Saturday, July 31, 2010

Confessions of a Nameaphobic

   Confession time: I am terrible at names. And especially at putting names together with faces. I’m not sure why this is. I can remember the chart number of a worker’s compensation patient from the orthopedic surgeon’s office where I worked three years ago. The phone number at my apartment in Texas where I lived for only ten months during my first job out of college (let’s not talk about how many years ago that was). But let one of my mother’s cousins say hello at the local cafe and I’m toast.

    It would be less embarrassing if I didn’t even try to remember names. But I work at it. At large social gatherings I plant myself next to one of Those Who Know Everyone and quiz them about any familiar face that wanders past. Play little word games with myself. You know, like I should remember Joe Tallman because he isn’t tall, he’s short.

    Nothing helps.

    It’s not as simple as a memory problem. It’s more like stage fright. Sitting here right now, I can think of a person’s name and picture their face clear as day. Plop me down in front of the concession stand at the Tal Michael Memorial Rodeo, though, and I’m like the National Anthem singer who forgets the words they’ve sung a thousand times. Froze up. Totally blank.

   Uh-oh. That woman is looking at me like she knows me. Oh, crud, she’s saying hello. Come on, come on brain…give me something.

   At which point I blurt out the first name that pops into my head, which is always a sister or a cousin or a next door neighbor but NEVER the person standing in front of me. Or I go with a big dumb smile and, “Well, it’s good to see YOU, too.” And the woman gives me the look that says, “Wow, what a moron” and walks away. And then I remember exactly who she is and that time at the Birch Creek arena when we persuaded her little brother to go snipe hunting and what color her barrel horse was back in 1983. 

   Family reunions and other social gatherings that attract large numbers of relatives and acquaintances are a nightmare. The more I screw up, the more I panic, until I start second-guessing myself on even the no-brainers.

   Wait. Are you sure? Don’t say the name until you’re sure. Okay, yes, I’m pretty sure that’s the guy in my wedding photos.  

   Don’t even bother looking for me at the big Lewis and Clark Days Festival and all school reunion. I can’t take the pressure. It does not help that I moved away for a couple of decades and let’s face it, we all don’t look quite like we did back in high school. I’m pretty sure I’m taller now, which would account for why some people don’t seem to recognize me right off. Or they’re suffering from the same nameaphobia that sends me ducking down an alternate aisle in the grocery store when I have one of my attacks.

   Please don’t take it personally. It’s not that I’m trying to avoid you. I’m just giving myself a few moments to recall whether we shared the same Algebra teacher or the same grandparents. Feel free to walk over, whack me upside the head and say, “Hey, dummy, I’m Mike, remember?”

   Until then, I will stick with Mr. Tatsey, just to be safe. Or “Hey, you.”


Janet Reid said...

This is why God invented "honey" "dear" and my favorite "hey snookums."

Also, you are taller.

Sandra Cormier said...

A few weeks ago my daughter and I met a lady at the grocery store and I totally mistook her for someone else. I said, "We always seem to run into each other at grocery stores," and she gave me a blank look.

Turns out we hadn't met since my daughter was in grade school with her daughter.

I still don't remember her name, or the other woman either!

Denise Grover Swank said...

I am EXACTLY the same way.Isn't that why God invented name tags?

Linda G. said...

I'm with Janet on this. I just call everyone "sweetie." Which, admittedly, can get a little awkward when dealing with people like my husband's boss. ;)

Kari Lynn Dell said...

Janet: I live on an Indian reservation. Going around calling men 'Hey snookums' is a good way to inspire their women to hang a whoopin' on me.

Chumplet: Oh yeah. Been there. Just realized, after two years of popping over to the auto body shop for Pepsi, that the woman who works there graduated from high school with me.

Denise: I'm all for mandatory tattoing of foreheads. Except it could get messy by the third or fourth husband.

Linda: Next time, try 'Mr. Sweetie'.

Anonymous said...

My personal favorite was at our grandmother's funeral when our aunt introduced Eddie and Karen to each other. Granted she never forgot their names just that they already knew each other as they are brother and sister.


Kadi Easley said...

I blank on names all the time. Right after my mother passed away our house became grand central as friends. family and neighbors dropped by to pay their respects and drop off casseroles. I was fairly stressed because not only had I lost my mom, but I was taking care of my father and only a scant few weeks away from my oldest son's wedding. I kept it together and even stayed on top of the names until things quieted down a bit. One afternoon I answered a knock on the door and found two ladies about my mom's age that I knew were my dad's cousins. I'd known these women all my life, had seen them at every family even, wedding funeral and reunion for forty years and suddenly I couldn't remember their names. They asked if daddy was up to a visit. I said I'd check. "Hey daddy, you have company." "Who is it?" "Um, Um, some of your cousins." Then flushed with embarrassment, I ran from the room as they entered and hid out until they left. As soon as the car door slammed behind them, I remembered their names. Geesh.

Kari Lynn Dell said...

KD: That is EXACTLY the kind of thing I do.

Rachael said...

I am so horrible with names. Actually, I'm pretty good with names. I just second-guess myself constantly, even with people I sort of know well. It's kind of sad because I can tell you the name of half the horses in the arena at fair and while I know their riders, I can't remember their names to save my life.