Tuesday, October 17, 2006


I can't remember names. This is kind of a new problem for me. It used to be that I'd get anxious about forgetting someone's name in situations where I'd have to introduce that person to someone else. Sometimes, in those cases, I would have a brain fart for about 8 seconds, long enough to make it clear to anyone listening that I was struggling with the person's name. Even though I would not really forget, I would nevertheless be sure that I had, and so I would stumble around, turn red, falter, and otherwise act like an idiot.

After becoming a teacher and needing to learn between 30 and 100 names each semester, I've found that the problem has worsened. I am excellent at remembering all of my students' names in the classroom setting. Over the years, in fact, I've gotten to a point where I sometimes have them all down by the end of the second class of the semester. I rock at learning names, but I suck at remembering them.

Once the semester is over, I tend to quickly, almost instantaneously, forget my students' names unless I am in continued contact with them. Over time, I also forget which class they took with me. This isn't too bad. It's even understandable, I think. Students know that I have many different faces in my classes over the years, and they don't seem to get too annoyed that I forget their names (though, to be honest, I don't usually 'fess up to this).

But what's really bad is that this memory loss has started to happen outside the classroom. There are people I've met in various contexts - activist work, daycare, coffee shops, etc. - whose names I can't remember when I meet them outside of those contexts, particularly if I haven't seen them in a while. Worse, I often don't even recognize them. Still worse is that they often recognize me AND remember my name. They also remember where I work, that I have a son, and other details of my life, and they usually ask me about all of this while I am still trying to figure out who this person is and how s/he seems to know so much about me.

There is one woman whose daughter and my son used to go to daycare together. She and I chatted occasionally and found we had similar interests. But I was almost never at the daycare at the same time that she was, and so I saw her infrequently. Then, after we switched to a different daycare, I didn't see her for several months. Finally, I ran into her one day. We hung out for a bit, and talked for a while, and she, of course, remembered my name while I had forgotten hers. I asked her name, and she told me. A couple of weeks went by, and I saw her again, and again, I had forgotten her name. This wasn't good, but I asked again, and she was a little annoyed, but she told me.

A couple of months went by before I saw her again, and again, go figure, I'd forgotten her name. I didn't ask this time, but I did start scouting around and asking other people from the daycare if they knew her name (no one did). Finally, after running into her a few more times, I again asked her name. This time, I knew that I had really ticked her off, and she told me, but it was clear to me that I'd better not ask again. I made a mental note of her name. I repeated it over and over again. It wasn't even close to any of the names I had been guessing.

I haven't seen her in months.

And I've forgotten her name.

1 comment:

blacksweatpants said...

i've always maintained that my inability to remember names completely justifies my pursuit of a career in education...