Sunday, April 5, 2009


What's yer name again?

I'm convinced I have a hard-wired mental block that has been my career downfall.

I can't remember names.

From my earliest recollection, I have had a hard time with names. I can remember crying in the school office after having sand kicked in my face during recess. My face was tear-streaked, and grit still clung to the corners of my eyelids. I can remember being asked who was responsible, and relying with "I dunno..." I suppose the teacher thought I wasn't going to name names, but I would have gladly if I knew the person's name.

It seems I have been on the outside of this society that relies on knowing every person's name. It would take me weeks to learn all the names of people in my classroom. I would spend days trying to remember the names of all my classmates to ensure no one was missed on valentines exchange days.

I'm now in the throes of a new job at a small company, and I'm finding I have a hard time keeping everyone straight. I've developed a cheat sheet of sorts... useful for a company of 30ish. Completely beyond my capacity for a company of 200+ people (the last place I worked). It's somewhat easy to create a little chart of where everyone sits in a smaller company, but people have a tendency of getting up and walking around, foiling my attempts to say hello when I encounter them in the hallways.

Don't take my inability to remember names as disinterest. When I fell in love (unrequited I might add - perhaps the most emotionally wrenching kind of love) at the tender age of 12, I asked a friend about the boy of my affection. I had to ask three times, and eventually say "Hold on a sec" to grab a pen and write down his name. Then I had to refresh my memory the next day before I had his name etched in my mind (later to be scribbled on pencil cases, notebooks, and the pages of my diary).

For a person who I will never forget, it sure took a lot of effort to get his name in crammed in my brain in the first place.

I've tried to figure out how my brain is wired that makes it so difficult to remember names. Often my mind will completely lose the word for everyday objects. Nouns, adjectives and verbs can sometimes trip me up.... But names get me every time.

I've been sharing a life with a wonderful man (John William Keith, in case you're wondering) for more than four years now. We have two rabbits, three cats, seven guinea pigs, a one-eyed hamster, and a goldfish. I know their names. But at least once a year I need John to remind me of his relatives names. And its not that hard, there are three Bill's, two Eva's, Pat, Linda, Gord, Theresa, Derek (and two recent additions: Jordan and Courtney). To pull those names from my head takes great effort, although I care for those people as much as my own family. Last week someone asked for my father's name, and I hesitated (Tom). My Grandmother's first name was Verna. I can't remember her middle name, although I recall thinking one of them was so beautiful that were I ever to name a child, it would be perfect. My own grandmother, people!

The names are somewhat accessible, and with great effort and time to think, I can usually get them. But sometimes no. From the recesses of my mind, I can pull Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter in split seconds, but having their names on my mug helped me remember. But ask me to remember the names of my friends in Grade 8, and I struggle. I think one of them was named April.

I imagine that other people view names and use them in much different ways. To me, a Geoff is much different than a Jeff, a Sean from a Shawn (or a Shaun for that matter). This person before you who admits without hesitation their own shortcomings in remembering names is bold enough to say she bristles at being called Katherine, Kathryn, Catherine, or goodness forbid Kathy. Call me Kat if you like, but Cat is someone else entirely.

It might be significant that I have much less difficulty remembering animals' names. Perhaps its a pressure thing. If I forget the dog's name, there are a wide variety of pet names I can use that will suffice. Dogs, cats, bunnies, guinea pigs and hamsters alike, "fuzzy face" works. For people, not so much.

To take people I don't know well, and label them, I am unable to remember the names entirely. It is as if someone has selected a bowl of fruits, and given them names like George, Bob, Wilma, Dave, Dianne, Fred....

I won't remember if Bob is an apple or a peach. Fortunately people at least have some gender to go by.

I suppose I shouldn't expect sympathy for this shortcoming. I've been told time and again that remembering names is important, and you have to find some way of remembering them, or else people leap to the conclusion that you don't think they're important. I can buy this. What I don't buy is the assertion that, for some reason, it's acceptable to work with someone for years, and then suddenly forget their name to confuse it with something perceived as similar.

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