Names

I don’t understand how my memory for names works or doesn’t work. My sister is visiting me and we have a good time talking about our growing up days and a host of other topics. After many years of living in other states, she is now living in the town where we grew up and she will mention someone who I knew as a child and I’ll have trouble figuring out who she is talking about. We’ll be having a conversation about a person from our past and I can recall lots of minute details about that person and can’t remember the name.

I don’t think that I have a very good natural talent for names. I have had to work hard at remembering names all of my life, but it is, to a certain extent, an acquired skill. Every Sunday after worship I greet as many people as I can by their names as they pass through the line to shake my hand. Many wear name tags, but I try to focus on their faces and look at the name tag only when I can’t come up with the name from my memory. I’ve even made mistakes and used the wrong name from time to time, something that few people appreciate. After all your name is pretty close to your identity.

There are a lot of names that I can recall. I know the names of most of the children whom I’ve baptized over the years. There is something about formally asking in a public setting, “By what name shall your child be known?” After receiving that answer and repeating the name, I’ve got it pretty firmly in my mind when I introduce the child to the congregation. On the other hand, I was going through the 25 or so children on our church’s cradle roll recently and discovered that I can’t remember the middle name of hardly any of those children. I knew those middle names at one time, but I have not retained them.

I know that part of the problem is that I continue to meet new people and that when I work hard to get a name at least into my short term memory, those in my long term memory seem to take longer to recall at times. I’ve forgotten a name in conversation and then it will come to me much later, when I am engaged in a completely unrelated task. That, actually, is a bit reassuring to me. It is a sign that my brain will continue to work on a memory problem even when I’m not conscious of it.

I moved from the town where we grew up when I was 17 years old. I’ve livd in 5 different cities and towns since that time. I’ve lived in this town longer than I’ve lived in any other place. I do pretty good with the names of the people with whom I work on a regular basis. I am the secretary for two boards of directors and I can record attendance without needing to ask anyone their name. I greet people in public all the time, some of whom are members of my church, others whom I’ve met in different contexts. I recall the names of hundreds of people every week without much apparent effort.

Then I turn around and can’t remember the name of a person with whom I attended eight years of school. It is frustrating.

My name is short and, I guess, fairly easy to remember. I will go into a coffee shop where I know I haven’t been for more than a month and the barista will remember my first name. That same person won’t know much about me, such as where I work or which organizations I belong to, but will remember what drink I usually order. I’m impressed. After all, the person in the coffee shop usually wears a name tag with their first name on it. I can get their name easily. they have to really remember mine.

When I was a kid, the joke was that my father took one look at me when I was born and said, “That kid will never learn to spell a name with more than three letters!” Of course that isn’t true. I knew that it wasn’t true when I was little. I didn’t do well in spelling in elementary school and my writing was riddled with spelling errors until I went off to college, when I really worked on learning to be a better speller. These days, despite struggling with an over-zealous auto correct on my computer, I do an acceptable job of spelling. But I’m sure that if you are a regular reader of my journal you’ve caught plenty of errors.

Anyway, that short first name, combined with the fact that I have no middle name means that I don’t run out of boxes when filling out forms. It doesn’t take too many spaces to write my complete name. Short names, on the other hand, can be as difficult to remember as long ones. We had friends in college who married and hyphenated their last names. The combination was a real deal: Buckingham-Sczpanski. But do you think I can remember the name of the husband as I write this? And there are other couples from that era of our lives whose names I can’t recall at all. I’ve not kept track of that couple. I’ve always sort of wished that one of their children would have grown up to meet and fall in love with another person whose parents had hyphenated their last names. String together enough names like that and you’d have an entire genealogy.

I know that memory isn’t as good as we age as it once was. I can be very impatient with that fact. I don’t like it when I recognize something that is a sign of decreasing capacity. So I work hard to overcome that. If, on the other hand, I am struggling to come up with your name, never fear. I’ll probably remember it suddenly later that day when I’m engaged in some totally unrelated task.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!