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Ask Anyone

speak, memory

I’m not very good at remembering names (or faces, for that matter). Sometimes I have known people for two years or more without ever being able to remember their names. What, exactly, are the rules about asking for someone’s name? I’ve tried being sneaky and being direct, and neither of them seems to work; people get offended and feel insulted. I don’t blame them, but I don’t know what to do.

Shall Remain Nameless

The Back Room says: I suggest the Hugh Hefner name recording system. Whenever Hugh meets a new person he writes down their name, where he met them, and an adjective about them or something about them that is memorable in his little black book. I’d wager that Hugh meets more people than you do and it seems to still be working for him. An added bonus is that your phone contacts list will be way more amusing, especially the morning after a late night of drinking.

Internal Memo: I’ve had some experience in this area. When you’re in a bind, a generic “How are you, my friend?” can temporarily save you, but you’re probably going to have to figure out the name sometime. When it comes to that point, I’d say sneaky is better. If they’re in your group of friends (assuming you know someone’s name in said group), asking a mutual friend is a valid technique. If that’s not an option the old “meet my friend” routine is perfect. Next time you see that person out, just get a friend of yours to introduce themselves and get the name that way.

If all else fails, Facebook stalking is also acceptable.

The Straight Skinny says: One summer, when I was maybe 15, a friend named Paul introduced me to a young woman who was 19. He thought we would hit it off, and we did. We went for a walk among Chautauqua Lake, her and I, along the pebble shore that was obscured from view by tree limbs, where people tucked away their less-than-flashy rowboats and canoes. I took her finally to an empty beach with a long dock, and we sat at the end with our feet in the water and talked for three hours. Finally she asked me if I would kiss her, and I did.

On the way home I realized that I could not remember her name. I was both anthralled by the attention of an older woman and acutely embarrassed by by memory lapse. We repeated this date a few more times, and I never managed to coax her name out of her, despite employing all kinds of stupid tricks. Nor could I bring myself to confess.

Then suddenly she was gone—I don’t know if one of us broke up with the other or if we just forgot to keep dating. It was summer, and those things happened.

I saw her once before the summer ended, at the laundromat were my friend Kevin worked. I had just the day before told Kevin the story of the woman I had made out with whose name I didn’t know, which he thought was hysterical. She was delighted to see me at the laundromat, as I was to see her—it seemed so long ago, our two-week romance, and she seemed so beautiful and cool that I could not imagine why I would not follow her home to the Finger Lakes or Potsdam or wherever she lived and made fiber art. Kevin helpfully presented himself to be introduced, but she said, “Nice to meet you,” and left it at that. She asked me, in exactly the same manner and with the same look that she had when she asked me to kiss her, if maybe I would write her a letter. I said of course, of course, if only she would write her address on a laundry slip, which I would then fold and put into my wallet. “Just write your address here,” I said, feeling clever. She did—but only her address, no name. She kissed me on the cheek and whispered, “You are a very nice boy and I wish we had spent more time together. Bye bye, Straight Skinny.”

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