"Hi, great to see you, who are you?"
July 10, 2012 8:02 PM   Subscribe

Which is best: asking an acquaintance "What's your name again?", hoping they don't notice you don't remember their name, or guessing their name and being wrong?

I am bad with names. Really bad. There are people I've met a dozen times whose name I don't remember. My most frequent practice when I encounter one of these people is to hope that nothing comes up in conversation that requires me to reveal that I don't know their name -- or, in some cases, who exactly they are, beyond "somebody I've met a bunch of times who thus knows my name and reasonably expects me to know theirs." Other options include simply asking "Sorry, remind me your name?" I'll do this if intuition tells me I've only met the person once or twice, but if it's someone I see more frequently it just seems painful. Often I feel 80% confident I know the person's name and so I just come out with what I think it is. 20% of the time I'm wrong. This is also painful.

So: a) Forgetful people, what are best practices for gracefully managing the fact that you don't know who people are? b) Regular people, can you tell when the person you're talking to doesn't know your name / who you are? c) Is it more offensive when your forgetful friend pretends not to have forgotten your name, or when they call you by a name that isn't yours?
posted by escabeche to Human Relations (35 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
a) Really, the best thing to do is be honest: "I am really horrible with names and I'm so sorry, I know I should remember by now but could you please tell me your name again? Thanks, Susie, hopefully this time it'll stick!"

I'm also horrible with names and I've found that being honest not only makes me feel better, it helps me to remember someone's name the next time! I don't know why, but it's true.

b) Yes, I can tell, but that's probably because I know how I act when I can't remember someone's name.

c) It's more offensive to me personally when someone calls me by the wrong name.
posted by cooker girl at 8:08 PM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I ofent tell people when I meet them that I may need to ask their name again, and that they have lifetime permission to do the same with me.

When I meet them again, I generally just proactively tell them my name, accompanied if appropriate with "I know we've met..." Then they say their name and all is well.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:11 PM on July 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you don't make it a big deal, they won't either.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:12 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are *you* horribly offended when someone forgets your name and asks to be reminded?

I used to stress about this. But now I'm just like "sorry, remind me again...?" with a smile and it's all fine. Sometimes it's kind of a way to break the ice when it turns out they forgot your name too.
posted by jschu at 8:13 PM on July 10, 2012

Oh. And also, if you're on facebook, friend the new people you meet. Then you have a chance to put the face with the name a few times before the next time you see them again.
posted by jschu at 8:17 PM on July 10, 2012

I'm forgetful with names too, but used to be much more so. Here's some tips help remember names:
- When someone introduces themselves to you, repeat their name back to them "Hi Tom, I'm Escabeche". Then try to use their name once more before you part ways, either in conversation or when when saying goodbye.
- Generally the more interested you are in people, the more you remember their names. Ask people questions about themselves when you meet them.
- If you've just met someone a few minutes ago, and forgotten their name already, don't worry, just ask them again "what was your name again?"

a) Just ask them. And don't be ashamed, because you're not unusual. EVERYONE forgets names sometimes. Even of friends. It's really not a big deal.

b) I can sometimes tell. It doesn't bother me, but I'd prefer if they just asked me.

c) I'm offended by neither. But if you call someone the wrong name you run the risk that they'll be too polite to point it out, and then you won't know! So just ask them.

Also, the problem is not helped by the anxiety you get when you're not sure about someone's name. You know the name, but then a seed of doubt pops into your head and you can't get it out and you start worrying unnecessarily. And that actually clouds your ability to think clearly and recall thier name. So the less you worry about it, the easier it will be. :)
posted by pablocake at 8:18 PM on July 10, 2012

Definitely ask them again. Very rarely will people find that offensive I think.
posted by ichomp at 8:18 PM on July 10, 2012

I forget people's names a lot, too. I'm also really bad at lying, so I'm pretty sure folks would be able to tell if I were pretending I didn't not know their name.

For the times I'm completely blanking, I'll say, "hey, remind me your name again?" and they'll say "Dave" or whatever, and I'll say, "oh, of course, Dave...I'm so sorry," and give a sheepish grin. So far, to my knowledge, this method has upset no one.

If it's someone whose name I think I know but I"m not 100% on, I'll typically say, "you're Dave, right?" And sometimes they'll say, "no, it's actually Jeff," to which I"ll respond, "god, I'm sorry. I guess my brain thinks you look like a Dave," and make a hurf-durf-brains-amirite expression and point to my head. So far, to my knowledge, this method has upset no one.

Two things I don't do: 1) call them a name I'm not completely sure is theirs, and 2) lie about it/try to hide it. Folks are generally pretty forgiving as long as you make it clear that you're wrong for forgetting, and it's not that you're too busy or important to remember who they are.

And whatever you do, don't call anyone Molva!
posted by phunniemee at 8:19 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm with you. How I handle this is telling people when I first meet them how bad with names they are and let them know that I'll be asking them again in the future. Then I ask them with a sheepish grin reminding them I told them I was bad with names earlier.
posted by bswinburn at 8:23 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

It is easy to coast through a conversation and never mention the other person's name. If I'm not dead certain I don't name them, just keep the chatter going. If you remember faces well and where you met them (like me), you can bring up the last place you saw them, they'll be impressed by this. Glide into a conversation and then glide out of it, and there's no need to even ask or mention names if the conversation is snappy and interesting enough. Don't worry about it!

They won't notice unless they ask, "Hey, why haven't you addressed me by name?" which can be a real ego-slayer to certain people. If you want to practice this skill, hit the political circuit. There are some savants who remember your name from everything, but mere mortals employ one of many tactics to absolutely avoid asking what your name is again.

If you're in a reception situation, flagging down someone you recognize (no need to know the name) and having them introduce or greet the other person can tease a name out. You also get the bonus of being social lubricant.

"Hey, let me get your card," also works, people whip out business cards as reflex without thinking about it, and people don't think twice about handing the card to the same person.

Granted, I run in some networking circles where you are guaranteed to run into a situation like this with people you only see a few times a year (and people you approach may have forgotten your name!), and not remembering names loses quite a bit of face. It's very common for people to do this dance to avoid having to ask, and it works, and everyone comes out looking good.

Nametags...the greatest invention ever...
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 8:25 PM on July 10, 2012

I'll just go along with everyone else and say it's okay to say you've forgotten their name. I just save time and tell people I'll forget them if I run into them on the street and not to be offended. I have a rotten memory, not just for names, but for faces.

That being said, I've had entire conversations with people who obviously know me but I have no idea who they are. I never once asked them their name because it just didn't come up. Sometimes it's not even an issue. Just sayin'.
posted by patheral at 8:25 PM on July 10, 2012

I have the same problem, and my workaround is to call anyone I don't remember a campy term of endearment, liike "honeybunch" or "daahling" (with a Tallulah Bankhead intonation), or, if I can remember a detail of the nameless one's CV, something like "the most adorable man in all of Williamsburg."

Now, it should be remembered I am a middle-aged gay opera fan, so this "Auntie Mame" approach might not fly quite so well if you're a CPA.

For introductions, there is the dodge of saying, "now, you two know each other, don't you?" which will allow each of the new acquaintances to offer his name. (Listen carefully, and you can get away with immediately saying. "Oh, yes, David just adores Massenet," or whatever the equivalent is in CPA-speak.

Politer, if you can remember one name, is the half-introduction, e.g., "Do you know Mercedes Bass?" It's not ideal, but it's better than leaving two strangers staring at each other.

If you have to ask for a name, you can try making a bit of a production of it, as if you knew it all along but suddenly, through some bizarre trick of your brain, the name has just... vanished! "Oh... oh my heavens, can you believe that I've gone and forgotten your name? I feel like a damned nincompoop!"

But, as I said, if the Roz Russell act isn't your cup of tea, there is nothing wrong with saying quietly, "I am so terribly sorry, but I have forgotten your name," then thanking the person for being such a good sport in telling it to you again. And if you can remember to do so, try to work the name into the conversation a few times in the new minutes ("Really, Charles, is there anyone to sing Aida these days? You know, a friend of mine was asking that question just yesterday, and I said, if anyone would know, it would be Charles...")
posted by La Cieca at 8:26 PM on July 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

I usually just say "Remind me of your name..." and people always respond positively. I figure they appreciate that even though I have forgotten their name I care enough to ask them to remind me, rather than not asking and maneuvering the conversation to avoid drawing attention to my forgetfulness.
posted by mediated self at 8:37 PM on July 10, 2012

Ask for the person's name. After the answer, say "No, I meant your last name." People are less offended by those who forget their surnames.
posted by ylee at 8:40 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is only going to get worse as you age, so you might as well get comfortable with just asking. I can't really imagine anyone of any age being offended, but I can tell you with 100% certainty that anyone over the age of 45 will not be, because it gets to be a very common occurrence in any group of middle-aged people. You don't have to ask in any clever way--just say "I'm so sorry, what was your name again?" It's fine. Act like it's normal because it is.
posted by HotToddy at 9:09 PM on July 10, 2012

Just own it. Remembering names is difficult, especially in situations where you're meeting several people at once or people you may not see often.

My housemate's boyfriend occasionally runs through a series of names before settling on the one that refers to the person he's talking to or about, even if it's her--and it's just become a Thing, something that happens sometimes which we joke about.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 9:27 PM on July 10, 2012

I'm super-bad with names too, so I preempt. As soon as I'm introduced, or given a name I'll say "I'm not going to remember that in 15 minutes, so please don't be surprised if I have to ask you your name again." Said with a smile, of course, it usually gets a sympathetic laugh or comment. In social settings, it also gives you a chance to re-strike up a conversation later, if you desire, because you've got a lead-in: "See, I told you - I've already forrgotten. Forgive me and tell me your name again?"
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:29 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

"This is terrible, but I've forgotten your name."
"It's John."
"John. Nice to meet you, John. Again. Seriously, I'm sorry. Sometimes I have the attention span of a goldfish."

There. You solved the problem, apologized, been self-deprecating, used a specific, recommended tactic (repeating the name out loud, twice) to remember the name, and you look like the honorable sort to just own up to your mistake. Boom.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:51 PM on July 10, 2012

I feel bad when I have to ask people their name, but I'm flattered when someone asks me because it means they'd rather I not be a nameless stranger.
posted by rhizome at 9:59 PM on July 10, 2012

I have never been offended by someone asking to be reminded of my name, nor have I ever noticeably offended anyone by asking for a reminder. Forgetting names happens to almost everyone, and we all find it embarrassing, but I've found that unless you want the embarrassment to be permanent the best thing to do is just power through and ask until you get it right.

To help you remember their name, try using it in conversation a few times while you're talking to them, even if it sounds a bit awkward to do so. Also, try to consciously create an association between their name with some characteristic about them that you do remember (e.g. "Betty has red hair, Joseph has that mole on his cheek, Sam is always really well-dressed...") as well, so that you can tie it to something about them that you already have in your memory. I find these tricks help a lot when I can remember to use them.
posted by Scientist at 10:28 PM on July 10, 2012

I prefer when people just ask my name again. I'm always sort of flattered that they remember me enough to, well, remember me, even if they don't remember my name! Names are easy to forget, most people are pretty forgiving.

There's this one politician I have to deal with who I think is a real jerk, and he never remembers my name, and is too false-smile-buddy-buddy to ever ask and admit he forgot, so him I let squirm and I go out of my way to avoid giving him any clues. If he just asked, I'd remind him. But he never will. (The other 99.9% of the time when I can tell someone doesn't remember, I just reintroduce myself so it isn't awkward. Or I come up with an excuse to give them my card. Help people save face; everyone forgets names!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:48 PM on July 10, 2012

I always avoid dealing with it and then ask someone else - quietly pull aside someone who seems to know the nameless acquaintance (or knows the social group) and say, "Hey, that tall guy in the blue striped shirt over by the TV - what's his name again?" Repeat until someone knows the answer.
posted by amaire at 12:56 AM on July 11, 2012

If I can ask someone else before the conversation happens, I'd do so. If not, I just apologetically ask. I do find it less awkward if I get that out of the way at the beginning of the conversation than when it gets really going.
posted by cendawanita at 2:04 AM on July 11, 2012

When I introduce myself to people, I tell them that I'm awful with names and that I'm sure to ask them again. Almost every time I do this, the response is "I'm awful with names too!" Lots of people have this problem and by admitting it up front you're making it easier for you to ask again the next time you meet the person. Sometimes I mention that I remember who the person is, just not what their name is.

If you get the wrong name, you can occasionally say that the person reminds you of a friend with that name.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:20 AM on July 11, 2012

I think it's fine to ask someone's name again. This happened to me just the other day - an acquaintance said "I'm so sorry, this is embarrassing...but I've forgotten your name. I'm terrible with names!" Although I knew her name, I wasn't offended in the least. It happens.

Just apologize and tell the person you're terrible with names. It's really not a big deal. I would definitely be a lot more irritated if she just guessed at my name incorrectly.
posted by barnoley at 3:59 AM on July 11, 2012

Just apologize and ask. For people I know I'll run into frequently, I warn them in advance that I'll forget it again, and I'm so sorry, and it's just that I suck at names, but I'm trying and I'll get it eventually.

I respect someone a thousand times more if they can own it and at least try to learn names, rather than dodging around it in conversation.
posted by anaelith at 7:36 AM on July 11, 2012

If Forgetful and Regular are the first two categories, I'm the third: Rememberful. I swear I'm not stalkery, I just almost always remember the names (and any details they've given, usually, like profession or neighborhood) of people I met fleetingly or a long time ago, which means I'm often in the position of someone not remembering my name when they think they should because I have, surprisingly to them, remembered theirs.

Like a couple of people said above, I am both not bothered at all by being asked my name and glad they care enough to not let me go nameless.
posted by Pax at 7:44 AM on July 11, 2012

One trick I've heard is to ask people to remind you their name. Then, when they tell you their first name, you say, "no, I meant your last name."

I've never actually done this, but it's a somewhat clever way to find out the first name while pretending you knew it all along.
posted by andoatnp at 10:27 AM on July 11, 2012

When I meet them again, I generally just proactively tell them my name, accompanied if appropriate with "I know we've met..." Then they say their name and all is well.

I think this is a winner. By doing this you'll be doing many people a favour who won't remember your name either, often they're going to say their name without further prompting from you, and if they don't a simple "I'm terribly sorry, but your name was..." will suffice.

More in general: ask, don't guess.
posted by rjs at 11:29 AM on July 11, 2012

I don't really care if you forget my name or not. Saying "I'm sorry, but I just had a brain fart and I cannot for the life of me remember your name just now" is fine by me.

Also...well, I don't know about you, but people's names rarely come up in a random conversation with someone I ran into much. Most of the time it doesn't matter what the hell their name is, unless I specifically have to look them up for something or need their contact info or I'm forced to introduce someone to someone else. So if I don't recall someone's name (which I usually don't until I've gotten to know them better anyway), they usually don't know because most of the time, I don't even need to know it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:18 PM on July 11, 2012

I just say "I"m sorry, I've forgotten your name." And when the tell me I point to myself (or something a little more graceful, but the same "Me Tarzan" idea) and say what my name is. They usually look relieved that I've told them my name, because know what? We've all forgotten each other's names and everyone wishes we all wore name tags all the time.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:16 PM on July 11, 2012

Oh, and I would much rather have someone ask me my name than have them guess and get it wrong (unless it's "Laurie," which people do all the the and I'm thinking I should just start answering to) or have them clearly avoid using my name. It's been years since I was offended by someone not remembering my name.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:18 PM on July 11, 2012

Ask them. It will only get harder the more times you interact with them.

Although if you have a mutual acquaintance, it might be easier to say to that mutual acquaintance with a self-deprecating laugh, "Help me--what was her name again?" Bonus is that by asking for assistance, you've solidified the relationship with mutual acquaintance a bit, too.
posted by elizeh at 4:16 PM on July 11, 2012

This is somewhat situation-dependent, but I've saved face with "Remind me how to spell your name!" on a few occasions.
posted by tetralix at 5:10 PM on July 11, 2012

Guessing and being wrong is the worst. It feels kind of insulting. And asking for a spelling can be bad too. "It's DAN. D... A... N." "Oh, right. Well, I had a buddy who spelled it with 13 N's and five D's, but he was kind of eccentric." Shrug. If forced to, it's best to just admit you forgot.

I'm really bad with names too. And new-ish faces. I was in the elevator with someone recently and I asked if she'd just moved into the building. She kind of rolled her eyes, and I said "Ah. Let me guess... we've met and I asked you that before." She said "It was a while ago, but yeah." Me: "Well, the thing is, I'm really bad at remembering people. I mean REALLY bad. I get up in the morning, look in the mirror and I'm like 'Who the fuck is THAT?" Here's the worst part: I remembered the joke but still can't remember her name. Ugh!

The only thing I've found that works is to say the person's name in a reply back to them.

"Hi, I'm Dan."
"Nice to meet you, Dan. I'm Rob."

...of course, I usually forget to do this.
posted by 2oh1 at 2:28 PM on July 12, 2012

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