Can you two just please introduce yourselves because I have no idea!
May 18, 2013 1:21 AM   Subscribe

I've had this silly and embarrassing little problem for years and I'm noticing that it's getting worse. Sometimes, when I run into somebody I know or if I'm introducing somebody I know to somebody they don't know, I truly blank out on the name of the person I know.

This most always happens with people I know really well (close friends, family, etc.) and I really, really forget. It's like there's this big hole that appears in my head where their name used to be. I panic and try to grab onto anything in my head to lead me to knowing their name. It rarely if ever works. It's now happening about once-a-week, always with someone whose name I should know really well, always during social interaction, and doesn't ever seem to be related to stress or social anxiety situations. I usually need them to say their name (Atreyuuuuu...) or I need to go look them up to break the memory jam. At any rate, it's rather embarrassing and I never know what to do, e.g., my insta-panic and stuttering ramble that kicks in when I find myself in this situation. I'm wondering why this is happening, what I can do about it (especially classy ways to fess up when their name doesn't come to me), and if I should be concerned about it (symptom of a bigger problem)?
posted by iamkimiam to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You can just say, "Have you two met?" and smile while they each say their names. It works even if you don't know either of them.
posted by Phssthpok at 1:30 AM on May 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

I always say "I'm great with faces but I do forget names. Could you please again tell me yours"?
Also there's workarounds. You can have conversations for a long while without needing the name. When introducing, on preview, exactly so: try them to figure it out on their own...

(As to that it's getting worse, I wouldn't really bother about that. If you truly panic... this rarely enables you to see the workings of your brain more objectively)
posted by Namlit at 1:31 AM on May 18, 2013

Certainly see a doctor. It may be a symptom of something or it may not, but it can't hurt to get it checked out.

When this happens to me, I begin the introduction and then say something like, "Argh! Mental blank! Brain not co-operatng! Joe, this is someone I know whose name escapes me!". Each time, the forgotten one just says their name, there's some good-natured ribbing about how forgetful I am, and all is right with the world. (And then I try some memory trick, like picturing Kurt in grungy clothes singing 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' or Isabelle deciding if a bell is necessary on a bike.)
posted by malibustacey9999 at 1:38 AM on May 18, 2013

Two ways of getting a name out of someone:

During introductions: act like you've just started a coughing fit and mutter a coughSORRYcough while gesturing for them to talk (the first thing they will do is introduce themselves).

Say 'what is your name again'. When the person says 'Pat', reply 'hahaha! no! your last name!'

Unfortunately, I have no idea of what this problem may mean, if anything. I'd just suggest that you keep track of oddities in speech, memory, balance, or anything that you've noticed has changed.
posted by maya at 1:49 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ugh! I do this all the time. It's at a point now where I avoid calling people by their names because there is a good chance I will mess it up.

When I meet someone new, I do a word association, and can do well with their names. People that I have known forever don't have a word association, and I blank out. It is fairly common and nothing to worry about, but it is embarrassing.

The most awkward thing for me is that I switch up names that are similar. Over the years I have dated two men named Alan. I have a dear, sweet friend, who I talk to all the time, named Adam. It is very awkward when I call him Alan.
posted by myselfasme at 1:51 AM on May 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry to sit in my own thread, but I should clarify that the name of the person I'm forgetting is the name of the person who I'm closest to, NOT the new person. I can't ask the close person their name because they respond with a crazy look and a comment akin to "Uhh, Kim, we've known each other for 10 years now, what's going on?" As if I'm playing a game or being rude or something. I'm panicking because it's absurd to forget the names of your nearest and dearest. Especially if it's just you and them talking and you realize that you just don't remember how they're called. It's a bit silly to stop the conversation to, say, ask your cousin what his first name is.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:57 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, that's happened to me plenty of times. I typically take the route of appearing forgetful by not introducing the two people, and they'll introduce themselves. But the whole time I'm trying to get my brain to work, and if the name comes I'll interject and say, "oh, I forgot to introduce you...blah, this is blah..."

But sometimes if I know I'm going to have to introduce two people, I can prepare for it beforehand by repeating the names over and over in my head. The really bad thing is when the faces go, and I have no idea who I'm talking to. This only happens once a year or so, but can be embarrassing.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 2:27 AM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This happens to me too. I now usually introduce a person using a descriptor, and let that person say his or her own name. (e.g. "I'd like to you to meet my sister!"; "This is my friend from school!" etc.) Your friend will almost always help you out and say, "Hi! I'm so and so!" What I'm doing might be a little obvious, but I think it's usually largely invisible, and it's better than stumbling. I've also decided that there is something courteous about facilitating an introduction rather than forcing an introduction, but I'm probably deceiving myself into thinking that there isn't a slight breach of etiquette here.
posted by painquale at 2:29 AM on May 18, 2013 [10 favorites]

I have once or twice used something along the lines of "This is... wait, how do you prefer to be called?" But that works mostly because most of my group of friends have nicknames along with short / full versions of our names, and may not want to be introduced as "Sticky D".
posted by lucidium at 2:31 AM on May 18, 2013

The panic is the worst part, the tensing up at the introduction and then the mental 'OH CRAP!' when it occurs. So I think maybe focus on working out tools for the upset so you can relax and get better at it. Even if what you wind up with in your tool kit is a self-deprecating laugh and"Holy cow; I'm totally blanking on your name" you'll actually feel better knowing you have an out, and over time it'll get better because you won't be as preoccupied with the problem.

The other thing to think about is some relaxation techniques, so that you can calm down before you get to that point, because it's probably the tension/fight or flight that causes the brain freeze.

If it's a new thing, and it happens in other circumstances, I'd maybe talk to a doctor or see if you're getting enough sleep or maybe taking medication that makes you a little loopy - something like that. But you might just be a little anxious and it might cause your brain to get a little loopy.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:59 AM on May 18, 2013

Or -- bow out of it entirely with 'I keep having brain freezes when I do introductions. Why don't you two introduce each other'? You might feel better if you just own it, get a little bit of schtick for it, and forget it. And then a year from now it might not even be a problem anymore.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:02 AM on May 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You have whomnesia! I get this sometimes, not just with people's names, but with all sorts of data that I know perfectly well, without even thinking about – but which, on demand, sometimes just becomes momentarily, inexplicably, inaccessible. I think of it as an odd form of "stage fright," even though it doesn't have anything to do with anxiety.

Here's an article about this problem and other memory blips though it doesn't really have a ton of advice for the naming-friends problem except to anticipate possible fugue episodes in advance and write some notes to yourself, which can help in situations where you might expect to run into certain people. And "Carved in Sand" is a book that may be useful, or at least interesting. (I haven't read it yet, so can't personally recommend it, but I think I will get it.)

I've done the awkward look-at-friend-whose-name-I-know-but-can't-spit-out and say "this is Fred," (indicating other person) "who you probably remember I told you about? He is the x who made that great y?" and they usually then offer, "Nice to meet you, Fred, I'm NAME."

I've done the awkward pretend-I-think-they-already-know-each-other and thereby avoid introduction and they go ahead and introduce themselves.

I've done the awkward, "Okay, so this is crazy, but sometimes I get this weird brain fog, and you two need to introduce yourselves."

All very, very awkward and embarrassing. But aside from preparing myself in advance for people I might logically meet in certain circumstances, I'm going to go with explaining "whomnesia" next time. Still awkward, but at least it will be leavened with an amusing neologism and possible conversation about how "oh, maaaan, I get that too!"
posted by taz at 3:28 AM on May 18, 2013 [10 favorites]

Best answer: This happens to me alotalot. I've had a professional tell me it's a stress thing, but it happens when I don't think I'm feeling stressed. It's sort of amusing to watch it happen - it's like I'm walking through the sentence and as I approach the important bit it's like I can see the name disappearing into a hole, and I'm like 'no, wait! ah, fuck. oh well.' In Agatha Christie's autobiography she mentions an event during a really stressful period in her life when she went to sign a cheque and had no idea what her name was, which can freak one out.

I had to learn to roll with it and not panic. It's much worse than garden variety aphasia, where I can talk around the missing word if I've built up a head of steam and I know if I just don't force it it will come to me. No synonyms for names, though, and a more-wordy description of who the person is just doesn't cut it.

As far as how to deal with it, there's an advantage to it being something that occurs with your nearest and dearest. Tell them. Like, well before the next time you're in this situation. They can either jump in and help you out if you show any hestitation or give them a look, or they can have fun torturing you in front of strangers, and force you to say 'This is my brother, whose name escapes me just now'. I've also gotten a lot less shy about telling co-workers and casual acquaintances that I have no idea what day, month, year, or season it is at a given moment ('Have you started your new job, or are you starting it soon?' 'August!' 'I have no idea if that's in the past or the future, sorry.'), or that I've just drawn a total blank mid-sentence (usually a blessed reprieve for my conversational partner anyway).

Worth seeing a doctor about, though, if only so you'll panic less about what it might mean.

On preview, I really must check out taz's links.
posted by you must supply a verb at 3:47 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have this problem too and it's ironic because I am a teacher and actually really good at learning and remembering names! It's an anxiety thing I think, like 'oh god wouldn't it be embarrassing to forgot the person you've worked with for ten years' name when you run into your cousin? And lo and behold your brain helps you enact that exact situation.

I do exactly what painquale does and say 'this is my cousin!' To your coworker, smile and pause and usually it's a bit awkward but they introduce themselves.

It's definitely an anxiety thing. It probably happened once accidentally, freaked you out and embarrassed you and now you have an automatic 'introductions! Panic!' Response.

So just decide you will introduce them like painquale says. It works.
posted by bquarters at 3:55 AM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

You need a few seconds to do a "dry run," before the two people are in front of each other. When you do this, softly mouth out the name of your close friend - this eliminates the 'cold start' freeze-up. The brain acts more fluidly when you actually say something rather than think it.

I also suspect you don't use your friends' names in everyday vocal interactions with them - start doing that. It will help considerably.
posted by Kruger5 at 5:06 AM on May 18, 2013

Yeah, I'd try saying "oh, hey, New Guy! How've you been! Wait --- do you two know each other?" And then point at New Guy. This will trigger new guy to introduce themselves to friend.
posted by Diablevert at 5:11 AM on May 18, 2013

Break convention and stop using names or introducing people. If anybody ever has the temerity to complain you could explain if you can be bothered.
posted by BenPens at 5:24 AM on May 18, 2013

You could try being bold. "I'm going to let you two introduce yourselves to each other." Then take a step back.
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:50 AM on May 18, 2013

Best answer: Just be honest. Tell your friends and family ahead of time, "Look, I've been blanking out on the names of people I've known for decades when I have to introduce them to others. I don't know why I'm doing it, but but I just wanted to let you know this is happening and when I suddenly look like a deer caught in headlights, either supply your own name to the new person or don't get offended when I ask you who you are."

I'm not offended when someone forgets my name (especially since every 3rd girl has it--of course you mix me up with the Jessicas), and I wouldn't be if you told me this even if you were a relative.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:57 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I do this, but I am a professor, so I have a sort of goofy professor thing and often go for the ooooh I forgot to introduce you two when they get around to introducing themselves. Like bquarters, I have no problem in the classroom, just outside. I suggest you do a bit of strategic cultivating of this sort of thing.
posted by oflinkey at 8:09 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

common problem. context oriented for me. i'd forget my wife if she was not where i expect to see her.

pass off the task to the two people, as others have suggested. sometimes it's smooth, and sometimes it's rough. you will survive. learning to actively suppress feelings of personal inadequacy is a very valuable skill to cultivate. comes in handy in lots of places. this isn't a character flaw, it's a memory access error. we all forget.

i have a reaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaly good memory. even so, this happens weekly or monthly. lately, i've taken to reiterating names to make sure i recall them for a bit, but again, wrong context means no hooks.

Sometimes, I will say "I don't know if you know this about me, but sometimes my brain goes into a kernel panic and I can't access names anymore. I am having that moment at this instant. Please help me out." Old people can be charming. Try it.
posted by FauxScot at 8:22 AM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

This sounds like social anxiety, where a new person is making you nervous and you lose your cool. There are ways around saying your friend's name, but it sounds like meeting someone new is throwing a wrench into your works. Perhaps seeing someone to help with this?
posted by charlemangy at 9:45 AM on May 18, 2013

Tell your close friends that you have trouble remembering other people's names when you see them out of context. Ask them to introduce themselves to save you the embarrassment of forgetting the other person's name whenever this happens. This way you get what you need to happen and you never have to admit to your close friends that sometimes you blank on their names too.
posted by secretseasons at 10:46 AM on May 18, 2013

This happens to me too, and almost always when I have known them for years. The way I have coped is to simply explain that I have had a brain cramp, and sometimes I just let folks know this is an issue I have. Not much else I can do about it, (but I will check out those links just in case!)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:45 PM on May 18, 2013

It is more than likely that your brain is now just in the habit of panicking, but I would still bring it up with your doctor.
posted by heyjude at 2:58 PM on May 18, 2013

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