Once I was old enough to shake hands and say my name, my father schooled me in the art of the introduction. He did this not out of some patriarchal duty to have his child brought up in the ways of polite society. No, he taught me how to do this because he can't remember anyone's name.
When with my dad in a crowded room, my job is to wander up to people that he knows he's met and introduce myself. That way, the person whose name my dad has forgotten will be forced to say it _ and my father will look as if he remembered all along.
One day in the not-so-distant future, I'll teach my kids the same trick. While I'm really good at remembering faces, I'm awful at remembering names. Including, it must be mentioned, the names of my children.
I blame a lot of this on genetics. On my Dad's side of the family, I come from a long line of people who can't get your name right. It makes big holiday dinners a laugh riot. "You," an uncle will say, "yeah, you. The kid who I've known since she was a baby whose name starts with an A' (or maybe D?'), pass the potatoes, please."
"Here you go Uncle, um, Ralph? Vic? Am I close?"
My grandfather used to get around this by calling us all "doll." Sadly, this is not a trick I can get away with.
This isn't to be confused with lack of caring. Each of us could cite, chapter and verse, the highlights of each other's lives, but will blank on trivialities such as names.
I've only gotten worse as I've gotten older. It wasn't my knees that went first; it was my ability to attach a name to a face.My name recall went at the same time I started teaching, where every 15 weeks, there's a new batch of names to remember.
Just as I start to get them down _ and this takes an embarrassingly long time _ the 70-plus students are replaced by 70-plus more, each of whom insists on having a singular name that he or she will respond to. Usually, there are a couple of "Michaels" and "Christinas" (or "Kristinas") in every class. If I say one of those names in any given class, someone will respond.
I've toyed with the idea of making them wear really big nametags _ with extra large type because my eyes are going, too _ for the first 10 weeks of the term. It seems dehumanizing, yes. But the question is: is a nametag more dehumanizing than being called by the wrong name?
I could do what a professor in my alma mater did, which is call all of his students "specimen." He might have been on to something. Again, I don't think this is a trick I can get away with.
For what it's worth, I do remember faces, as well as important details. I could tell you where most of my students are from, how they're doing in class or their grade on their last test. Semesters later, I can still pick individuals out of a police lineup, which I hope to never find myself doing, of course.
My own children have given up on being called the right names. They seem to be relatively well adjusted in spite of this.
The larger problem is that I can't remember the names of any of their friends _ or worse yet, the names of their friend's parents. I was stopped in the grocery the other day by the mom of Kid X (ironically, this name has been obscured to protect the innocent) who has been to my house for playdates. The mom greeted me by name. I panicked.
I didn't want to just say, "Hi, X's mom," because I know she does indeed have a first name and has had one since long before X was born. I also didn't want to say, "Remind me what your name is, even though I see you on the way to school every Monday through Friday."
What I should have said was, "I have a genetic condition when it comes to remembering names and attaching them to the right people. It doesn't mean I don't care. I do. Really. Soon I'll have one of my kids all trained up and ready to save me in these circumstances. But for now, I'm just going to look at you and hope you don't notice." Kid X's mom totally noticed.
According to noted people-influencer Dale Carnegie, this name-induced blind spot is what has been keeping me from winning friends and/or influencing people.
"If you remember my name," he wrote, "you pay me a subtle compliment; you indicate that I have made an impression on you. Remember my name and you add to my feeling of importance."
This inability to pay subtle compliments may be why I'll never successfully run for public office. Or manage to make it through the grocery without feeling like a complete schmuck.
Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta and Hartwick College, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott and author of "Hillbilly Gothic," published by the Free Press.