What If You're Bad at Remembering Names AND Faces?

What intrigues me is extremely random. My eye likes certain looks, like a crow attracted to shiny objects. But I'm learning to deal with it.

It is a new school year, and that means meeting lots of new moms and their kids ... and pretending to remember their names.

It is my first year with a child in elementary school, and I feel immense pressure to not inadvertently insult these new moms by calling them the wrong thing. I mean, my kid might be friends with these people’s kids for the next (Kindergarten, plus five, plus middle school …) nine years.

I am notoriously bad with names AND faces. I wish I could push my memory around in a teeny wheelchair so people would immediately recognize it as impaired, and all of society would be forced to wear name tags in my presence.

At one point in college, I even suspected I had multiple personalities because so often people would happily come up to me, give me a hug and ask specific questions like, “Well ... did your brother’s house pass its inspection?”  

I would just nod mechanically because I was desperately ripping through every cabinet and drawer in my brain trying to connect the face talking with any image I had ever seen in my life. And I was finding nothing. Nothing! (And at that point in my college career, I wasn’t even inhaling any mild, memory-shortening organic substances.)

I don’t want to be that person, the type of person that puts no importance on remembering people. I understand how insulting it is to know someone like that. There was a guy, Maurice (I’ll never forget), in my freshman dorm who would always re-introduce himself to my roommate and me. Maurice was not particularly attractive or popular; he was tall, but pudgy, with a soft, effeminate face.

My roommate and I, on the other hand, were two cute girls. We were always together. How did he never remember us? Was it a juvenile game? Was he mocking us? Did he ingest too many organic substance brownies? Or did we really leave no impression on his brain at all?

By the end of our freshman year, after 10 months of living in the same building, we thought he must know who we were. Then at a party sophomore year, he introduced himself again. “Yes, Maurice, It is Chris and Amy. We lived in the same building last year.”

He would nod, just like I do, looking under the bed in his brain for our images and finding nothing. “Oh yeah, you guys had a pet tarantula right?”

“Nope. Nope,” we said shaking our heads. “We never owned a tarantula.”

Senior year, my roommate and I lived in an off-campus house with three other girls. Maurice was good friends with our roommate, Kelly, and he came over one night to hang out. After introducing himself to us again, and Amy and I rolling our eyes, we ended up having a fun night together. In fact, we had such a memorable night, Amy and I knew Maurice would never forget it.  

The next year at Kelly’s wedding, I was happy to see Maurice there, and I confidently walked up to him to say hello. He was talking to someone else, and I bounced in anticipation for a few seconds before I realized he was not going to turn and talk to me. I sheepishly retreated. Hours later, as the mingling finally got around to Maurice and me talking, he reached out his hand to shake mine and said, “Nice to meet you. I’m Maurice.”

“Maurice!” my voice was an octave too high in exasperation. “You seriously don’t remember me? From last year? You gave Amy and me merengue lessons ... we watched the sunrise ... we all got matching Pegasus tattoos!”

Maurice looked down at the delicate winged horse on his wrist and said, “But I got this tattoo with Kelly.”

That was it. Amy and I never saw him again.  

Although, I have to admit, maybe the reason Maurice annoyed me so much was because I am so similar to him. If people don’t attract my eye in some way, then I don’t pay attention to them. It is a sad indicator of my shallowness.

And what intrigues me is extremely random. My eye likes certain looks, like a crow attracted to shiny objects. I find specific qualities interesting: sharp noses, wrinkly waddles, long fingers, tight jawbones, straight hair, a woman’s un-tan crow’s feet.

If it isn’t shiny, I don’t look at it. But my crow eye doesn’t differentiate who is important or not, and as I aged, I slowly determined that it is vital to remember certain people, even if they don’t have interesting freckles on their arms.

Actually, it wasn’t slowly. It was one humiliating moment that made me change. I was at a weekend business conference. I had just met Sherrie, my company’s new Technical Administrator of Acronyms, and she was supposed to help my team fix some very important issues.

Fifteen minutes after meeting her, I was talking to another colleague about how Sherrie, the Technical Administrator of Acronyms, was going to help my team. My colleague looked at me quizzically and then finally said, “I’m Sherrie.” I almost died. Had I really never looked at Sherrie when I first met her? Apparently not. And my crow's eye had to eat itself.

I immediately quit my job, went back to school, and took a behavior modification class. (For real.)

So I have some tricks:

  • Look at people in the face, even if your crow's eye doesn’t find them shiny.
  • Channel a parrot and repeat the person’s name immediately after they say it.
  • If you never even listen in the first place, when people say their name (like me), ask them at the end of the conversation what their name is again. That is better than having to ask the next time you meet. (If you don't listen to them the second time, run away if you ever see them again.)
  • Immediately make up a mnemonic trick to trigger the person’s name for next time.

These past few weeks I have been doing my own version of a rain dance, my memory dance. I stick a crow's feather in my hair, march around and chant new people's names and whatever trick I’ve come up with. This lady drives “ALEXIS” (even though I really, really want to call her Isabel). “JESSICA” Rabbit with her red hair. This chick is just crazy for “LINDSAY” Lohan.



Just click Here to like Pen Name Jane's Facebook page, because you'll never remember the name later.

Rebecca Broadway September 19, 2012 at 02:59 PM
totally relatable. I need to buy more mental RAM. :)
Mason Gehring September 19, 2012 at 06:40 PM
i LOVE the description of your "crow's eye"! So very true! You are doing the right thing to remember people. My brother taught me the same thing and he knows all sorts of memory tools. You should contact him if you need more help!
Dave Holden September 19, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Remember that a man’s name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in the English language. – Dale Carnegie


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