So you forgot someone’s name. Or more likely, you never knew it to begin with, because when you were shaking hands with this person and exchanging names, Person X was all “My name is blah blah blah” and you were smiling and nodding but in your head you were all, “Is that Jeff I see in the corner? Is there lipstick on my teeth? Should I have scolded my Uber driver for his weird sexist, joke, or was it OK to just let it go?”
And now here you are, seated across from Person X, to whom you were freshly introduced not 20 minutes ago, sharing a bread basket and kicking yourself for not paying attention.
Let me tell you what you don’t do now. You definitely don’t say these words:
LIAR! You’re probably fine with names. The real reason you can’t remember Person X’s name is because you subconsciously assumed you wouldn’t need this information. You were flat out not paying attention. You’re not bad with names, you’re bad with caring who people are in the first place. Saying you’re bad with names is what you say when what you really mean is, “Sorry, I assumed you were not going to be significant to me at all tonight, or ever.”
“I’m bad with names” is a cop out. It excuses your rudeness and reinforces the other person’s insignificance to you. So stop using it. You can do better. Here’s how.
A simple one is to make a habit of repeating the person’s name as you are just introduced. Even better, try to use it again within a few minutes, thus solidifying it into your brain. Or come up with a mnemonic: Tony with the two-tone hair. Annie with the banannie colored shirt. Jim drinking Gin. Whatevs. Point is, if you make a more concerted effort to beat those names into your brain, you will do a better job, on the whole, of remembering them. But unless you’re willing to make it Your Thing, some names are still going to slip through the cracks. That’s when you…
This is an easy and painless way to get a name you’ve forgotten. As you refresh your drink, head to the restroom, or do whatever it is you do, simply ask a friend if they caught Person X’s name. A lot of times, this will do the trick. But sometimes you won’t have the time or the proper setup to execute this move. For example, say you’re standing near the door of this made-up party and someone walks in, sees you and exclaims, “Tina, it’s great to see you!” Shit. You’re Tina. But who is she?!?! Time to…
There’s nothing wrong with a big grin and a “How have you been?” Engage in some natural, light conversation and give yourself some time to jog your memory. This is not the time to go deer in the headlights. If you just stay calm and enjoy catching up, chances are good that the person will say something that tips you off as to who they are. Unless they don’t, in which case…
You’ve tried every subtle trick and yet you’ve lost the game. The situation has come to a head, and you can’t avoid it any longer. Often, it comes to a head abruptly—e.g., the person asks you outright, “Do you remember who I am?” Or it’s come time to put their number in your phone. Anyway, the jig is up and you’re caught red-handed, not knowing the name. Now, if you Google around, you’ll see some last-ditch suggestions that I find to be pretty weak. Like, “ask the person to spell their name.” Yeah, no. Most people have pretty common names with universal spellings and will see right through you. Why not just own it? “I’ve absolutely loved talking to you and I can’t wait to use your secret ingredient for Rice Krispy treats. Please, tell me your name again so I can make sure to give you all the glory!”
(Now, if the person’s name is Snap, Crackle, or Pop, then you’re actually terrible with names. How the hell did you forget that?!)
Forgetting someone’s name is really not that bad. And if you handle it with grace, humor, and charm, you may endear yourself to Person X even further. Most reasonable people will not be offended—there is a good chance you’re Person X’s Person X and he or she has been trying to glean your name all night! So accept it, get the name, move on, and—for the love of god, man—don’t forget it again.