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Career Coach: May Day! Forgetting Someone's Name

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson reminds us of the importance of remembering names and avoiding brain freeze.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson.

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote:

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet."

But if you called someone named Rose, Violet or Daisy instead, she might not think you so clever or sweet.

Often we don't invest the effort to memorize someone's name because we think we might never meet that person again. On Dec. 27, my husband and I went to a performance of Handel's Messiah at the First Presbyterian Church in Boise and we ended up sitting behind two people from Iowa. I had started writing my January article about remembering names and put my own advice into practice right then and there, committing to memory the names of Ruth and Joe. After the service my husband and I were having lunch at a restaurant in Boise and overheard some people in the restaurant who were speaking about meeting a couple from Southern California. We went around the booths to say hello to Ruth and Joe.

You never know when you might meet someone again, so make the effort to remember the names of all the people you meet.

The following tips will help you with names that are hard to pronounce:

Ask for help with complicated names or ones in a foreign tongue. People will appreciate your efforts and warm to your correctly pronouncing their name.

If you ask someone how to pronounce his name, try your best to say it correctly in his presence. Ask for help if you aren't letter perfect the first time.

Ask someone to spell his name out for you. Seeing it this way can help you pronounce it properly. Practice saying it repeatedly.

Learning the story behind the person's name may also help you remember it.

If someone offers you a nickname, feel free to use it.  But make an effort to remember the real name as well.

If your name is hard to remember or pronounce, help those you meet by giving them ways to remember your name and make it memorable. If your name is lost in translation, don't get angry. If your name is difficult to pronounce, offer a pronunciation guide, relating your name's pronunciation to words people already know:

Susan RoAne, author of How to Work A Room, advises, "If you have trouble remembering names, understand that others may have forgotten yours. Never ask, 'Do you remember me?'" Putting people on the spot is rude. If you believe someone has forgotten your name, re-introduce yourself.

My advice if you forget someone's name is to admit it.

I met a guy my first week of college walking across campus and promptly forgot his name -- we had no classes together. I didn't think I'd see him again. I was wrong. But when I saw him the second time, I didn't admit that I had forgotten his name. Because his dorm was near mine, we inevitably walked together across campus to classes on a regular basis. For four years, we had conversations about all kinds of topics, though we never had classes together, not once did I call him by his name, though he remembered mine. Two weeks before we were going to graduate, we were walking across campus again. My friend had shaved off his beard and cut his hair. We passed a couple of other guys who were returning from class.  "Hey Alex," one of them called out, "I like the new look." I'll never forget Alex's name again and I also will never be hesitant about asking someone for their name again even if I know them well. My 14-year-old daughter says I can always use the phrase, "I'm having a brain freeze."

If you get some one's name wrong, it's not the end of the world. Last year I met a nice woman at a holiday party. I remembered she was a former teacher but was unsure of her name. When I saw her at this year's party I greeted her, "Hi Judy." She quickly corrected me with a smile and extended hand, "My name's Janet. Can you tell me yours again?"  At next year's holiday party, I will remember Janet's name. 

Dale Carnegie wrote: "If you want to win friends, make it a point to remember them. If you remember my name, 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."

What's in a name? Gold. Learning, using, and properly pronouncing names is a great first step to building solid relationships built on trust, respect and admiration.  Remember people's names and make a name for yourself. Pamela Kleibrink Thompson vows never to be embarrassed about asking for someone's name if she can't remember it. You can reach her for recruiting, speaking engagements or career coaching at PamRecruit@q.com.  She will be presenting her Career Strategies Workshop at IADT in Tampa in June. You can read her online column, "The Career Coach," at http://mag.awn.com; her Linkedin profile may be found at http://www.linkedin.com/in/pamelathompson.

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