QUESTION: Someone I met several months ago came up to me recently at a party and said “I bet you can’t remember my name.” Of course, the minute he said that I could not remember his name and I was really embarrassed. What should I have said? “No, I cannot remember you at all” or “No, but let me guess?” How would you handle that situation?
CALLIE’S ANSWER: I am guilty of forgetting names as well. This situation is difficult because they completely called you out for not remembering. That being said, they have to have a great sense of humor and are simply joking. I would have said, “I know your face but your name has just left me. I am so sorry, remind me again?” Clearly, you were worth remembering!
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: Forgetting names happens to everyone. When you’re put on the spot like you were with that question, it’s easy to draw a blank when searching your brain for an answer. I think if you’re friendly about it, it’s OK to smile and say something like, “Your question just threw me off guard, and I’m drawing a blank. Can you help refresh my memory?”
Also, sometimes, we see people that we know from one context in another situation or location all together, and it isn’t easy to recall how we know that person. Try developing some tricks to either stall for time until you put all the pieces together or get them to tell you their names. Say something like, “Will you tell me your name again? I know we met at (XYZ party), but I can’t quite put your name with your face. How are you?” Or, fake it sincerely until you remember — keep talking to the person and ask questions with a genuine interest until you can get it. I always try to reintroduce myself first so the other person doesn’t feel uncomfortable.
HELEN’S ANSWER: It is hard to remember the names of all the people we meet daily. It is really good manners to remind people who we are if we think they might not remember. It is embarrassing to try to respond to “I bet you can’t remember my name.” Honesty might work here. You could say, “no, but I wish I could remember” or “I am trying really hard to remember, tell me!”
The other thing is that people change their hairstyles all the time. They really can look different than the last time you saw them. My generation is getting older and we might not look the same as we did 10 years ago. Good manners require that you not call people out for everything they do wrong. Be gentle.
GUEST’S ANSWER: Mollie Bennett, local volunteer and civic leader: This is always such an awkward situation. They should say “You might not remember me but I am so and so and I met you at … ” instead of making you feel embarrassed that you don’t remember them!
This has happened to me a few times and I just simply say, “I apologize, you look so familiar, please remind me.”
Callie Gordon is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.