"A name is what we carry our whole life. We respond to its call in the classroom, to its pronunciation at a graduation, or to the sound of it whispered in the night." - Natalie Goldberg from "Writing Down The Bones" (1986)
I'm not sure when in life I decided to work hard at remembering names. Maybe it was when I heard my own name in a classroom or at a graduation or when it was whispered to me in the night. But at some point I did make that decision. It was probably one of the smarter things I've ever done.
I've lost track how many times I've heard people say "I'm not good with names." I've also lost track of how many times people have remarked positively about me remembering their name. Although I wait until asked, I've willingly offered counsel to those who say they're " ... not good with names ... " if they ask me "How do you do that?" I get that question frequently, especially after someone observes me remembering a group of names. Because I try doing it for the classes I teach, no matter the size. I try when involved for an extended time with a group of folks I've never met before, like the guitar players from the weeklong workshop I attended in August. I try in the most mundane settings - a party, a family gathering, a book club. It's worth the effort; people invariably appreciate it. And although I have techniques I'm happy to share with anyone, the bottom line is I almost always make the effort.
How often do I flub the first attempt? All the time. However, it's amazing how few times I'll use an incorrect name twice, even with a big group. I'm sure there have been times when someone hasn't corrected me after a failed attempt at recalling their name; I suspect that situation is rare. After all, who doesn't want to be called by name, especially when someone got their name wrong the first time? Am I embarrassed when someone corrects me? No I'm not. A name is what we all carry our whole life.