Somewhere along the (life) line I have become absolutely terrible at remembering names. I guess I was no better or worse than average for most of my life, but I am now embarrassingly bad at it.
For instance, my nice neighbors, Monty and Mary Jo, babysit for their two adorable grandsons during the week while the boys’ parents are at work. When the older boy gets out of kindergarten, sometimes they’re all out in their backyard with Charlie, the chocolate lab. Mick Jagger, the Rock Star Dachshund, and I go over so the dogs can chase each other around and I can chat with the Hallams.
I have come to know the little boys, Clay and Grayson, and they are uber cute – less than two years apart, roughly four and five and half years old. The problem is, I can’t remember, no matter how many times I ask, which one is Clay and which one is Grayson. Is it because the names are unusual? I probably would have the same problem if they were named Tommy and Bobby. Will I ever know which name belongs to which boy? I’m beginning to think the answer is no.
One of my theories explaining my especially poor memory for names is that I have done more moving around in my lifetime than almost everyone else I know. Consequently, I probably have had to get to know more people and remember more names over the course of my life. Also, I have literally met hundreds of people through my job. Maybe our minds are like an old floppy disk that can only hold so much information at a given time. If you can’t purge some of the old names you really don’t need any more, after a while you can’t add any new names. I would be fine with erasing some of the names I don’t need, but it’s just not that easy. Last night I was visiting with old friends and came up with the last name of a guy who was the friend of boy who my friend Fran had a crush on in Ashtabula in about 1968. He was never more than an acquaintance, but I remember his first and last name and where he lived.
Really? And I can’t remember the names of the delightful little boys who tell me all about the latest Disney movie they watched and that they’re going to their cousin’s house in Canton to go trick or treating? Geez.
When I moved to Madison nearly ten years ago I gradually acquired a whole new set of friends. I don’t have any trouble telling you the names of my new buddies, but sometimes I have to think a bit before I can name their husbands. Many have offspring I’ve never met – adults who have grown and gone, with kids of their own. Needless to say, I don’t remember any of their names, their spouses’ names or their children’s, despite the fact that my friends adore their kids and grandchildren and I do enjoy asking about how they’re doing (not naming names, of course).
Even new friends with kids still at home present a challenge. My friend Cindy has a blended family. I know her husband’s name and three out of the four kids: Isabel, Claire and Weston. I’ll be damned if I can remember the oldest girl’s name, and yet she is the beautiful teenage drama queen who is currently treating my pal like the worst of the wicked stepmothers. There will come a day, I am confident, that this bright young lady will all but throw herself at Cindy’s feet in gratitude for lovingly taking on a preteen crew after her mom died. You have to feel for the poor kid (and my beleaguered buddy). But in the meantime, despite the drama, that’s the one name in the family I simply can’t seem to embed permanently in the memory bank.
If you don’t know a person’s name, does that also mean you don’t really care? In my case, I know that’s not true. But there is something so intrinsically important about our names, and whether or not people remember them, that it bothers me that I’m not better at it. If I have met someone a time or two and they don’t remember my name, I then assume it’s because to them, I am not a memorable person.
I am secure enough at this point in my life that it doesn’t bother me the way it used to, but there was a time when my feelings would be hurt. Who doesn’t want to be someone people remember?
So here is my open apology to everyone whose names I can’t seem to remember: I’m sorry. Unlike the breakup cliché, in this case, it really is me – not you.