It’s okay if you can’t remember or spell my name; being human

Lifehacker had a recent post with tips on how to remember people’s names – generally useful tips, ground well-covered in networking books. There is one tip I disagree with, though. I realized I don’t often hear disagreement about it, so I thought I’d share. Here’s the tip:

DON’T ever call people by the wrong name

Hearing your name mispronounced can be annoying but forgivable, especially if lots of people find your name hard to pronounce, but hearing someone call you by the wrong name is always infuriating! Out of all facts that someone can possibly misremember about you (e.g., your job, college major, or ethnicity), getting your name wrong is the ultimate insult. It simply leaves a yucky visceral impression that the other person doesn’t give a damn about you.

I disagree with this tip because I think it creates unnecessary fear, anxiety, and expectation. I think there’s a better way to do this.

Let’s look at it from both sides.

If someone has forgotten your name, you could get mad about it… or you could just shrug it off and give the person the benefit of the doubt.  If they consistently get your name wrong, you could bear a grudge, or you could laugh about the possible crossed wires (maybe you really remind them of their great-aunt!). If they sneer while mangling your name so much it sounds like an epithet, something might be up. But in general, people are good people, and they’re not trying to insult you or say that you’re worthless.

When I talk to people, I don’t assume that I’m important to them, or that they should devote precious brainspace to remembering me. If people make an effort and get my name wrong anyway, I’ll still appreciate that. They’re human.

Let’s look at the other side. If you’ve forgotten someone’s name despite your best efforts, go ahead and ‘fess up, or try to see if you can pick it up from the conversation (or from a networking buddy). I prefer the direct confession route over the awkward-standing-around route. It gets the pain over faster, and it makes more of a human connection. I try to make up for any name shortcomings by remembering other little details about people, focusing on creating value, and connecting people with other people.

And if I thought I knew someone’s name but it turns out I was mistaken, well, it happens. I’ll try to remember. Some people’s faces get mixed up in my memory. I’m not going to beat myself up over it, and I hope other people don’t feel permanently offended. (Besides, if they did hold a grudge, that says more about them than about me…)

My only pet peeve when it comes to this, actually, are people who punish you for not knowing their name, those who make you guess or otherwise embarrass you when they detect the faintest whiff of uncertainty from you about who they are. Not cool. People who do that might “score points” in that conversation, but they lose the long-term game. (I remember writing a post about this before this other one, but I can’t find it. Ah well, probably not good to rant too much anyway… =) )

So.

Make it easier for other people to remember your name. (I usually bring my own nametag to events.) Make an effort to remember and use other people’s names, and to remember other details about them. Above all, be human, and let other people be human.

  • Francisco Arevalo

    About the name tag: are you sometimes the only person wearing one?

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    Yes. Even the organizers forget to make nametags for themselves. =) I’m not bothered by being the only one wearing a nametag. I figure it just makes other people’s lives a bit easier.

  • Nicole

    haha, what a great article to find on top as I again mistyped your name trying to arrive at your blog ^^; I’m sorry!

    I agree though. A coworker came up to me one day when introducing someone who had just joined the company and said, “And this is Samantha, she’s on the game’s team.” And I just looked at him inquisitively for a moment and he was very apologetic about getting my name wrong.

    The funny thing was, all I was thinking is, “Hmm… Samantha’s a nice name.” XD

  • Wilma

    Love the name tag, I’ve been looking for one that does not ruin my shirts.

    I do forget names all the time, but like you say, that’s not what its about.
    It’s about showing interest in the people that you are talking to.
    A name is just an identifier for the wonderful and interesting person wearing it.

    My new style is to greet people when I see them with their name if I remember it. If not, I will ask others their name, so I can greet them with their name the next time I see them.
    If I really need to know the name of the person, I will just ask them.

    For some reason everybody seems to know my name, which makes me a bit embarrassed for not knowing theirs. I make up for that by showing interest in them and having nice chats.

  • http://www.thegeekettespeaketh.com Charo

    The one thing I’ve been meaning to do but always forget is to have a more permanent nametag made. More like have my name molded and turned into a beautiful yet unobtrusive pin. That way, I have the pin on me even when I’m not in a conference. When people mispronounce or forget my name, I just point to the pin. :)

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    Wilma: Office supply stores should have a combination pin/clip nametag with a place to slip in a business card or a piece of paper. If you want to go for even more awesomeness, there are nametags that use magnets to keep the nametag positioned on your clothes. (Be careful where you put those magnets, though!) You can probably make your own magnetized version, if necessary.

    Nametags go on your right, high, so that people can look at it when shaking your hand. =)

    Charo: I like the flexibility of being able to change the keywords underneath my name (also another conversational time-saver), so the slip-in nametags are fine by me, but a more permanent nametag is a good idea. Tell us how it works out!

  • http://sirmon.wordpress.com Ramon

    I like to wear a name tag that says: “My Name is Inigo Montoya”…. sorry…. I couldn’t help it. I sure hope you watched Princess Bride all the joke woulda been lost.

  • http://shishirsharma.com CantGetANick

    I agree with you. By the way how to pronounce your name correctly.
    is it like
    SAA~cha chaau aa
    Sa cha choo aa

    Hope you dont mind.