What's in a Name?

When you meet people you may not always remember their names, but you also don't want to seem rude by having to ask. Luckily, Modern Manners Guy has 3 quick and dirty tips for figuring out a name without any embarrassment.

Richie Frieman,
February 10, 2013
Episode #237

What's in a Name?

Here's an interesting fact about Modern Manners Guy: I have a photographic memory. It's uncanny, really. I see people all the time and know that I've met them before. It may take me a bit to figure out the "where" or the "when," but since I have a knack for faces, eventually I always remember.

However, the one thing I'm not so good at is remembering names. So, when I see someone I know I've met before, my perfect visual recall is ruined by my inability to recall their name..

Not being able to remember someone's name after they already introduced themselves is embarrassing and awkward. It makes people think you weren't paying attention or just don't care to remember their name, which – hopefully – isn’t true. Remembering someone's name is important in relationships of all kinds: dating, friendships, business, etc., so it's crucial to figure out ways to ask someone’s name without seeming rude.

So with that, check out my top 3 Quick and Dirty Tips for asking someone's name:

Tip #1: How Do You Spell Your Name?

I attend countless networking events and functions throughout the year. While there, I meet hundreds of people, most of whom I'll never meet again, but many with whom I hope to keep in contact. And even if I get their business card, and review it at the end of the night, I still need to remember who it was I was talking to. As I said before, faces I'm perfect with, but matching the names can be tough. So when I run into a person, after already having been formally introduced, I feel terrible for not remembering their name. If I just met them the other week, the other day, or even just a few minutes ago, it would look really bad, right? So for this situation you have to get a little clever, a littleslick with your approach.

This is a technique I've been using for years and I'm sharing it with the public for the first time. What I like to do is shake their hand, smile warmly, and launch into a good conversation. At some point during your chat, when there’s a lull or a convenient moment, I ask them, "Tell me again, how do you spell your name?" Now this can go in one of two ways:

1) They look at you oddly, trying to figure out why you care about the spelling. To keep things from becoming awkward, I follow up with,"That's what I thought! I met a colleague today who spells her name as G-a-y-l-e and not G-a-i-l, like you do."


2) If they have a simple name like Bill or Mary, say something like, "Well of course I know it's Bill, but I wasn't sure if you sometimes go by William, like my cousin who has the same name."

After that, don't harp on the fact you had to ask again, just move the conversation on to other topics. This is a one-time use technique, so try not to forget the name again!

Tip #2: Have Someone Else Ask

When I go to events where I meet a lot of people, names fly at me so fast that I often lose track of who's who. This happens a lot in social settings, like weddings or parties. Oftentimes I'll come across a friend-of-a-friend, or a family-member-of-a-friend and for the life me I can't recall their name. I know this is going to be a problem as soon as I see them across the room and it's just a matter of time before I bump into them and have to say, "Oh, hey there… Um… Er…You!" Yes, you can get away with not saying someone's name for a bit, but at some point you may have to introduce them to another person. And that’s when the jig is up. You have to say their name when introducing them but you can't if you don't remember it. For this, you need to plan ahead.

When faced with this situation, I enlist the help of someone close to me. Of course, at weddings this is my wife, but at networking events, I lean on a trusted friend (trusted is key here, since you are admitting a faux pas). I bring the friend over to the mystery person and my partner in crime introduces himself first which forces the person whose name I’ve forgotten to say their name back. That way, I get to hear their name without admitting I forgot it. So the only person who knows of your blunder is the trusted friend. Afterwards, thank them profusely and of course offer to pay back the favor anytime.

Tip #3: “Hello, My Name Is…”

Ah, the name tag. The best friend to the forgetful person. When you forget someone's name at a networking event and see them approaching, you pray to the high heavens that they are wearing a name tag. At first you can't see because maybe it's on their shirt, blocked by a blazer, maybe it fell off, maybe they forgot to pick one up when they walked in? Ahhh, the anticipation!

But then, like a beacon of light, like an oasis in the desert, you see the name tag shining with a sloppily written "Steve" in red Sharpie. Bingo! You got it. But what happens if the person has gone rogue and decided not to wear a name tag (in spite of the fact that everyone else is?). What do you do? Stumble around the fact that you don't know their name? Well, not so much.

When you are in a name tag scenario and you come across someone who is not wearing one, I like to make light of the whole situation.

For example, this past November, I went to an event and a guy I met last year came up to me acting like we were long lost friends. Naturally, his name escaped me. I was wearing a name tag but he was not, so I had to act fast. Here’s the dialogue that transpired:

Me: "Hey there! What, you didn't get a name tag?"

Them: "Nah, I was running late and walked right past the hostess."

Me: "Well, now no one will know your name. People are going to start calling you, "That Tall Guy" or "The  Guy Who Looks Like Tom Brady!" [which he ironically does].

Them: "Ah, come on, it's no big deal."

Me: "Sure it is, Tom. That's it, for the rest of the night, I'm calling you Tom Brady."

We both had a good laugh and it allowed me to buy time until someone else came up to us and I could use the techniques described in Tips 1 and 2 to figure out his name out without seeming rude. (It was James, by the way).

Sure, it's sneaky and maybe I could just say, "What's your name again?" But using these clever tactics I save myself the embarrassment and no one is the wiser.

Do you have a great story about forgetting someone's name (or worse, calling them by the wrong name)? Post all the details in the comment section of my web site or on the Modern Manners Guy Facebook page.

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

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Three People Talking and Name Tag images from Shutterstock