The Perils of Poor Name Recognition

'Allow Me to Introduce Myself... Again.' One half of Betsy and Sal laments her inability to remember names, which leads to her unfortunate habit of introducing herself to people she's already met.

Dear um…, Dear er…, Dear…, 

Monikers. Titles. Handles. Tags. You name it… I can’t.

I have a problem. I cannot remember people’s names. Faces, yes. Names, no. Okay, faces, usually. But names, almost never. In fact, when I go to a party with my husband or a friend, the rule is, if I don’t make an introduction right away, my companion knows to introduce him or herself because I haven’t a clue. 

I’m no doctor, but I fear my brain is missing an essential piece that can remember names.  If I had a dollar for every time I stood in the aisles of Sunset listening to someone chatting while desperately I was trying pay attention and figure out who the Hell was talking to me – well, I’d pay for a lot of groceries. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s not that I don’t recognize these people – It’s that I just don’t remember names. 

There is a question here, I promise. 

Because of my faulty wiring, I tend to over-introduce myself. In a way, I feel that I am doing other people a favor; saving them from the embarrassment I feel when I cannot remember names. Or, more accurately, doing what I wish other people would do for me. So the other day, I introduced myself to a woman who was talking with a friend of mine. She stared me down and said, “Betsy, this is the third time you have introduced yourself to me. Our kids have been in school together for six years.” And then she turned away. Ouch. Okay, so clearly I offended her. But we don’t see one another outside of school events. Our kids aren’t really friends. And it wasn’t like I was being rude. So here it is. Was I wrong? And really, why can’t people just always wear nametags?

Hello My Name is Betsy

Dear Name Tag,

First of all, make the name tag bigger. And write your name legibly. And then require that everyone wear it.

That’s right. I’m firmly in favor of a National ID card. I don’t give a hoot if the government tracks my every movement. Where am I going anyway? The basement? The bathroom? Back to the laundry room? Back to the bathroom? Go ahead. Track away.

You don’t have an unusual problem, sister. The people who remember everyone are the oddballs. Don’t they have better things to do than remember the name of their child’s pre-school room mothers? If we carpooled, fine. But if our kids graduated from middle school in the same class? Free pass.

Your real problem, Betsy, is that you’re not farsighted. I’ve needed glasses to see the blackboard for years, but I’m too vain to wear my glasses. I’ve been claiming not to be able to recognize people for years due to poor eyesight. Someone waves and shouts, “Hi Sal,” and my immediate response is programmed. “Who is that? I don’t have my glasses on.” And then I just apologize. “Oh. Sorry Mom. I didn’t recognize you.”

Back to the problem at hand. What was it? I forgot. 

Just kidding. Did you ever see The Devil Wears Prada? Anne Hathaway’s job was to memorize everyone’s identity and stand by Meryl Streep, whispering names into her ear. Okay. That’s ridiculous. This is the age of technology and there should absolutely be an app for this. Hold up a smart phone—and I mean a REALLY smart phone—point it surreptitiously towards your target, and then glance down at the screen where it will say, in LARGE TYPE, “your neighbor Ellen, and you owe her $5.”

Jill Goldstein August 04, 2012 at 06:04 PM
Since short term memory is 7 +/- 2, I think it is safe to have only 5 friends and up to nine if you really want to push it. That way I can remember their names and not talk to anyone else. This is why on the trail everyone says hello to you and think I am your out of town friend.
Mosaic53 August 04, 2012 at 07:24 PM
I have the same problem but I usually remember the LAST name which makes no sense!


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