What’s Your Name Again?

“Charles, it’s your serve, right?” I asked my tennis opponent.

He looked around, confused.

“Charles?” I repeated.

“Who’s Charles?” he asked.

I’d done it again. My writer’s brain names people as if they were characters in one of my manuscripts. My dignified opponent, whose actual name is George, was a perfect Charles in my mind.

I took some well-deserved ribbing from him and the other players. Calling a person by the wrong name embarrasses me, and makes the misnamed person feel unimportant. A light-hearted, “Sorry; it’s been a long day” can help. In this case, I explained how I nicknamed people in my head and sometimes that nickname slips out.

Later that day, I laced up my size 9 1/2 tennis shoes and took a walk so I could think about the significance of nicknames, both complimentary and not. I was born an Emily, but when I was a toddler, my aunt began calling me Amy. It stuck and I had it legally changed. My baseball-loving father called me Slugger, which I liked. When a fellow tennis player nicknamed me Flash a few years ago, I wanted to sprint to balls and prove that I deserved that name. But, maybe like you, I’ve received nicknames I didn’t like, including Olive Oyl. Conjuring up the image of Popeye’s absent-minded, shapeless, big-footed (probably size 9 1/2), "sweet patootie," didn’t boost my ego. I complete my walk and vow to do a better job of remembering names.

When I got home I researched various sites and compiled my favorites in this surefire five-step method.

1. We shouldn’t say we’re bad at remembering names. Doing so is a self-fulfilling prophecy and sets us up to fail.

2. When we’re first introduced to someone, we should repeat the person’s name. If it’s a name we’re unfamiliar with, we should ask the person to spell it and visualize the letters. Then we should use it in a sentence or question. For example, when first introduced, I could have said, “It’s nice to meet you, George.”

3. We need to make an association, and it’s best if we make it vivid, attach emotion, and include action. Upon meeting my tennis opponent, for example, I could have formed a picture of our country’s first president on his deathbed. George tells his friend his last wishes and then asks if he understands. The friend replies yes, but is too choked up to say more. George Washington speaks his final words.“Tis well.”

4. Picturing our scene, we should strive to say our new acquaintance’s name one more time before leaving them. For example, “Take care of yourself, George.”

5. If you meet again, and you’ve forgotten, simply admit it and ask the person to repeat their name. People understand. I also like the trick of saying, “I’m Amy and you’re …” People will fill in their name.

Knowing people’s names improves relationships, so the next time I see George (hopefully not on his deathbed) I’m going to think before calling him by name. If I mess up, though, I’ll apologize and explain that I tend to be absent-minded, like Popeye’s scatter-brained girlfriend. “If you want to even things up,” I’ll force myself to say, “you can call me…” gulp, “Olive Oyl.” 

If he’s like our founding father, George will nod and say, “Tis well.”

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