William Shakespeare once asked, “What’s in a name?” No offense, Bill, but I don’t know and quite frankly, I don’t care.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve forgotten people’s names. It’s an affliction to be sure, but I’m too old to change. Here is what usually happens when someone is introducing themselves to me: I immediately become so preoccupied wondering why they are even bothering to engage in this pointless activity, that by the time I put aside my disdain, they have moved well past introductions and are on their way to the dreaded realm of small talk.
Look, I remember my wife’s name all the time and my children’s names most of the time. I know 95% of my colleagues’ names with at least a 75% certainty. There is one guy, though, named either Craig or Greg, who works in accounting. Honestly, I’ve called him both over the years and I think he understands that this isn’t a poor reflection of my own aloofness, but rather on his parents for making it a difficult distinction in the first place. Kurt or Kirk also stumps me.
The things I have committed to memory are impressive. I can remember the entire Gettysburg Address and every title from all seventy-nine episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series. Fascinating. Try me the next time you see me. Say a number between 1-79 and I will tell you the episode title. But names, man, names. They always stump me.
The other day, I’m at the dentist’s office and the hygienist introduces herself as Karen, or Vicky, or Lucille, or Jamal. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. At no point between the time I get out of the exam chair thirty minutes later, to the next time I find myself sitting in it again, sometime around Thanksgiving, will I ever have to think about her, or remember her name. Karen, or Vicky, or Lucille, but probably not Jamal, was very good at her job. She advised me against the fluoride treatment and said my teeth were perfect. Usually, praise like that would be worth committing her name to memory. Not in my brain, though. Out of sight, out of mind.
I don’t think it’s a disease like anomic aphasia, which is a type of aphasia characterized by problems recalling words, names, and numbers. I’m good with words. I have a plethora of them. Numbers don’t really bother me. In fact, I remember phone numbers to homes I lived in three decades ago. So, the theory of this being something other than my own indifference is remote.
Even if it was a medical condition, I wouldn’t seek treatment for it. It’s simply not fatal. Besides, there is nothing wrong with calling everyone, “buddy,” or “pal,” or my personal favorite, “hey…you.” I usually wink or offer my hand for a shake to really sell it.
The one piece of advice I can offer others who cannot recall names is to embrace it. Don’t attempt to guess someone’s name. That’s disrespectful. At least if you call someone “buddy,” you aren’t confirming to them that they aren’t important enough for you to remember. This way, you’ll have the benefit of the doubt and the available brain space to remember far more pointless things.
Episode #39 of Star Trek: The Original Series is titled, “Mirror, mirror.”