We've all been there – avoided introducing our partner to someone we run into at a social event because we can't remember their name; become adept at chatting with people we see all the time (ie. around work or your kids' school) without ever addressing them by name, or made use of 'tags' like mate, babe or 'hey you' to hide our forgetfulness.
As long as the interactions are brief, we often get away with not knowing someone's name, but occasionally we can end up in a pickle, as I did the other day...
To fully appreciate this anecdote, you need to remember my name, which is Karyn: I've started bussing in to work and last week discovered my neighbour of 10 years sometimes catches the same bus. Over the years we've run into one another on the driveway and always said hello, but I've never known her name and after 10 years didn't really feel I could ask.
Last week she sat with me on the bus and we had 40 minutes of chitchat which was very enjoyable. By the end of the journey I knew her partner's name (Don), her kids' names (well, I recall one - Josh), her dogs' names (Ted and Kumara) and her grandson's name (Reggae) – but still not hers.
I rang my husband from work and asked him to bump into Don on the driveway and discreetly find out her name. But he didn't see Don that day, and suggested we go through their letterbox to look at their mail. I was worried they'd see us out the window.
The following day was consumed by conversations with my work colleagues about how I could find out her name. We came up with all sorts of solutions but I don't think any of them were really plausible.
In the end I confessed when I saw her next on the driveway and we had a great laugh. As the conversation wrapped up I quipped, 'actually you probably don't know my name either' and she said, 'yeah, it's Tracey isn't it'.
Sophie Watson from Elite Singles, an online dating site for New Zealand singles, is an expert in the area of social etiquette. She says there are lots of tricks you can employ to cover your tracks when you've left it too long to ask somebody their name (sooner is always better than later though, remember):
"Try launching straight in with a 'Hello! Wow, it's been ages. When did we last talk?' and see if their memory helps to jog yours," Watson suggests.
"If that fails (and you don't already have their contact details), think of a reason you might need their number and ask them to add their name to your phone.
"Or, if you're with a friend at a party, rope them in: try saying you're off to grab a drink 'but oh, you two should talk. Here introduce yourselves, I'll be right back.' Your friend can then fill you in later.
There's also the option of asking them how to spell their name. "If it ends up being something simple like 'Sue,' you can then claim you actually meant their last name (and pray it's not Smith!)," says Watson.
However, being upfront and honest in the first place is always the best way to go. "Any find-that-name trick runs the risk of clue-ing someone up to the fact that you've forgotten their name – and that may turn out to be more awkward than just being honest in the first place."
When confessing she suggests, "You don't have to be dramatic or make up a reason why you forgot, just give them a genuine, apologetic smile and say something like 'I'm so sorry, I am just terrible with names. Remind me of yours again?' Chances are you'll both be able to laugh about it and thus diffuse any awkwardness.
"Just about everyone can remember a time when they've forgotten someone's name and felt terrible about it. What's funny is that we can also all probably remember a time when someone forgot our name – and chances are, if they admitted their forgetfulness with good humour, we laughed it off and told them it wasn't a big deal (and we meant it!).
"That shows we sometimes need to give ourselves the same breaks we allow everyone else – everyone is fallible after all. If we own up to mistakes like forgetfulness with warmth and grace we might just be surprised at people's reactions."
Hallelujah to that.
Say my name
And as I'm sure you're all dying to know - what's my neighbour's name?