September 04, 2012

The Name Game: The Importance of Remembering Names

Names are extremely important. It's usually the first thing we learn about a person with introductions such as "I'm ______, nice to meet you!" and "Have you met my friend, ______?" At stores and restaurants, often times you can pick out employees because of their name tag.
Our name is a huge part of our identity. The first and middle names are specially selected by our parents and our last name represents our family and its history. There's a lot of emotion tied to our names as well. We get upset when we're called by the wrong nickname, annoyed when our name is spelled incorrectly, and excited when we meet someone of the same name (Fun fact: "Your name is Katie? I'm Katie too!" was a part of the initial conversation between Katie Reilly and myself when we first met). Learning and remembering someone's name (the way they spell and pronounce it) shows that you care (at least a little bit) about that person. Think about how you'd feel if you ran into an old teacher from years ago and he/she remembered your name? You'd feel pretty special, right? That teacher memorizes hundreds of names and faces a year but remembering your name says to you that there's something about you that's worth remembering. Conversely, think about people who you've met several times who just can't remember your name or worse they consistently call you by the wrong name (even after you've corrected them once or twice). Annoying, right? Here are some things to remember regarding names:

Pay attention to what they call themselves

When people introduce themselves as "Mr. So-and-So", it means they want you to be more formal and use their last name and I would stick with that until they tell you otherwise. If they tell you their name but follow it up by saying "But everyone calls me ____" then you can choose which of the presented names you'd like to use. The trouble comes when someone else does the introduction: "Have you met my friend, _____?" Most of the time, though, using this name is probably okay too. If it's not, you'll most likely be corrected early on. Otherwise, there are a couple other things to keep in mind to get the name right including...

Look at their email signatures

This is especially important if you have any reservations at all about the spelling of a person's name. If you receive an email from someone and misspell his/her name or get it completely wrong in the response, that's just inexcusable. I always sign my name as "Katie" in my emails except for the occasions when I'm feeling particularly formal and I use my full name, "Katherine". When (and I say "when" because it sometimes happens) I receive a response directed to "Kathy", it just really rubs me the wrong way. I'm sure it's the same for lots of other people too. Look at the email signatures. Make SURE you get the name right! If you do get the name wrong and don't realize until later, be sure to apologize the next chance you get. It's possible the reader didn't even notice the spelling error (this did happen to me once) but it's still nice to apologize just to show that you care.

Never make assumptions about nicknames

This goes along with the first point, "Pay attention to what they call themselves" but it happens often enough that I think it's worth its own mention. Once, on the first day of class, a teacher called out my name during role call and I didn't even realize it. "Kathy? Kathy?" she called. Now I know my name was listed as "Katherine" on her sheet so I figured it couldn't have been me until she finally called out my full name. "Here! And I go by Katie." I could not believe that she just assumed I used the nickname "Kathy". Of course, it took multiple corrections across the week for her to finally accept my true nickname but that's another matter. Additionally, just because someone has a name with a commonly used nickname doesn't mean that they prefer to be called by that nickname. Again, you'll make your life easier and put less strain on the relationship if you just pay attention to the name they use when they introduce themselves.
When all else fails, just ask: "Do you prefer to be called ____ or ____?" "Is it okay if I call you _____?". They'll appreciate your effort to get the name right!
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