How not to behave when you forget someone’s name
By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. October 28, 2014
A large portion of my job involves networking, performing cold calls, attending events, and introducing myself to strangers. Naturally, names and faces will scramble in my brain and leave me uttering, “Nice to meet you,” or “Hey, big guy!” or “You look familiar,” more than once. I’m not immune to misremembering names, few are; however, when I do forget, I like to believe that I know how to behave properly, not make a big deal about it, and simply move on and have a genuine conversation.
Too often I’ll be approached by someone who I have met numerous times with no inclination of who I am. Of course I feel a bit insulted, being so forgettable and all. But that is not what bothers me. What bothers me is that some egotistical people will deem me so unimportant that they will just quickly brush me aside. Instead of talking to me or even addressing me, they just saunter off feeling more recognizable. As I watch these people disappear into the mass of humanity, I know that we’ll meet again, but the scenario will not change. They’ll say hi, do a few memory reps to remember when we last interacted, get exhausted, and mosey on.
If you cannot remember people’s name after an initial introduction, it’s because you weren’t able to associate something memorable with them. Ask for their name again, then inquire about something unique, not just work, school, or interests, but what plans they have for the near future or what projects they are working on. You must dig deeper than the forgettable surface questions. Show that you’re not a self-centred prick, and give a shit about someone who took the brain space to remember your name. Then when you meet them again, you can ask how their life went with a checkpoint to start from.
I get it—sometimes names just slip your mind or hang at the tip of your tongue. Don’t make a big deal out of it. However, nobody looks good when they forget someone, especially after multiple introductions. At some point, you better get it right or you’ll just look silly, and depending on the person, you might also appear offensive.
My name is Elliot, an uncommon name to say the least. There is something about it that causes people to substitute it with another male name that begins with the letter E. I’ve been called Eric, Ed, Emilio, Ethan, Eli, and maybe a few more that I too have forgotten. It’s understandable—many people have names that sound different. Some people even have names that come from another culture or have a distinctive spelling. What annoys me is when someone says, “Oh whatever, it doesn’t matter what your name is.” Fuck you! Not only is that disrespectful, but it’s also confusing.
Every name represents a human being, every human being is as important as the last regardless of their social class, seniority, personality, or overall attractiveness. And it doesn’t matter what your traits are either; if you can’t remember someone, you’ll always appear a little snobbier.