By any other name would smell as sweet;”
Gross, opening with a Shakespeare quote… but I just couldn’t help it. It’s relevant, so deal with it.
We have put an enormous amount of social importance on the ability to remember a name, but despite this we’ve all experienced that awkward moment which plays through something like this:
You run into a familiar face somewhere mutual and indistinct, like a footpath or a sushi lunchtime queue. You have met them before, maybe once, maybe twice, it really doesn’t matter – what’s important is at some point your timelines crossed and you exchanged names over a clammy handshake. They might be a semi-colleague from work, that guy you played squash with twice, or a friend of a friend (of a friend).
You lock eyes… and it’s all over. The-pretend-not-to-notice-them option has been taken off the table and an interaction is now inevitable. Tick-tock motherfucker, you have about one second to remember their name lest they realise what an asshole you really are.
But you just can’t think of it and trying to force your memory is counterproductive so what can you do!? Of course, it is much less offensive to not use someone’s name at all than to use a different one in error.
So you must enact plan B: pick a nice smooth neutral name that glides softly under their radar.
What facts can help? He is a male, so how about “Bro”? Way too informal, he is wearing a tailored suit for Christ’s sake! What about “Guy”? Too patronising (he’s not your guy).
You eventually find one that works:
“Hey man, long time! How’s it going!?”
Nice! You nailed it. A nice sensual mmmmm sound that was barely registered.
Your self-admiration is cut short when the worst case scenario occurs:
“Not bad thanks <your-name-here>! How about you?”
Shit. Abort. This forgetfulness is not mutual, the stakes have just doubled and your already shaky reputation is now firmly on the line. Unfortunately, you are stuck in this god-forsaken conversation so you must accept the challenge: Can you small talk your way out of this mess without them realising you have no clue what their name is?
Damn it you have to try! What-this-person-thinks-of-you depends on it!
So you bluff your way around it like a seasoned pro who has been bullshitting all their life, until finally, an opening appears in the conversation and you get the fuck out of there (right after making coffee plans you won’t follow through with). But did you get away with it? It’s easier on your ego to believe that you did, but in reality… they knew. Of course they knew.
So what is it about our name that makes us feel so upset if it is forgotten? It’s so easy to do, it’s not like we base names on physical appearance. I have never met a ‘Freckled-Ass Campbell’ or ‘Birth-Mark-Shaped-Like Italy Robinson’. No, it isn’t that simple. Instead we have just mapped random made up noises to tiny versions of ourselves (who get no say in the matter) and then we all agree as a society to put a shit-tonne of meaningless importance on it; bad memories be damned.
“Aww cute, how old is she?”
“HE has a name”
This is all just long-winded way of saying; if I forget your name it’s just proof of my terrible memory and not how utterly boring I find you, pal.