My Dad and his Mastery of Names
Before he retired recently, my dad was a remarkable high school principal. It wasn’t just because he truly cared about public education, or that he struck the perfect balance between acting friendly with students yet still maintaing his authority. Nor was it just his general charisma. I believe what he did better than anyone I know is his incredible memory for faces and, by far more important, NAMES.
Being such the popular admistrator that he was, he would have students approach him constantly, even years after they graduated. They would say hi as if they were long lost best friends, unaware that out of context, it’s hard for my dad to remember one student out of thousands. But my dad never missed a beat. He would jump right into conversation, never giving any indication to the student that he doesn’t remember their name. He would, very covertly, ask probing questions that wouldappear part of normal conversation.
One such question he asked was “What have you been doing since graduation?’ As the student goes into their life story, he is making rough calculation on their age, and therefore the estimated year they graduated from high school. Then he can deduce which high school they went to, since he’s worked at multiple schools. Once he’s figured that out, he asks “Do you ever come back to [given school] to visit?” Usually they would then say something about how they wanna see one of their teachers, further allowing my dad to figure something about them. By the end of this 5 minute conversation, he will have remembered their name, and parts with a “Goodbye [FILL IN NAME HERE]!”
Why Names Matter
Now enough bragging about my dad, I brought up this story for a reason. I wanted to demonstrate how important it is to remember names. My dad knew this, and hence why he would take the time to re-remember. A name is what defines who we are. You’re name is inextricably linked to your personality; to your general essence. Therefore if someone remembers your name, it’s the FIRST inclination that they remember who YOU are.
In short, remembering someone’s name shows you care about them, in the most general sense of the word. It shows they are at least worth remembering. Think of the opposite situation. How many times have you forgotten someone’s name? How awkward did you feel while you were having a conversation? Or say you were on the other side of the tale, and that person forgot your name? Didn’t you feel foolish when they just stared at you with either a confused or blank look?
I’ve never liked when people use the excuse “Sorry, I’m terrible with names.” To me that is a conscious and blatant cop-out. It’s as if by stating the obvious, they absolve themselves from any guilt for not putting in the effort to remember a name. I believe you should take that one extra minute to remember that person you met, because it’s a small gesture that means more than we conciously realize.
Strategies for Remembering Names
1) LISTEN when they FIRST say it
Everyone has done it. For SOME reason, as soon as they utter the first sound, our brain shuts off. I’ve done it hundreds of times. I try to also read their lips so that I will also have the visual cue, so in case I don’t hear it the first time, it will help me with step two.
2) Repeat OUTLOUD multiple times
Say their name why you are talking to that person, or to a friend who introduced you. This can done subtly, such as “So Jim, where do you work?” Obviously you will need to be certain that is their name, but if you mess up, no worries, it’s early in your “relationship.” Being very obvious is fine, too. I have many times literally just asked again about 5 minutes, “Just to make sure, your name is Jim, right?” This at least shows you are trying, which it always appreciated.
3) Provide Context to Remember their Name
While talking to the person, remember one thing about them. It can be where you met them, a joke they made, who is friends with them, etc. I can’t provide concrete advice for this section, because it is unique to you and your memory style. But I must stress that THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP.
4) If meeting more than one person, repeat names OUT OF ORDER
I put this after Step 3 because often times the context of people is where they were standing when you met. The problem arises when they are no longer in the initial order. So just like Step 2, repeat the names you learned, but mix up the order intentionally. It does WONDERS!
5) Facebook Friend
If you hung out with them for over 30 minutes, friend them on Facebook. Then their names will come up on the newsfeed occasionally, and you’ll be given little reminders of who they are and what their name is. Thus you’ll be more likely to remember them next time you run into each other.
A Poem about Names
I wrote this “poem” to my ex-girlfriend a few years back. We had just started dating, and I wanted to find something unqiue to do for her. I figured out that in Czech culture they celebrate one’s name, (svátek or more formally jmeniny), on the date corresponding to their own given name. Her name day was a few weeks away, so it seemed perfect. I thought adding this poem would be a light source of entertainment to conclude this piece while also demonstrating the importance of names.
“A name is a specific permutation, used for identification. It can be said, or read, along with a salutation. Or it can be written within a letter, usually at its termination. It can be a description for an invention, an innovation, or even something conjured up within the imagination. A name can give an indication of someone’s origination, whether it be a certain religion or from a specific nation. People can have the same name yet still have no relation. Some prominent names have even evolved to become a form of expression. And we often name our things or our animals as a form of personification. But these only describe the denotation, and it is clearly not a complete explanation of its definition.
The full representation of a name is not its denotation alone, but also its connotation. When you hear, or read, or speak a name, it elicits a certain impression. Certain names often evoke strong sensations: sometimes for frustration, indignation, or irritation….and sometimes for satisfaction, inspiration, and jubilation. A name can have an association with a specific disposition. There is no limitation to everything that is its connotation.
So what’s my interpretation of your name?
Hopefully my artistic representation will provide a sufficient illustration. However, if I were to describe EVERY SINGLE THING that fulfills the denotation AND connotation of your name, well…. that description would have no cessation.
So HAPPY NAME DAY!!!
I say this all with complete and utter elation.”
So I have to ask again, “What’s in a name?” Absolutely everything…end of discussion.