It happens to all of us in some form or another. Our reactions, however, may be very different.
You meet someone brand new and they introduce their self using a first (and sometimes) last name. You strike up a nice conversation about something you enjoy, maybe music or movies. A week or even a few days go by and you run into this person again, only you have no clue what their name is or what letter of the alphabet it started with. Panic sets in which leads to coming up with crafty ways to get them to say their name again so you can look like you remember. Or perhaps you ask them for their number at which point you play dumb and ask them how they spell their name. "It's Matt...", he replies. "My name is Matt". Dumbfounded, you put your tail between your legs because you've been caught! Sound familiar at all? Not all people react this way or even give something so simple as someone's name much thought. But why is it that names are so difficult for many to remember?
I tend to be open and honest when reintroducing myself by saying something like "You're going to have to forgive me, what's your name again?", which then I follow it up by saying my name as well so they can remember if they have forgotten mine. I've been known to ask people more than 2 or 3 times what their name is. Some get frustrated, some laugh it off, and some even are offended that I didn't remember them! I love psychology and analyzing things like this, which is why I'm writing a blog about it. I have a few theories as to why this happens, the first being that names are a useless means of information for the brain.
A name is useless data for the brain. Unless your specific brain has come across someone or something associated with a familiar name once before, chances are you won't remember it.
The name James ranks number 1 in the USA with over 5.3 million males with the name. Take a moment right now to think about 1 person whom you know to have the name James. Now, if you were to run into a brand-new face and their name happens to be James, you will most likely connect and associate them to someone or something with whom/which you have already had a connection, whether you're aware of it or not. James is a book in the bible, is used in "James and the Giant Peach", a song by Billy Joel, and is also the name of many actors, performers, and musicians. So it's more likely that a name like James won't escape your brain since there is a wide variety from which your brain can pull from like past experiences, prior knowledge, things/people in culture and society and other associations.
"Boran" on the other hand is one of the least commonly used names in the USA, ranking fewer than 1,700 people and is statistically the 49,057th most popular first name. I will have some trouble remembering a name like that if I were to ever come across someone named Boran, although, now it should be easier for me personally since I am using his/her name in this blog post! "Hi, my name is Boran", they said. "Great! I wrote a blog about you"... now I've made the mental connection to his/her name. There is one Chinese singer named Jing Boran, and the name is also synonyms with Boran cattle. Okay, I admit, I had to do a google search to figure out someone named Boran. It will take me quite a while to learn a name I'm not familiar with if I've never heard of it before.
The fact is that it's not our fault nor should we try to play a game to avoid an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation like this. It's understandable as it's part of our biology and wiring as human beings. Some people can remember names quite easily and some have more difficulty. Where ever you fall on the spectrum, just remember that it's okay to not know. I taught high school for 1 year, and by graduation day, I STILL didn't know all of my students names, and I had 55 of them to remember.
I'll leave you with this short, yet comical video from "The Office" (I apologize for the poor quality)...
Statistics in this blog were found using the USA Census and www.howmanyofme.com