A Short Story on the Importance of Remembering Others’ Names, Plus Some Advice on Doing it Better
I can’t claim to be an expert at remembering others’ names. Some seem to have a knack for it, whereas I do not. At least I try now though. Hard as I try, however, I’m often embarrassed when I meet someone I know but am unable to recall their name. Unless I am able to bluff convincingly, as the following little trip down memory lane illustrates, or else my acquaintance is very graceful, it’s always a terribly uncomfortable situation to be in.
The Chevrolet dealership was still open when I drove up in my slightly-used, ’67 Camero; the tires still had a good 25,000 miles worth of tread on them. It was almost six o’clock when I entered the showroom and recognized my salesman. I couldn’t recall his name, but I knew what he looked like. He was standing up to greet me from behind an old grey metal desk. As I shook his pro-offered hand, I asked him if my new Corvette had been delivered yet.
“Garry, right — Lieutenant Garry from Ft. Walters?” he asked. “Like wild oats,” he then said with a big grin in response to my nod. I was impressed that he remembered me, but then, remembering people was important for the business he was in.
“It’s out on the side gett’n a bath,” he said. “Go take a look, then come-on back in with the paperwork on your trade-in. I’ll have you troll’n South Main before the sun goes down.”
There she was, the car of my dreams, a white convertible with red interior. 1968 — perhaps not the best model year for Corvette, maybe even the worst as most Corvette affectionados will tell you. But she was beautiful, the first of the new Stingray design.
“This heyer y’new wheels, Mist-ah?” asked the weathered old black man, one of the first of his race I had seen since arriving in Weatherford, Texas three weeks earlier. He was hunkered down with a garden hose in one hand and a terry-cloth towel in the other one washing off a thin layer of dust from the driver’s side of my car. His overalls, fastened over only one shoulder, were rolled up almost to his knees revealing the tops of well-worn rubber galoshes.
“Yes… yes it is,” I said, committing myself to a loving relationship before signing a contract or even before touching her. For me, the car had been a mail-order bride and I was saying, “I do,” to her in my heart as I stood there. The detail man, watching me with a smile on his face, was our witness.
“Well, you sho a lucky young genalman, suh, un ah’ll be sure ta take good care of ‘er fo ya.”
The salesman had been good to his word. The sun was just setting as I drove back toward the center of town on Ft. Worth Street. I had just taken my first drive after signing on the dotted line, experiencing the sport car’s quick response to my every command as I drove east out of town to The County Line. This was the closest place to Weatherford from which one could legally buy anything alcoholic to drink. A six-pack of Budweiser now rested behind the bucket seats for the upcoming weekend.
Before me, as I came to a stop for the red-light at an intersection, was the stately, old Parker County courthouse. But I wasn’t much interested in Texas architecture at that moment. I was chill’n to the sounds of a Ray Charles ballad and my new car’s 350 inch V8 at idle. Out of the corner of my eye, however, I did notice a little blue car pull up beside me. Feeling someone’s eyes on me, checking me out, me and my new car that is, I turned to look and I noted a Volkswagen beetle. The eyes belonged to a young lady behind the wheel of the beetle, a very nice-looking young lady.
“Hello,” I said as smoothly as I could. “I was just on my way to get a shake at the Dairy Queen. Wanna meet me there?”
She smiled in a sheepish sort of way, and I took that for a yes. And I smiled in a wolfish sort of way as I noticed the little blue car in my rear view mirror following me around the courthouse and down South Main to the only “in place” in town back then.
“Looks brand new… is it?” she asked after pulling up on my right side and turning off her car’s engine.
“Sure is. I just got it tonight,” I answered. “Wanna be the first to sit co-pilot while I go for treats?”
“Okay,” she said after the slightest hesitation.
“What would you like?” I asked, opening her car door first then my own on the passenger side.
“Umm… a chocolate dipped-cone would be nice,” she said, slipping into the bucket seat.
Nice legs, I thought to myself as I walked away to place our order, returning a few moments later with both hands full.
I looked down at the little chocolate-covered swirl of ice-cream on the top of my guest’s treat, and the temptation was just too great. I bit it off before handing her the rest. It wasn’t a very gallant thing to do, but back then I wasn’t a very gallant kind of guy. When I saw something I wanted, I went for it.
“Augh,” she groaned. “How could you?”
“Just making sure it was safe,” I said with a wink, but not at all confident that I hadn’t already dashed any chance I might have had with this, my “first bite” for the evening. I was relieved when she smiled at the sorry excuse I had given for my behavior, an attempt at humor.
After a short “demo” ride with this young lady down South Main, we came right back to her parked bug. It was a school night for her and I still had more troll’n to do, so we exchanged names and a few details about ourselves then said goodnight. She was a local girl attending classes at the University of Texas at Arlington. But the most important detail about her, as far as I was concerned at the time, was her phone number, which I was able to get. I wrote it down on the inside of a matchbook cover. I failed, however, to write down her name.
Saturday came and I had a few good prospects for the evening, but my first choice was the blond with the nice-looking legs in the blue Volkswagen. With the phone in my hand and the book of matches open before me, I started dialing, then I stopped, hanging up the phone. What was her name? I asked myself. Try as I may, I simply could not remember it.
After a second cup of morning coffee, I decided on a ploy: I would dial again. Then, when someone answered, if it sounded like her voice I would simply say, hello and give my name. If it should be a woman’s voice but not sound like hers, I would assume it to be her mother and simply announce myself then ask to speak with her daughter, not using a name. Likewise, if a man should answer, I would assume it to be her father and do the same. As it turned out, it was her mother who answered. After giving my name, I was told that she, meaning her daughter, had already gone out for the day but that she had left a message for me in the event that I should call. Drat! I was hoping that her mother would say her name, but she didn’t.
“She said to tell you that it’s okay for tonight,” her mother told me. Then, after giving me directions to the house, she said, “Come by at six.”
Yes! So far, so good.
I was there right at six, the sun being low in the western sky when I drove up. Among the many other things the Army had already taught me, I had learned to be on-time. I had also learned about something called “field expediency,” using whatever is at hand to accomplish the mission when the correct weapon or tool isn’t available. My plan was to trick her into saying her name again somehow during the evening without reveling the fact that I couldn’t remember it. After-all, there is no sound sweeter than the sound of one’s own name, and I didn’t want to signal the fact that cared more about her great-looking legs at this stage of our relationship than I did about who she was as a person. I instinctively knew that it is our names, perhaps more than anything else about us, that project us to others as individuals.
I rang the bell anticipating one of the parents to answer and hoping that they would call out to my date by name, saying that her young man was here. But, no such luck. I was met at the door by my date herself. Lovely… She was wearing a nice print dress, I noticed, if not exactly seasonal, but Texas winters do tend to be warmer than what I had grown up used to in Utah. What I noticed most, however, is that now she had long hair worn in a pageboy-style. When I had first met her, it had been much shorter, so I was a bit startled. I knew she could not have grown that much hair in such a short time.
Noticing my look of surprise, she smiled as I escorted her to my car and said, “It’s a fall.”
“Oh,” I said, not having heard the term, fall, before but, assuming that it meant a hair piece of some kind, I said, “Very nice!”
Walking around the back of the car after closing my date’s door for her, I formulated a quick plan. Then, closing my door and starting the engine… Vroooom (I gave it a little more gas than necessary anticipating that the car’s throaty roar would quicken my date’s pulse), “Wearing your hair down that way makes you look a bit like Elizabeth Montgomery,” I said.
“You mean Samantha the witch?”
“Yeah, Samantha on Bewitched, the TV show. In fact, I think I’ll call you Sam tonight because you are so bewitching.”
And that’s how the story began, the story of my thirty-eight year relationship with Miss Natalie DeBeauford of Weatherford, Texas. Since that evening, as my sweetheart, later my fiance, and later still as my bride, she has been Sam to me, to my family, to our mutual friends, and even to her father while he was still with us. He had encouraged us to be together and to stay together. God bless him for that.
Turns out, I made lemonade out of lemons that evening. But I’d been lucky, and one cannot always count on luck. Since then I’ve learned an important lesson: If you want to remember a person’s name you’ve got to want to remember it and be willing to make an effort. It’s got to be important to you or it’s just not going to happen.
For some more tips on how to do a better job at remembering others’ names, click the MORE button.
As a teacher now with a hundred-fifty or so new students every year who want to know that I care enough about them individually to at least remember their names, I use the SAVE formula. A pastor friend of mine shared this with me years ago, and I find that it really helps.
S Say the other person’s name at least three times in conver-
sation on first meeting them.
A Ask a question about the person’s name. For example: how it
is spelled, for whom they might be named, or how they were
given their name.
V Visualize the person’s most prominent physical or personality
feature, then relate it in some way to their name if possible.
E End the conversation saying the person’s name again.
For more tips on how to remember others’ names and alternative strategies to use when all else fails, CLICK HERE.
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