What’s in a name… anyway?


Yesterday I ran into a pleasant woman who ran up to me, gave me a hug and cried, “Maureen! How lovely to see you… it’s been ages. How old are your grand children now?” I happily gave her an update, listened to her news, and we parted with promises to phone each other very soon and arrange a lunch date. And I would have happily done so… except that I could not remember her name!

I have always had a horrible memory for names. Kindly friends have tried to help by suggesting mental exercises but to no avail. “When you meet someone,” one of these friends once instructed me, “repeat the name several times in conversation. And pay attention,” she added sternly. “You’re usually thinking about ten different things and a name has no chance to stick.” I have tried—I have concentrated—but no dice.

It’s embarrassing. I envy people who have instant recall or who have trained themselves to remember. One such fortunate soul suggested that I make myself remember something interesting about someone. Bright blue eyes.  A catchy laugh. A beautiful speaking voice. Well, I do remember all that, but not the name.  “You are hopeless,” I was finally told. “At least come up with conversation points that you can use with someone you don’t recognize.”

I winced at that, having just put my foot—both feet, actually—in it by an innocuous remark. I had asked a nice lady how her husband was. Her face darkened, and her eyes flashed fire. “I have no idea,” she gritted. “Do you?”


Lately I’ve kept myself talking about safe subjects. Granted, there aren’t too many.  Asking about family in general terms, I’ve found, is somewhat safe since everyone usually has some family. Then, there is work. “What are you up to these days?” often generates conversation, though some unhelpful Unknowns have responded. “Oh, the usual. You know.” Sometimes I have had to be devious. “Tell me all about you,” said with great sincerity, can usually carry one through a coffee and a Danish and perhaps even offer valuable clue to someone’s identity!

Best of all ruses, though, is the simplest. “I’m embarrassed,” I will often say when backed against the wall, “but I am so awful with names, and I’ve forgotten yours…” Of course, after I have told the same person the same thing several times, even honesty wears thin. And then there is the awful dilemma of having to introduce someone whose name has retreated into the subconscious. The spurious question, “Won’t you tell me how to pronounce your last name?” doesn’t wash when the lady is surnamed Smith or Jones.

The other day, however, I found myself in one of those serendipitous moments when the world is bathed in light. There, coming toward me was a woman I had met a few weeks ago and whose name I actually remembered! Oh, joy! With all cordial haste I walked up to her exclaiming, “Marie, how lovely to see you again!”

She stopped, looked at me, and a glazed look settled on her features. “Ah,” she said, “yes. How very nice to see you, too…”

Well, turn about IS fair play.

Tyrant memory

            Teases, eludes and wanders…

            Leaving me stranded.



About Maureen C. Wartski

I’m Maureen Wartski, writer, artist, wife, mother, grandmother; you can see that I have many of the bases covered. I was born in Ashiya, Japan, a (then) small town which lay cradled between sea and mountains. In the evenings, we would walk along the road that ran past Osaka Bay, and a great moon would rise out of the water to turn the world to silver. I’m told that my first words were, “Big moon!” All my life I have felt the tug to write something, draw something, put together something with fabric, string and color, and the urge to create has grown through the years. I suppose, then, that it’s a natural thing that this blog be full of the things that so many of you enjoy doing…drawing, making something with fabric, and writing. Yuri's Brush with Magic, my newest book for middle schoolers follows the adventures of a brother and sister, the magic of words, and the incredible magic of the natural world. I'd love to hear from you! You can send me a note at: maureen@wartski.org/ My blog is here: https://maureenwartski.wordpress.com/ Or friend me on Facebook!

12 responses »

  1. Hi Maureen,
    Once I carried on a conversation with a lady who could recall my name but I never did recall hers. I wasn’t sure where I knew her from either. Not a pleasant experience. After that I vowed I would not do that again. Now, if I can’t remember, I say,”You’ll have to help me or I’m sorry but I’m having trouble remembering how I know you.” I don’t like to have to resort to that but I have to sometimes. It does happen to the best of us as Dorothy says.

  2. Maureen,
    I really loved this blog! I,too, have the same failing. I was in the doctor’s office today getting my annual physical and time after time she was asking me – who is my eye doctor, what was the name of my dermatologist, who did I see for for my foot problem? And I came up blank every time! I was so discouraged with my memory by the time I left that I felt I was really losing it. Sometimes I will remember a name and have no clue as to why as it could be someone I barely have a relationship with and other times I may want to introduce someone to a few good friends and I suddenly go blank. I now find myself quickly introducing omyself to people in this situation if I feel they may also have gone blank. In any case in gave me great comfort!

    • Names! Wouldn’t it be fun to be without names? I wonder what we would use… numbers? Oh I’m bad remembering numbers, too! Perhaps, flowers? I usually remember flower names! 🙂
      Thanks for reading, Marilyn… and believe me, as a fellow sufferer, I understand!

  3. Until recently I had an excellent memory for names and faces. Not any more, but my husband is even worse. When we are going out to a social engagement, Dale always writes down the names of people we’re going to see. Seems to help him, but only in those situations. Memory is a very fickle capacity. Dale has an amazing memory for movies, especially those before the last 20 years. He can tell you the title and all the cast members names, but what I told him about this week’s plans? Not a chance. Sarah

  4. My dear husband has never been able to remember names, either. He is a Mr. Malaprop of names, and it has become a family joke, I think a great number of us forget things… names, words, things we should have picked up at the grocery store. Good to know we are in fine company, though!
    Thank you for reading, Sarah…

  5. Delightfully written Maureen!
    Don’t worry- when we meet again (we met at Fly Leaf Books- I came to your reading there) I won’t hesitate to introduce myself and ask your name. That is how I handle this on-going problem. I think it has something to do with face recognition or something like that. Artist Chuck Close has a severe problem with this- heard about it in an NPR interview recently.

  6. Dear Maureen,
    Alas and alack.
    My maiden name was Meyer. People spelled it mayor, myers, meer, etc. So when I got married to Alvin York in October 1965, I thought it would be great. My students and their parents wouldn’t have trouble spelling York.
    In December I received cards saying: “Dear Ms. Yoke.”
    My cousin introduced me to his first bride saying, I can’t remember Joan’s married name because it’s so hard to pronounce.
    I happily told her my last name was York.
    My cousin winced and then laughed.
    I understand the feeling when you don’t remember the name. Realize that they might have trouble remembering, too. It’s okay. At least you remembered their faces. And if not, it’s like meeting a new friend.
    Enjoy being you.
    You are delightful.
    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

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