The Thing About Names

I have an incredible ability. But it causes lots of life stress and awkwardness, so it may be better categorized as an incredibly awful ability.

What is this ability you ask? Flying? Psychic powers? Bending space and time? Nope. I have the incredibly awful ability to forget a name about five seconds after it’s been told to me.

Yep. I’ve counted.

I don’t try to do this. On the contrary I try really hard to remember people’s names. I do all the crazy things. Like that girl Brooke I met the other day with the crooked nose. (See what I did there?) I still remember her name, so it’s not every name I forget. But it is most of them.

It’s probably to do with how I learn. I think it’s a design thing. I need to see the name represented visually. Because, by golly, I can remember the names of people in the service industry who wear name tags. I still remember tired, gray-haired Wendy who works at the Kmart. I still remember Chuy who hooked me up with a sweet tire deal.

But you? If we’ve just met, I have no idea who you are.

The worse type of situation is when I get a cascading waterfall of names all in one go. This usually happens at parties.

jae scribbles

My brain goes into panic mode because it knows very well how sucky we are as a team remembering names. And now there’s like 15? I usually don’t even bother. I just nod and smile, eyes twinkling all friendly, hiding the sheer terror inside that one of you people is going to come up to me in a week and I’m going to have NO IDEA WHO YOU ARE.

That’s a hard thing about having a unique feature. I have super, super curly hair. It’s like being the only caucasian girl in a group of Japanese (happened) or the teacher at the front of a large class (also happened). Everyone knows who you are, because you’re the only one with (insert feature here). I’m sure a lot of you have been through it. Wow, does everyone seem to know exactly who you areβ€”or confuse you with the other person they know with that exact same feature. πŸ˜‰

But because of this, I’ve vowed to never get offended when someone forgets my name. Except if the BFF does. Then I call the Doctor about scheduling an MRI.

Because of my incredibly awful ability, I’ve also become quite adept at pretending I know who you are. In fact if I actually don’t know you at all, you could probably get away with pretending we know each other and I’d go along with it to some extent.

It feels like that episode of Seinfeld where he couldn’t remember Delores’s name for the life of himβ€”except every day for me. And for people I see on a daily basis, whose names you’d THINK I would know by now, well, it’s been too long and it’s too awkward to ask.

I envy those of you with the actually incredible ability to remember people’s names.

One of the worst couldn’t remember experiences I’ve had was with this very nice girl I went to college with.

GIRL: Jae!!!! Oh my goodness, how are you????!!!!

JAE: Gooooooooood! (Um, who is this?) How are…. YOU????

GIRL: Doing awesome. I recently got married and life is fabulous.

JAE: Good. Good. (At this point I know her face, but have no idea where I know her from).

GIRL: *giggling* I was just remembering that time we climbed up to the top of the stadium and threw all those pumpkins off the top. You were KAH-RAZY!!!!

JAE: Right? (Say what? Well, that sounds like something I would have done, but…. Maybe it’s time to fess up….) So, here’s the thing, I don’tβ€”

GIRL: *hugs* Well it’s great seeing you again Jae. I totally miss the old days with (Roommate’s name I do remember) and (other roommate’s name I know well). Talk to you later!


How could I forget smashing pumpkins from the stadium? I mean I probably did it as a joke because back then I’m pretty sure I was listening to Smashing Pumpkins all the time. Anyways, it horrifies me a bit. I remember so many useless, geeky facts, but names.


I want to hear your stories. Ever had an awkward moment with a person whose name you couldn’t remember? Ever had people you don’t remember tell you stories about yourself? What do you do to help yourself remember names?

42 thoughts on “The Thing About Names

  1. I don’t remember any horrible stories, but I’ve forgotten the name of people before. If I don’t interact with the person for a while or go on some crazy adventure with them then I’m lost. It becomes a smile, nod, and think like mad. Usually ends with me admitting I don’t know or having to take a phone call (call a friend for help). Be easier if we all wore name tags.

    • Remember that scene in my Big Fat Greek Wedding where he’s introducing the family and he’s like, “Nick, Nick, Nick, Nicki, Nick” ? Sometimes I think all the same names would be easier, but my creativity speaks up about how boring that would be. It may be the impossible dream, but I’ll keep striving to remember names.

  2. RIGHT THERE WITH YOU. This is genetic, I suspect, because my father and I both have this. Whatever the reason, we both just find it damn near impossible to remember names. I’ll be wandering through the mall and see someone who I went to school with – someone I spent up to TWELVE YEARS of my life being near – and I won’t have the slightest clue what their name is. I worked at a paper mill for five years, and I STILL don’t know some of the names of the guys I had to talk to on a daily basis.

    It’s a sickness, I tells ya. A sickness.

    • Maybe you’re right. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because we have access to information 24/7 that as a society we’re no longer able to just consume the important things and/or meditate on what we’ve learned for the day. We’re trained to filter out anything uninteresting or that doesn’t seem important and names seem to fall under that category no matter what I do.

      • I’ve actually read about that. They call it the “Google Effect”. The idea is that our brain adapts to information that is easy to locate and doesn’t bother to commit it to memory. And since almost ALL information is easily located these days, our memories are getting worse and worse.

        It explains why by the time I hit college I couldn’t remember any of the stuff I was studying to save my life. lol

  3. Yup. I suck at names too. Tired all the crap they suggest (like repeating the name right away and using it lots). I think I just have too much other information crammed in my noggin (geeky facts take up a big part) that my brain decided names are not needed. I make do.

  4. This is my downfall. I have no memory for names and yet I never forget a face. How cruel is that? People may as well not even bother to tell me their name. Give yourselves numbers, it might work better when you’re around me.

    I have never had someone tell me a story about myself but I do have a lot of people telling me the same thing many many times and when I say you’ve told me that they look at me disbelievingly. “Really? Are you sure,” they say. Very annoying.

  5. I am okay with names, but that’s a skill I’ve had to practice. A couple things I do are:
    1. Introduce the person to someone else when appropriate, like “Have you met Sam?” and then the person whose name I forgot says their name.
    2. Just say, “I know I’ve met you a dozen times, but I am blanking on your name.” Nobody has appeared outwardly offended, and I think its because 90% of people forget other names too. I often have people say, “I’m glad you asked, because I forgot your name too.”

    My anti-super-power is forgetting ridiculous things I say or do, and then having them mentioned later – similar to throwing pumpkins off a stadium… I say and do too many ridiculous things without thinking.

    • You should record them in a journal, I mean when people mention them. It could be a funny thing. Dear Diary, Today I learned I apparently held up a bank 10 years ago. That’s why I never had to take out student loans. It. All. Makes. Sense. πŸ˜‰

  6. I am a receptionist… still dont know the names of half the people in the company 2 years later. It’s terrible! But one lovely lady (let’s call her Linda, because i dont remember), said: so long as you say hi with enough enthusiasm, no one will notice you dont know their name.

    • Some have mentioned too, sharing details you do remember, like if they recently went to Hawaii, etc. My problem is someone will be like, go take that to Stacy, and I’m like who? Trouble…. πŸ˜‰

  7. Hahaha OH I can so relate. I called a kid in law school David for 3 years. Finally, at graduation, he asks why I have been calling him David? Then he drops the bomb that his name is Walter….ack. Yes, Jae….I feel your pain.

    • I lol’d at that! I introduced a David as Michael once. The awkward thing was his last name was Knight. Yeah, and that’s his car Kit…. oops… I can’t believe your guy never addressed it before then though. Wow! Great story. πŸ™‚

  8. Ha! Too funny. That just happened to my hubs and I in a store. A couple stopped us and the woman started chatting away. I was pretty sure I knew who she was, but not positive. My hubby had a blank look on his face. She finally takes a breath, looks at us both and says, “You don’t know who I am, do you?”
    No way am I going to admit that. “Sure I do.” I look at my hubby and, yep, throw him under the bus. “I bet you don’t.” While my brain is scrambling to connect face, comments…name….name….
    Hubby shrugs and admits defeat. Woman looks back at me. I look at hubby, mind still whirling, and speaking very slowly and inwardly praying the brain provides the name when I need it to come out of my mouth, say, “I can’t believe you don’t remember her. It’s…Ellen? Ellen!”

  9. God I am AWFUL at remembering names. And faces. One of my more embarrassing incidents recently involved my brother’s roommate. So I’ve seen this guy off and on for two years, right? I’m at the university, he comes up, goes “Hey, Michelle”, and I completely blank. He looks vaguely familiar, but … other than that, no clue. Luckily he took it well, and later on I helped him move and stole a pair of his socks because it was raining and my shoes got wet, so I think we’re good now πŸ™‚

    • A sock gift is definitely friendship. πŸ™‚ I like that story set up though. Seems like the beginning of a romantic comedy. (The writer inside never stops, lol). Besides, having recently moved, if a person helps with that they can call me a wrong name all day long. Moving sucks… Thanks for sharing! πŸ™‚

  10. I’m the same, I never remember names unless I have something jump out at me to make remember, like you said, some characteristic. But even then, there’s a good chance you’re just going to be labeled “That person with…” Great post! πŸ˜€

  11. I have a terrible memory, so this definitely happens to me a lot, too. Like you, I usually pretend I know the person. They’ll be like, “Hi, Heidi!” And I’ll just go, “Oh, hey, you!” And then my brain will frantically flip past the names of every single person I know and try to match this person’s face. Usually I figure out who they are about ten minutes after they’ve already left…always a little awkward. Ah well. And yet, I can still remember all the words to musicals I memorized when I was ten…hmm…

    • I don’t know why names are so low on the remember priority list. But. They. Are. Well, at least we’re all not alone in our trouble remembering names. πŸ™‚

  12. I do that ALL the time. It sucks. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll never remember names. So I just tell people right away, that I suck with names and will probably ask them what their name is eighty thousand times.

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