Remembering people's names has never been a problem for me. To my surprise I identified most of the kids in the Wabanaki camp photo from 1952. Well, they do say that the older we get, the easier it is to remember what we did as kids than what we did yesterday.
I think I remember people's names because it's important to me. It's also in my DNA, my extrovert personality, and from being surrounded by strangers early on. My mother-in-law said she didn't care about remembering a person's name. I'm sure she meant the name of the clerk selling her shoes, or her seat mate on a plane (unless it happened to be a man who was good looking). In contrast, I'm sure she remembered the name of her new neighbor in case she wanted to borrow a cup of sugar, or the name of the person who booked tee times at her golf club. Her comment about not caring shocked me, but it gave me an easy out when Bruce and I were about to be married, and she asked if I was going to take Berger as my last name. Call it dumb luck, smart luck, or whatever, but it was one of those situations when the words tumbled out of my mouth before they were thought through in my brain, and usually this type of verbal outburst gets me into trouble, but this time it was brilliant. "No," I answered, "because if I do, I'll be called Pam Berger." And, as I spoke those words, I ran the two names together and called myself pamburger (which, of course, sounded like hamburger), and when I did this, my future mother-in-law burst into laughter and said, "If I were you, I'd keep my maiden name too." Voila. First in-law problem solved.
Today at my pilates class, a young woman I didn't know offered to loan me an extra padded mat she had in her car when she saw I forgot mine. "My name is Pam Perkins," I said. She responded with "My name is Sara." When she handed me the extra mat, I said "Thank you, Sara,", and at the end of the class, I returned the mat and said her name again, "You sure were a lifesaver, Sara." "No problem," she replied, but didn't use my name. I wasn't bothered because remembering people's names is not in everyone's DNA like I think it is in mine.
When we owned Perkins Motel, my parents would recite names over and over as guests checked in and out every day. I followed suit. Mom and Dad, but especially Mom, remembered names too. "The Kennedys are in room 5 and her parents, the Hendersons, are next door in room 6," Mother would tell Daddy. Or they might say, "Pammy, take some extra towels to rooms 10 and 11, where the Stockdale family is staying." That's the way my parents referred to their guests every day. I think genetics plays a role because in my brother's recently published memoir By Way of Luck, he mentions by name many of the people he worked with early in his professional career. I admit that screen actor John Wayne and Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner are not names one forgets, but that he could remember the names of secretaries to the people he reported to really did amaze me. He would prefer I didn't say this, but it was a long time ago. Anybody can Google facts, but I know it's impossible to Google the name of someone's secretary, but having been one, I know that buttering up the secretary is key to getting in good with the boss.
Being good with names does take a little know-how and practice. Here are some tricks I've used over the years.
1. Make eye contact with the person whose name you are hearing for the first time and notice only him or her. Don't glance away. Notice the color of their hair, their smile, and whether or not they are wearing glasses. Don't forget that remembering the clothes they have on will not always help you, but if this is a one-time event, by all means, take the wardrobe into consideration. When I met Bruce Berger face-to-face for the first time after our initial Match.com connection, I noticed the color of his hair, his beautiful smile, and his thick distinguished mustache (which he just shaved off). I also noticed he was wearing glasses. Now, reader, after doing exactly all the things I just told you to remember someone's name, I will always wonder, in amazement, why I introduced him for the first time to a group of friends as Bruce Bingham. This I will never truly understand.
2. Repeat the new person's name and ask them a personal question without sounding weird. Carol, do I know you from the gym? Barbara, how often do you hike? Hilda, is your husband as good a golfer as you? Bill, how long have you been listening to jazz?
3. Visualize their name in your head as you are being introduced. If the name is unusual, ask the person to spell it. As they do so, visualize the letters and repeat their name again. Am I pronouncing that correctly? Wow, Indrani, what an unusual name? Juthica, what a beautiful name. Does it have a particular meaning? I've never heard the name LuRhea before. Is it a family name? Don't laugh, but some times I take this to an extreme and write out the person's name with my thumb and forefinger on whatever surface happens to be available at the time -- a surface that is not obvious to the person, of course, like the side of my right thigh. Remember, I'm using my fingers, not a pen! As an aside, reader, I want to mention that the Indrani I know has a mother named Juthica, who was born in Calcutta, but how do I explain that I still think of Indrani's brother, now an established physician in Colorado, as Mongoose, a nickname his parents gave him when he was a small boy. I doubt he calls himself Dr. Mongoose in his medical practice, but if he did, that certainly would be a name to remember.
4. Give your first and last name when you introduce yourself. For example, Hi, I'm Pam Perkins and not just Hi, I'm Pam. Often when you use your first and last name together, the other person will do the same. Or if they don't, ask what is your last name? Often hearing both first and last names is helpful. There also might be a chance you know someone with the same name. "Oh, that's interesting. I know another Pamela Perkins. She is a science fiction writer who lives in Texas."
5. Mnemonics are very helpful. Try and identify the person's name with a mnemonic. For example, you might think of a rhyme when you are meeting Mary for the first time at your garden club. Mary, Mary, how contrary, how does your garden grow? Here's another possibility. You are at a travel presentation on France and you meet a woman named Francie. When I met my friend Ulla for the first time, I realized how I puckered my lips to say oooooola, a name I love to say. When I am introduced to someone whose name is Nicole, I always say Oh, I have a daughter Nicole. I try and identify the person's name with something or someone I know. And how about alliteration. Pam Perkins is alliterative, for sure. So is Bruce Berger. PP/BB!
6. Name Tags. If you are having an event with more than ten guests, and some are strangers to one another, ask people to wear a name tag. If you think this sounds corny, please know that at our wedding reception 14 years ago, we asked people to wear name tags and I'm sure it contributed to a very lively party. I loved watching people discover each other. I saw a friend walk up to a stranger (another one of my friends) and say, "Oh, Helen, I've heard about you from Pam for years. It's so nice to finally meet you." This way I didn't have to worry about introductions at my wedding. Wearing a name tag helps to create the possibility for an interaction, begin a conversation and establish a connection. Name tags are not for everyone, but they sure worked for us.
Now, I know this sounds like bragging, but I tend to remember dates too, but I don't have a clue how this works in my brain except to say it has nothing to do with math. I flunked Algebra I in high school. Bruce knows that he is only required to remember one date. The only problem is he isn't sure which date. Is it the date we met or the date we married? I would give him an A plus if he remembered both, but what's most important to me is that he remembers my name.