My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

Want to get the "Moment of Happiness"? A daily happiness quotation in your inbox. Sign up here close daily quote

Six Tips for Coping with the Fact that You’ve Forgotten Someone’s Name.


Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six tips for coping with the fact that you don’t remember a person’s name.

If you’re like me, you sometimes have trouble remembering people’s names, or even how you know them. A few years ago, while at a chaotic birthday party for a three-year-old, I was on the brink of going over to some little kid’s father to say, “I think we went to college together.” Turns out it was Dylan McDermott!

In ancient Rome, the job of the “nomenclator” was to whisper or announce the names of people as they approached a politician. My husband serves this function for me; he has an uncanny ability to recall names and faces — people he has met once, years ago, and also famous people. I’ll insist I’ve never met someone before, and he’ll say, “Wasn’t he in your class in college?” I have no idea how he does it, but I really suffer when I got to social events without him.

So I’ve developed some strategies for coping with the fact that I’m not able to pull up a person’s name right away. Of course, you can always just say politely, “I’m sorry, I don’t recall your name,” but if you’d rather try to disguise your forgetfulness a bit, give these a try:

1. The “I know your name, but I’m blocked” dodge:
“I keep wanting to call you “David,” but I know that’s not right.”

2. The “Of course I know you — in fact, I want all your information” dodge:
“Hey, I’d love to get your card.”

3. The “The tip of my tongue” dodge:
“I know I know your name, but I’m blanking right now.”

4. The “You’re brilliant!” dodge:
“Wow, you have a terrific memory. I can’t believe you remember my name from that meeting six months ago. I can’t remember the names of people I met yesterday! So of course I have to ask you your name.”

5. The “Sure, I remember you” dodge:
“Remind me – what’s your last name?” If you ask a person for his last name, he’s likely to repeat both names. “Doe, John Doe.”

6. The “One-sided introduction” dodge:
“Hey,” you say to the person whose name you can’t remember, “let me introduce you to Pat Smith.” You introduce the two and say the name of the person whose name you remember. Almost always, the nameless person will volunteer his or her name.

Also, remember that others might have trouble remembering your name. When you’re saying hello to someone, err on the side of re-introducing yourself. “Hi, John, it’s Gretchen Rubin.” Say your name slowly and clearly. And don’t get offended if someone doesn’t remember your name! And while you’re at it, remember to smile. It really does make a difference in how friendly you’re perceived to be.

* The brilliant Leo Babauta of Zen Habits fame has started a site,, about minimalism, “How less is the answer.” Lots of wonderful material there.

* As I posted the other day, I’m trying to figure out the level of interest for a book tour. If I did a book event in your town, and you’d come, it would be very helpful if you’d either post a comment below or drop me an email at grubin[at]gretchenrubin[dot com]. (Sorry about the weird format – trying to thwart spammers). Just write “tour” in the subject line, and be sure to include the name of your city! Thanks very much to all the people who already answered; the information is enormously helpful.