Hi, Confused to Meet You

This weekend a seminarian came to our church to start his year long spiritual internship as it were. At the end of the mass he stood on the altar and after introducing himself he said, “I’ll be at the back of the church and would like to meet all of you personally . I won’t remember all of your names but over the next year, I’ll try.” If it had been me saying that I would have made it “I won’t remember any of your names but over the next year I’ll forgot the couple that I accidentally had remembered. And it will probably at the absolute worst time.”

You see, of all the billions of data that I’ve committed to memory over all the years that I’ve been exposed to data, I can remember almost all of it, from every important work piece to the most useless of useless trivia. Except names. I tried all of the memory tricks. Use somebody’s name three times in the first 10 minutes of being introduced. Associate the name with some physical characteristic. Build a mnemonic that describes where and Forgotwhen you met that person. None of it worked. I even tried doing what I did to remember the billions of data that I did remember and is rolling around in my head. I just remembered. But it seems I’ve never been good with names. Why, it took me almost 4 years to learn my own mother’s name. And that’s most surprising since almost everybody’s mother’s name back then was Mommy.

So how did I manage to go through life with such a disconnect from the most personal of other people’s personal information? I guess I always had cheat sheets around. While in the army, everybody wore their name above their right pocket. As long as I didn’t mind to appear to be somewhat not all quite focused I could pass my eyes over their collar looking for rank, down to their pocket for surname and in one almost smooth motion would greet Captain Hook. In the hospitals and other medical facilities everyone wears name badges. Except for the few who inexplicably wore their identification cards on the hems of their shirts or jackets it was easy enough to spot the picture card and zero in on the name. At the college the entire clinical faculty was into wearing white jackets with their names stitched above the breast pocket. Except me. I didn’t care much for wearing consultation jackets while standing at the front of a lecture hall. It struck me as the same useless gesture as those who wear scrubs in a hospital yet never move from their desks in the administration wing except to go home.

When I didn’t have a visual cue to jolt me into name recognition I relied on the old standby. Everybody became “sir” or “ma’am.” Actually, that worked out quite well in my career ladder climb. People to whom I reported liked that I call to them with such politeness while everyone else junior to them tried to feign familiarity by beginning each conversation with “Well Bob,” or “If you have a minute Sue.” As I rose to have more who reported to me I continued with “sir” and “ma’am” and endeared my staff to me with my gentility while other department heads routinely referred to their crew as “the minions of 4 Central” or some similar certainly meant to be cute appellation.

So, my advice to you if you should ever become a seminarian assigned to your pastoral learning experience and don’t think you can remember everybody’s name before your year is up, do what I did. Don’t try. Make them all sirs and ma’ams. They’ll appreciate the courtesy. Or, you can just think of them all as useless trivia and you can probably commit a few billion names to memory. Just don’t let the pastor find out.




  1. Same here – absolutely horrible at retaining spoken names. Now…if I have to write the name down, or type it out…it’s rock solid and I’ll remember “Bob from Umbrella Corporation” and the resultant conversation for the next 10 years, even if I never communicate with the fella again.

    1. I would be honored that you remembered me for all those years. If I was Bob. I’m not Bob. At least I don’t think so. I’m not sure. I’ve never been formally introduced to me. But then, if I had, I would have forgotten by now. Or even earlier.

      1. Are you sure Bob isn’t a pseudonym…or alternate-personality? You just look…so…familiar 😀

        1. Yeah.No.Not Bob. I had to think about it for a while (that hurt by the way) and the only alias I recall ever using was Catherine. Don’t ask.

      2. Sorry I made you flex mental muscles…a soothing balm of straight whisky should set that right…


        I knew you looked familiar 😀

  2. You and I have much in common. I have the same problem with names but I can remember every lyric to every song I’ve ever heard (including TV shows and commercials). Also, to your comment about people wearing scrubs when not in scrub-requiring job. Why? There’s a guy in my neighborhood that wears scrubs for his morning coffee. Then he goes home and presumably goes to work?

    1. Oh yes TV themes and ad jingles. Those I can remember like my own name, one of the few I get right more than I forget.
      I’m not sure what I have against scrubs outside the patient environment. To me they say, “Here I am patient, ready to do whatever it takes to make you better and I’ll take on whatever the world can throw at me to try and stop me,” whether that’s a surgeon digging into your insides, the nurses and aides working at your side, the pharmacists and technicians manipulating your IVs, the phlebotomists, the lab techs, the x-ray and imaging techs, physical therapists, and all the others that have a hand in making you well. But when I see the hospital desk jockey sporting scrubs all I can think of is that they don’t want to wear their good stuff to work or they got up late or everything else is in the wash, and they are saying that they don’t care enough about what they really do to take they time to look professional while they do it. And that included me when I sat behind my desk at the hospital.
      Sorry. I think I just wrote a longer comment than a lot of my posts. Fortunately it probably didn’t make any more sense than a lot of them.

      1. I think my guy in scrubs is saying, “Look here, I’m a surgeon!”

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