Identity Crisis

Silhouette - Arindam

By Judy Berman

The man spotted me across the room and walked deliberately my way, smiling as he did so.

Then, my terror began.

I searched my memory bank and came up empty. Who is he? Where do I know him from?

Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. What do you do in a situation like this?

Why is it I have instant recall for someone I haven’t seen in more than 10 years? But I can’t remember some folks I see nearly every day.

If my husband, Dave, is with me, he bails me out. He recognizes when I have forgotten someone’s name. Then, he’ll stick his hand out and introduce himself.

So I don’t get offended when folks forget my name. Others, however, are not always as forgiving.

I’ve tried the memory tricks: focusing on the person, repeating his or her name aloud (and silently).

But, just as we’re about to wrap up our conversation, I’m like “squirrel.” I’m distracted.

Like the Absent-Minded Professor, I’ve forgotten why I’m here in the first place and the name of the person I’ve been talking to for the past 15 minutes.

The Absent-minded professor

I fake a coughing spasm as we go to say good-bye and pray they don’t catch on.

One judge, who I covered as a reporter, may have had a similar problem when he called the newsroom and asked for me. (My name, then, was Manzer.)

The judge yelled: “Mangler. I want to speak to Mangler.” (Or, maybe, that was a commentary on what he thought I did to a recent story.)

At a testimonial dinner, this same judge saw me and mentioned a story I’d done about the retiring city court judge.

“The headline said, ‘He’s a straight shooter.’ When ‘Dorothy’ Manzer asked me what kind of judge he is, I was thinking of his golf game when I said that.”

Everyone’s laughing and later ribbed me about the judge mixing up my name.

“Dorothy? I felt like I was in the ‘Wizard of Oz,’ ” I joked later. “Couldn’t he have picked a more exotic name?”

After dinner, I saw the judge and asked Dave: “Should I give him my card?”

Dave said: “Go for it.”

So, I handed the judge my card, smiled and said, “There’ll be a test on Monday.”

Well, the judge apologized, but I told him it wasn’t a problem. I’m guilty of this, too. It might be 2 in the morning before I remember folks’ names, their spouse’s and children’s names, their pets’ names and their favorite restaurants.

In the 10 years I’ve been teaching, more than a thousand students have been in my classroom. So, I hope they’ll take that into account if I veg out. Plus, in a year or two, they change so much – grow taller, look and/or act more mature, that I might not even recognize them.

While they’ll always have a place in my heart, my mind might draw a blank.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just saw someone I vaguely recognize. Where’s the nearest exit?

There are tricks to remembering a name. A link to Videojug is below. What tricks do you use in this situation?

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Music Video: What’s Your Name? (1962) sung by Don and Juan – 

Here’s some great humorous tips from Videojug. You may – or may not – choose to follow them: “How to Remember People’s Names”:

Main Photo – Silhouette – Arindam Mohapatra. Copyrighted. Used with permission. Arindam Mohapatra, the author of the nonfiction book “I Wish and Hope,” has completed a second book – a novel. To learn more, here’s a link to his blog.

Illustration: The Absent-Minded Professor (The Forgetful Professor), 1929, Author: Per Lindroth (1878-1933)

  1. Sometimes I am awful at remembering names. As the head of a human resources department, I was expected to know the names of 400 employees, some of whom I only met once or twice in the hiring process. I would talk directly to people so I didn’t need to use their name. If we had a company function I would insist on name tags so our president would get to know people (I got away with that line!). Even when I knew someone well, I could come up blank. I only hoped that people didn’t interpret that as a lack of interest. One of my favorite lines when I was caught was, “well you know you haven’t been called to my office in a long time and that’s a good thing!”

    1. Kate, I think that in a perfect world everyone should wear name tags – for all the reasons you gave. My forgetfulness has nothing to do with a lack of interest. My most embarrassing moment was when I forgot the name of my best friend as I went to introduce her at my baby shower – which she was hosting. 😦

      I like how you dodged the bullet when you were caught. 😆

  2. Your readers will certainly relate to this post. We have all experienced this quandary, I’m sure. As a teacher, learning students’ names right away gave me early rapport with them (and a certain power too!) Nowadays, when I call a number I review the names of the people who might answer the phone, so I can picture who I’m talking to. Otherwise, I’m lost.

    I’m going to post a link to this on my Facebook page today–gotta love that absent-minded professor image. A+ post, June. Oops . . . It’s Judy. Well, I guess I’m hopeless. Tsk tsk!

    1. Marian … You can call me anything as long as it’s not late for supper. 😉 Thank you for the plug on your Facebook page. Much obliged.

      We begin classes in August and I usually know all my students’ names by September. But, there are a pesky few that I still have trouble instantly recalling as another name is stuck in my brain. When they’ve raised their hand to answer a question, I concentrate on them as they answer … and, only then, do I come up with the correct name.

  3. Whew, so the young man approaching wasn’t a danger!
    I know exactly what you’re saying, Judy, but very specific word definitions–and an easy, impressive, fluid way of using them in sentences–are also fading for me. Since I have a father who died of Alzheimer’s and now a mother with advanced dementia, I take these things seriously …until I forget about them… 😉

    1. Marilyn … This is a challenge for me – and has been for decades. I am embarrassed by my inability to remember someone’s name – especially when they hold a very special place in my heart.

  4. Haha!!!! Dorothy?!! How quaint! 😀 I hope he blushed after you handed him your card!!

    I used to be very good on faces – in fact I am good on faces, but like you, it’s the names that slip my mind. I used to be good on names too, but really struggle with names now, especially celebrities, I’m always looking up what film an actor has been in, just so I can quote their name correctly! I don’t want to get to that stage where I constantly say “Oh you know – what’s her name – the skinny one with the red hair.” And yes 2am in the morning is a good time to remember a lot of things – I do that all the time!

    I love that song – has a classic 50’s sound, even though it’s a 60’s one! I shall remember that next time I’m struggling with a name. Perhaps if I sing it, my memory might recall the name! 😀

    1. Now, to be fair, if the judge was using name association, then ‘Dorothy’ would be perfect as that was ‘Judy’ Garland’s name in “The Wizard of Oz.” He gave me a banquet of baloney on the mix up. But I can’t fault him as I’ve done this too many times myself.

      Suzy, I also am very good on faces. I can totally relate to trying to place the right actor with the correct movie. 2 am must be the bewitching hour for remembering things. 😉

      Glad you love the song. That 50’s feel might be due to the doo-wop rhythm sound. I love it also.

  5. I’m wondering… are you one of those people (like my husband, who is a genius of great memory) who thinks more in generalities than in specifics. Do you often use pronouns instead of specific name nouns, and do you tend to say words like “thing-a-ma-jig” or “what’s-ee-whose-it when you mean “sock” or “toothbrush” or some specific thing? Because if you are a “generalist”, your inability to remember names has nothing to do with memory power, and more to do with seeing the broader picture rather than the specifics, the overall landscape rather than the components. Which would make you a good general, (a generalist), a leader, a strategist who gets the troops through the jungle and out the other side…

    Me–I’ve been someone who can remember names. Every name of every person I ever met (and often their birthdays, is stored in my memory). That is, until I turned 50. Now I can only remember names after I’ve met people 3 times, and birthdays only if I make a decision to remember them. My memory card is full. And I, by the way, can rarely see the forest for the trees.

    1. Come to think of it, I have used words like “thing-a-ma-jig,” etc. Hmmm! Me, a general, a strategist. Intriguing.

      Thanks for the explanation, Tracy. I know with my lousy sense of direction that I’d get the troops lost rather than thru the jungle and out the other side. But, generally speaking, this makes sense. 😉

      1. Metaphorical troops. As in, rallying people around an issue, like child protection…. 😉

        note from earthrider to Tracy Lee Karner:
        Just having fun. I got cha’. 😆

  6. I’m the worst when it comes to remembering names. I often have to re-ask several times. I try to write names down, as that helps me remember. I use to try to cover-up but these days I’m just more upfront with people. I just explain that I am really bad with names, and that I will be asking for their name again possibly more than once. I’m sure this annoys some people, but I am not interesting in pretending to remember when I can’t.

    1. Amy … I also often write people’s names down, especially if I know I’ll be seeing them more than once. The ladies at coffee after church, for example. It does help. I also tell people I’m bad with names, but that’s not always the salve to soothe wounded feelings. Some take it personally, thinking they don’t count. That’s not true …

  7. Great post, Judy. Names are so special, and I know that, but my mind is like a sieve. I would love to be better at remembering. I may try some of those tricks you’re talking about.

    1. Thanks, Kate. This is a challenge for me and it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in trying to overcome it. I hope the tricks mentioned in the video link and the suggestions by some of those commenting here do help. 😉

  8. This happens to me all the time! I have lived in Delaware, Ohio for almost 28 years! I run into people all the time, but having had a few different jobs, taught school, worked at a nursing home, babysat for some of my children’s elementary years and been in two organizations… Oh, I give up trying to remember and sometimes I just ask how they are doing, if they mention a child’s name, that gives me a clue or if they mention an older person who has since passed away, another clue. I used to be great with names! Oh Well! I found your post very amusing and I felt that it was funny how you gave your card to the judge! A quiz or test later! So hilarious, Judy! Smiles, Robin

  9. I know the feeling. I’ve forgotten several times names I should have remembered. Most embarrassing was seeing an old friend in the mall and had to introduce him to my wife. I had to ask his name which made me wanna run. Oh, well, we’re just humans! Have a wonderful day.

    1. Thanks, Island Traveler, for sharing your pain. I feel a lot less alone now. I forgot my best friend’s name when introducing her at my baby shower … and she was hosting the event. Face plant! Enjoy the day! 😉

  10. I take the following approach:

    Unknown Person: “Hi, Mark! Remember me??”

    Me: “Ummmmm… is it… Janice?”

    Unknown Person: “Nope– Melissa.”

    Me: “Well, I was close…”

    (insert sound of gunshot here)

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