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Respectfully Yours: Names

Dear Jacquelyn,

I am horrible at remembering people’s names. It’s embarrassing and I feel inconsiderate. What do I do when I’m struggling to remember a name? Do I try to play it off, or confess?

Dear Reader,

We’ve all experienced that moment of panic when you meet someone you know and your mind goes blank. It happens to everyone sooner or later. However, you can recover gracefully. I have a few simple strategies that will help you save face the next time this happens.

Your first choice is to simply be honest and polite. Let them know up-front their name has slipped your mind. This is the most positive way to recover. It’s best to keep it simple by saying, “I am so sorry, I have completely blanked on your name.” Say this with sincerity and an apologetic smile and chances are you will be forgiven.

You can also try to jog your memory by extracting some information. For example: “It’s good to see you! How long has it been?” Hopefully you’ll get a tidbit of information that will trigger a memory and you’ll recall the name. This isn’t ideal, but it’s a better option than using the wrong name.

Another way out of this sticky situation is discreetly asking a friend for the person’s name. You might also attempt “The Set Up.” which is when you send another individual over to introduce himself to the person whose name you have forgotten and then report back to you. A spouse or trusted colleague will often do this.

To avoid this situation altogether there is a technique to help you remember names. Repetition is key. Say the name of the individual right away and use that person’s name three times during the course of the conversation. If you can say the name three times during the course of the conversation, chances are great you will remember it. Say the name immediately when introduced, make a mental association, use the name during the conversation and again when departing.

Sometimes we need to give ourselves a break. If we own up to mistakes like forgetfulness with grace, we might just be surprised at people’s reactions.

Respectfully yours,


Have a question? Email: jacquelyn@ptd.net. Jacquelyn Youst is owner of the Pennsylvania Academy of Protocol, specializing in etiquette training. She is on the board of directors of the National Civility Foundation.

All Rights Reserved &Copy; 2018 Jacquelyn Youst