I'll never forget a conversation. Does that help?
December 13, 2005 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Why do people get offended when you forget their name? (also here, here, and here)

Ok, so I'll admit, I'm really, really, REALLY bad about this. Whatever part of the brain that is supposed to recognize faces and associate them with names, let's just say that I don't have it. (I'm also terrible with directions.)

What makes matters worse is that I'm the kind of person who tends to "stick out" in peoples' memories. Thus, the problem is compounded - everybody remembers my name, but I don't remember anybody else's. I've found that some people get offended by this. Why? I never get offended by this kind of thing.

Is there some general pattern to the type of person who will be offended by having their name forgotten? Is there a pattern to people, like me, who forget names?

(Added detail - I'm very good at remembering entire conversations that I've had with people, but for some reason, this doesn't help at all)
posted by Afroblanco to Human Relations (27 answers total)
They are offended because they think you don't care about them enough to remember their name. True or not doesn't really matter.
posted by smackfu at 7:51 PM on December 13, 2005

Because it implies you don't regard the person as important enough to take the time and effort to remember their name -- whether or not that's even true. Just a guess.

Just as you're someone who "sticks out" and people always remember, I'm guessing there are people that don't stick out and are frequently not remembered as quickly. I would imagine it could get a little frustrating and disheartening when you have to remind many people over and over what your name is and who you are and that they have in fact met you before.

Not that this has ever happened to me or anything ;-)
posted by awegz at 7:55 PM on December 13, 2005

Yeah, remember names. It's a good habit, and can make people feel important/unimportant depending on how well you do it.

When I hear "I'm not good at names, but ," I tend to think of these people as somewhat self-centered people. Maybe not self-centered, but at least somewhat concerned-only-about-their-social-status-quo. Is there a word for that?

Also, if people not remembering your name doesn't bother you, I don't think you're meeting people you hold any esteem for. E.g. The pretty girl doesn't remember my name. Damn. The ugly girl remembers my name. Who cares? (as I haven't had time yet to find out how beautiful she is on the inside, heh)

posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 8:01 PM on December 13, 2005

Best answer: Speaking as a shy person, when very outgoing people continually forget my name or, even worse, forget ever having met me, I start to think of them as being a little phony, since they obviously have social skills and for some reason I'm not important enough for them to bother using them. Yes, I realize that they might just be forgetful, but it's hard to completely erase my reflexive reaction.
posted by transona5 at 8:11 PM on December 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not good at remembering names, either. As a matter of fact, I'm terrible about it. But I read Carnegie and he made sense, so I worked on it. When I meet someone, I repeat his name. I make a point to say the name at least once, twice or thrice if I can work it smoothly into the conversation.

Long story short, I got better. Practice makes perfect. "I'm not good at it" is a child's excuse. Life is about challenge, and no one is born good at all the important stuff. You have to work.
posted by cribcage at 8:11 PM on December 13, 2005

I think that if you can't remember names but you do remember details about the conversations you have with that person, then it is childish for them to get upset. Remembering the conversation shows that they did, in fact, leave some sort of impression on you. After all, there are so many people in this world names John, how can you keep them all straight.

I'm very bad at this, but I also don't get offended when someone forgets my name. If I can't remember someone's name, I try to show the mark they left on me by saying, "Oh yeah, aren't you the person that (fill in the blank here)..." At least that way you don't look too inconsiderate. Follow that up with, "I'm sorry, what is your name again?"

It also helps me to associate these details I learn via conversation with the person's name, for future recall reference.
posted by Brittanie at 9:00 PM on December 13, 2005

When I hear "I'm not good at names, but ," I tend to think of these people as somewhat self-centered people. Maybe not self-centered, but at least somewhat concerned-only-about-their-social-status-quo. Is there a word for that?

That's an idiotic thing to think. I tell people I can't remember names because I can't remember names. I remember one incident where I was trying to specifically remember a woman's name so I could tell someone else about an incident and five minutes after that I could not remember it. Although, oddly enough, I can remember it now: Mary Hooba.

Anyway, the point is inability to put names with faces is a very real problem. I find that the best way to avoid offending people is by trying to avoid getting into a situation where you have to say someone's name (remember the 'mulva' episode of Sienfeild?)
posted by delmoi at 9:14 PM on December 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

It's not so much not remembering their name as how you handle it. It wouldn't even occur to me to be offended if someone said to me, "Sorry, what was your name again?"

But -- anecdote time -- in a class I took last semester, one of the students was a woman in her 40s who would not use my name. Whenever she referred to a comment I made, it was always, "Well, in response to what THAT young lady said..." It was incredibly patronizing. I'm a graduate student, not a 12 year old. If you're my Aunt Earlene or one of my mom's friends or whatever, fine, but in an academic setting, "young lady" doesn't fly with me.

Incidentally, I asked her to call me by my name, but she kept mixing me up with the other Asian girl in the class.
posted by Marit at 9:27 PM on December 13, 2005

I'm the same way; I get out of it because I have a ridiculous knack for remembering the inane details. So when I meet someone for the second time, I go "Hey - University of Michigan right? What's your name again?" That shows that I can remember the actual person, if not their name, and they don't get offended. I agree that it's not actually the name - it's the idea that they left absolutely no impression on you whatsoever that is kind of depressing.

If someone wants to think I'm self centered because I can't remember names, then I don't really give a flip. Forgetting a PERSON is different than forgetting a friggin NAME. I thought it was pretty well established that different people remember things differently - numbers, names, details, etc. make different connections in people's heads. No big deal; that is life. I don't look down on all the people who can't remember dates or numbers to save their lives.
posted by gatorae at 9:28 PM on December 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm with you afroblanca, not so quick to register names or faces. I don't remember either until I have had some kind of meaningful interaction with that person.

To be quite honest, afro, I did not remeber your name or face after first meeting you, but by now I will never forget.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:54 PM on December 13, 2005

If what I learned in cognitive psychology is true, most human beings aren't good at names. You'll most likely remember the setting you met someone in, their role there, how they were attired, and what they do for a living more naturally than you'll remember their name.

I don't know a pattern to who gets offended, but I know people who realize this generally don't.
posted by weston at 10:02 PM on December 13, 2005

Along these lines I had a rather pretentious friend that would throw a party for 20 or so people and then announce that the festivities could not begin until at least one person could recite everyone's name.

I made a mental note to always make sure that the one guy who could do it effortlessly should also be invited next time so I wouldn't have to worry about it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:11 PM on December 13, 2005

There's a good reason why How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the bestselling books of all time.
posted by neuron at 10:12 PM on December 13, 2005

Sometimes I'm great with names, other times, not so much. If I find in the initial conversation I've forgotten their name already, I'll ask again. Then I'll mention I may ask a few times because I am terrible with names, but I want to remember theirs. Seems to put people at ease, because they're thinking the same thing 6 out of 10 times. I've been in situations where I was too embarrassed to ask people to repeat their names - 3 years go by and I see them all the time in the course of my employment, know details and have conversations about our personal lives, but can't for the life of me remember their names! I don't want to be in that situation again.
posted by Iamtherealme at 10:28 PM on December 13, 2005

I am terrible at names and will come right out and tell people that when I meet them or re-meet them. I can't think of a single instance where someone's actually shown any offense. I usually laugh off when anyone forgets my name even though it does kind of sting is she's cute.
posted by birdherder at 10:57 PM on December 13, 2005

I'm the same way; I get out of it because I have a ridiculous knack for remembering the inane details. So when I meet someone for the second time, I go "Hey - University of Michigan right? What's your name again?"

Seconded -- that's a good strategy. When you forget someone's name (and I'm fucking horrible with names) they think you've forgotten about them. "Hey, you're the guy who likes Jamiroquai. What was your name again?" is just as good as "Hey, John."
posted by Tlogmer at 11:07 PM on December 13, 2005

It's a hierarchy thing. Everyone knows who the CEO is, but I bet he doesn't know who you are.

If someone remembers you and you don't seem to remember them, then it makes them feel like for you, meeting them wasn't at all memorable. A kind of "I meet more interesting people every day, meh" type thing.

So yeah, I used to have this same problem. Like a few people upthread I put effort into resolving it. "Not being good with names" is not genetic, there's mental tricks to it. If you can't do that, do what gatorae said. Open with something that makes it clear that you do remember them. It's important to start the conversation with it, before they get offended by you forgetting their name.
posted by atrazine at 12:16 AM on December 14, 2005

Best answer: Im not good either, but I'll tell you, it's amazing to the ego when someone who you would think didn't even need to try, remembers yours. A certain musician whom I'd loved all my life asked me my name on the night he met me and said he'd not be sure he'd remember at a show a week or two later. He did and it meant the world to me.

Happened again recently with a female duo who had no reason to remember me after seven months, but did, and it meant a lot too.

So try. It means something to people. But that said, I think it's common enough to forget that people don't take it personally most of the time if you say politely, "I'm sorry, I know we've met, but I've forgotten your name." Sincerity and enthusiam counts in this regard.
posted by OneOliveShort at 2:39 AM on December 14, 2005

...and splelling
posted by OneOliveShort at 2:55 AM on December 14, 2005

A. Because it really sucks to be referred to as "Whoever" (self-link if you'd like to read the whole story).

I'm a habitual re-introducer because I hate to see that look in someone's eyes when I know they recognize me but have spaced my name. I always say my own name when I greet someone at a meeting or party, unless they say my name first.

(Hint that someone needs you to reintroduce yourself: their "Hiiiiiiiii" is usually very drawn out, as they try to give their brain rolodex time to pull your name up.)
posted by SashaPT at 4:05 AM on December 14, 2005

I absolutely all-out suck balls at names, which is compounded by the fact that I'm a proffesor and every single student I've ever had remembers my name and I am unable to remember even the names of my current students.
Plus, since I know I suck, I get performance anxiety and am unable to call people by their name when I do remember it, fearing they'll get even more offended if I call them by the wrong name.
Hell, I regularly mis-name my own TAs.
So yeah, any tips or tricks on how to match 100 names to 100 faces at a time is appreciated.
posted by signal at 4:05 AM on December 14, 2005

Perhaps someone already suggested this and I missed it, but here's a trick that will greatly improve your short-term name memory: Use the person's name immediately upon being introduced. Instead of saying "Nice to meet you," say "Nice to meet you, Steve." Apparently we remember things we say better than things we hear.

Mnemonics are also helpful. If I'm trying to remember a lot of names at once, I'll spend a few minutes trying to come up with little reminders for each of them. Usually I'll associate the most memorable/famous person I know who has the same name with that person.

With these tricks, I rarely have trouble with names. My problem is faces-- I don't know why but I have a very hard time recognizing faces until I've known someone for a while.
posted by justkevin at 5:12 AM on December 14, 2005

I have a visual memory. I have to see something on paper, or see it in my head to remember it. If someone tells me their name, and I can't see it in my head, I ask them to spell it for me. That helps me remember it.

But if I do forget, I just try to be as charming as possible when I say, "I'm so sorry, dear, I forgot your name?" There are nice ways of saying "Oh silly me, I can't remember your name even though I know you, ha ha" and "Who the hell are you and why should I have remembered you?" I try for the former.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:39 AM on December 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm a habitual re-introducer because I hate to see that look in someone's eyes when I know they recognize me but have spaced my name.

Yeah, that sinks me, because I always get the "I know who you are, we met at X" response.

To a fair degree, afro, you *are* in a harder position than a lot of people here realize. I too am a memorable person and always have been, and people don't seem to realize that they remember you because you have a huge afro or are the only non-white person or talk a lot or whatever. So politely reintroduce yourself, using remembered details as a peace offering, and if they are gonna still get all offended, screw 'em.
posted by dame at 9:12 AM on December 14, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you all for your responses.

It's intriguing to me that people associate name-forgetting with phoniness- especially since sales/marketing types are great at remembering names, but are also some of the phoniest people around. Also, I don't think that it's safe to assume that extroverts have particularly effective social skills. Some of us are just bold and oblivious :)

I think that a lot of my difficulties with name-remembering come from my latent social awkwardness. The point in a conversation where I learn someone's name is usually (for me, anyway) the most awkard and self-concious. Saying their name multiple times will probably help with this.

In the end, I'm going to try to improve at remembering names, not for fear of offending people (because I still think that it's a silly thing to be offended by), but because, as OneOliveShort mentioned, remembering peoples' names can often make their day.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:58 PM on December 14, 2005

It's intriguing to me that people associate name-forgetting with phoniness- especially since sales/marketing types are great at remembering names, but are also some of the phoniest people around.

Agreed! I went into a car place in Boston to get my car fixed for about two seconds, and when I came back 3 or 4 weeks later the sales guy still remembered my name. And it totally freaked me out.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:13 PM on December 15, 2005 [2 favorites]

There are some articles about the remembering names here
posted by Sharcho at 5:30 PM on December 15, 2005

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