I’m not terrific with names.
Actually my memory in general isn’t terrific, but there’s something about putting names to faces that just stumps me.
I’ll meet you, shake hands, lock eyes, and hear your name once. And the next day, you’ll see me and say “Hey Nick!” with an expectant smile.
And I’ll say “Oh hi!” and keep walking because I definitely cannot return the gesture.
This is actually one of the reasons that I love social media so much. Seeing you on Facebook with your profile picture next to your name over and over again really helps cement you in my mind.
Unless you’re one of those people whose profile picture is your pet or a truck. Or you don’t use your real name. You’re not helping.
But really, you can’t expect me to meet you once, hear your name a single time, and remember you. Even if we spend some time together, I’ve got to have visual and audio repetition.
If I didn’t require this – if I had a photographic memory – I would have never needed to study a day in my life. I’d be a brilliant scientist, someone with boundless knowledge catalogued away neatly in the recesses of my cerebrum.
[To be clear, I know that’s not how or where information is stored in the brain. I probably learned that fact a long time ago, and had I a photographic memory, I’d still know it.]
Most people don’t tend to operate that way, though. A lot of people are pretty bad with names. And it’s a common enough problem that I feel like there must be some practical solution.
On my first day at my current job, my supervisor told me that whenever I meet someone, I should ask to take their picture to help me remember their face.
Since then, I have done this exactly zero times. It’s not that I thought it was bad advice. It’s just that, to be fair, I’ve never seen him do it, either.
But in theory, it does sound like a solid idea. Take names and take photos, and all of a sudden you’ve got a visual directory of everyone you meet.
It’s just pretty unorthodox, and would likely not be within the realm of comfort for most people. Perhaps uncomfortable interactions are the most memorable kind, though.
Over the summer, my girlfriend and I were vacationing in Bar Harbor, Maine. We’d just had a long, exhausting day of walking and exploring and playing at the beach, and we were ready to just sit back and let someone else entertain us at a local improv comedy club.
When we arrived the man at the door told us that we would be seated at a table with strangers – it was their way of fostering camaraderie amongst their patrons.
So we picked a table near the front, where another couple was seated. They were older than we and looked nice enough, and at first it was business-as-usual: awkward hellos, exchange of names, “where are you from?” That sort of thing.
After a bit of intermittent conversational lull, the woman turned to us.
“Okay, pick a card.”
She held out a few cards and assured us that she wasn’t that weird, that she did this with everyone she meets.
“It’s kind of my thing.”
We each picked a card, and it turned out that they both said the same quote:
She didn’t stop there, though. She proceeded to explain to us that she had been hit by a bus years earlier and was flung dozens of feet from the road. Someone acted quickly and her life was miraculously preserved, but her near-death experience led her to identify deeply with this quote by Bill Keane. Or, as she claimed, by Eleanor Roosevelt.
I think the tortoise in Jack Black’s Kung Fu Panda said it as well.
I don’t know if I believe her story about getting hit by a bus. To be honest, it doesn’t matter if she was was lying or not.
She had a “thing,” and I wonder now if I need a “thing” of my own. How will I cement myself in the memory of others?
Because the point I’m trying to drive home is this: I will never forget that woman. I won’t forget her face, or her story. Now that I have her card, I won’t ever forget her name.