Names are important. Everyone knows this. Writers and expectant mothers spend long hours on babynames.com trying to decide if they can name a character/child “Calvin” even though it means “bald.” We like to hear our own names used. Most of the time, unless you’re oblivious like me, someone calling (or especially whispering) your own name will yank your attention even in the middle of a loud environment.
The problem is, it’s hard to remember other people’s names, especially when you meet them in a larger group. But never fear, my friends, after three full years in college where I meet masses of people and forget who they are almost instantly, I have found a solution: be a name ninja.
Name ninjas are those who have found subtle, sneaky ways to avoid the perils of awkward encounters where the other person clearly knows you, but you don’t know them. Here are a few of the moves in my extensive ninja repertoire.
Ask for a way to remember the person’s name. It doesn’t even have to make sense. When I asked Caleb, one of the jr. highers in my youth group, to give me an association with his name, he said, “I like bacon and there’s a spy in the Bible named Caleb.” Now, what bacon had to do with the Bible is beyond me (it’s not even a kosher food). But I still remember his name, so it must have worked.
Try to get a nickname to stick on the spot. “You know what name I think of when I see you for some reason? Phoenix. Yeah. Isn’t that catchy? Do you have any obscure connections to Arizona? No? Mythical birds that caught on fire? Maybe that’s it.” Hopefully, since you were the one who gave the nickname, you’ll remember it in the future, but if not, at least call the person by the nickname for the rest of that conversation.
If someone says, “Hi, Amy,” and you don’t know their name in return, it’s a dead giveaway to respond with, “Hey, oh, yeah…um…you” and look at the ground. Try “Good morning!” This is acceptable even if it’s not actually morning, although if you want to give “Good afternoon” or “Top of the evening to you” a shot, please do. I would say, however, that using “How are you?” as a name-loss cover up is a cheap shot. If you don’t know the person well enough to remember her name, you probably don’t really care how she’s doing.
Come up with a reason to take a picture of the person with your cell phone. Then put it into the Facebook SuperStalker database to compare the face with all of your friends and mutual friends. It takes about seventy-nine seconds to confirm a match, but you can stall for that long, right?
Declare that today is “Alternate Point of View Day” and celebrate by constantly referring to yourself in third person. “Amy would like you to pass the ketchup, please.” “That was exactly what Amy was thinking too!” “You know, it’s just about time for Amy to leave.” Hope that either it will catch on and your mystery person will talk about himself in third person, or that he’ll be so weirded out that he leaves.
Casually introduce into conversation the topic of name spellings. “There are about 12 ways to spell ‘Kaitlyn.’ Weird, huh? So, how do you spell your name?” This could get a bit awkward if the person’s name is Al or Ben, but other than that, it might seem legit. Alternately, ask them to explain the story of how they got their name. That usually works the name itself in, and you might also get a long, interesting tale about your new acquaintance’s Great Aunt Miranda who demanded that someone in the family name their first child after her favorite philosopher or she wouldn’t leave them any money in her will.
Pray for the spiritual gift of name memorizing. Some people, like my twin sister, totally have this gift. I do not.
Practice your pickpocketing skills and get ahold of the person’s purse/wallet. Then ransack it for a glimpse of their identification. While you’re at it, copy down the number on their credit card too, just so you have something else to associate with them. That should help.
Well, I hope this has been helpful for developing your ninja skills. So go out there and fight against awkwardness, one name at a time.