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What's in a Name?

Remembering names did not naturally come easily to me, and I suspect not to many people. I've always worked hard at remembering names. I used to think I was terrible at this skill, and would never be able to remember peoples' names. As a teacher of individuals and groups, and a person who hosted many, many dance events through our dance studio and other volunteer activities, I learned how important it was to remember people by name. I learned how much it meant to people when I greeted them by name and welcomed them to a dance.


I was a member of a church where the pastor remembered my name after my very first visit. Yes, I went one week and met a sea of people, then when I returned the next week, Pastor Taylor Holbrook remembered ME out of that sea of people. It made me feel as though I MATTERED. That I belonged there.


Years later, when I wanted to improve my skills, he was one of the people I made it a point to talk to, in order to find out his secrets! I also did some research on the internet, and referred back to some notes I had taken in a training class on a different topic, where the speaker remembered all the names of 60 people at the end of a day of training where he had met us all for the first time. The best ideas for me, from all these sources, were:

  1. Stop telling yourself you're horrible with names. You have to replace that idea in your mind to make progress. I said "I am learning to remember people by name" and repeated that idea over and over until I thought that FIRST instead of something negative.

  2. Practice the name. When introduced, say the person's name in conversation a couple of times. When the conversation ends, either say goodbye by name, or if you happened to not remember, ask again, "Tell me your name again?" and repeat it to yourself.

  3. Take notes. If you're met a few people in one evening, make some notes at the end of the night. Physically write it down in a notebook, along with a few things about the person. If you've forgotten a name, write down a brief description of the person, and what you can recall.

  4. Refer to the notes when you're likely to see people again the next day. Practice saying the name while you visualize the person.

  5. When I am in the classroom, I actually make a drawing of the room, and write peoples' names in the space they sat. I have even taken a picture of the class, and practiced with my drawing.

  6. And this idea was mine, and has always worked the best for me: take an interest in people. I make a choice to care and find out about someone's life, and I remember them better, because there is some depth that meeting, and the person, far beyond the name. This strengthens connections and community, and also takes away my shyness. If I focus on the other person, I can relax and enjoy getting to know them, and spend less time wondering what to say. I developed this trait by watching others who I regard as "people persons" and I don't think it is necessarily something we are completely born with. I learned to care more about other people by knowing them better, and knowing what mattered to them, by listening.

Those things helped me a lot in person. I made it a goal when working with my music classes to have everyone's names learned during the first two weeks. I was usually successful in that amount of time, with practice.

Now I am seeing all of my students online. It was intimidating to see 36 people on a screen and think whether I could do the same thing. Zoom makes it easier in some ways, because the name of the person actually appears on the screen. But, I am still doing the work of studying the screen shot I took, because I want to know these people personally. I still had the students introduce themselves to the class and to me. When I receive an assignment to grade, I want, in my mind's eye, to see the person who goes with the name at the top of the page. When the day comes that I see them again on campus, I want to say hi, BY NAME. I want to see them in the cafeteria and greet them by name. I want to be more than a presenter of information. I want to be a caring person and a caring teacher, who connects with my students and helps them connect with each other. It starts with knowing their name.


Copyright Julie Donato August 29, 2020



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