I was at graduation and a former student of mine came up to speak. It’s not often that I forget names, not often at all… especially if you are/were my student. Most have a lasting impression – good or bad – and I can pretty much tell you to the “T” how they behaved while they were in my presence. However, with this particular young man, I could only recall what class he had of mine and even a project he did, but I was so unsure of his name that I avoided it throughout the whole conversation.
And although it was awkward for me (since I kept trying to remember) we spoke as if it didn’t really matter. We talked about what he was up to nowadays, how my class prepared him for his current job, how some of the other students were doing since they have all graduated and laughed about a couple of his tattoos. All the while I was holding this conversation, I didn’t even know that young man’s name. I felt crazy afterwards, but I just didn’t want to spoil the conversation by asking such a question.
Tacky, much? Actually, it is not. When following etiquette rules, should you be unsure of someones name during conversation, it is actually impolite to say, “I know your face–but I just can’t recall your name.” What should you do instead? Continue the conversation and use phrases such as, “It’s nice to see you” or “You’re looking well” as you give strong eye contact and attentiveness.
If you are on the receiving end and you can pick up that someone is unsure of who you may be or if you suffer from the “place the face, forget the name” syndrome (I just made that up), help the person out! Say, “I’m ______” followed by how you met/remember the person in conversation. NEVER say, “You don’t remember me, do you?” It’s rude and you may get as frank of an answer as the question you asked.
Vanderbilt, Amy. Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette: A Guide to Gracious Living. Garden City, NY: DoubleDay & Company, Inc., 1957. Print.