June 14, 2013
    • The forgetting faces must be much worse to deal with, because you can fake your way easier if it’s just names – you just have to not say their name, haha. But I don’t think it’s that bad to not remember a face from a few months ago, if you don’t know them that well. But you sound like it’s more than that. What can you do, lol? It’s just who we are.

      June 14, 2013

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