I’m not very good at remembering names. It’s a case of in one ear and out the other. I think it stems from the time I lived in Denmark. Names sounded so odd, that I didn’t really know what people were saying when they introduced themselves. It was very confusing.
Was Mette that woman’s name or an upbeat expression of delight at meeting me - sort of like, ‘Mega! Awesome! I'm thrilled to meet you!’?
Were those two men really called Knud and Olaf, or were they grunting with delight at the spectre of the prune tarts and apricot danishes laid out on the coffee table?
Was Dorte that little girl’s name or was she simply introduced as Pernille’s daughter?
And I won’t even begin to explain what went through my head as I met Ditlef, Ulf, Palle, Jytte, Gry and Dagmar. Let’s just say that there was a lot of confusion as to whether I was being introduced, offered food or told to that I had stepped in something nasty on my way through the barn.
I did learn the language and enjoyed being involved in social gatherings, but names continued to confuse me.
It has taken me twenty years, but I have now retrained myself to make a conscious effort to commit names to memory. I do this by making word associations. Here are some examples:
Louise - Thelma and Louise
Peter - Peter, Peter, Pumpkin eater (I say the entire nursery rhyme in my head several times as I walk away)
Montana - Untied States of America
Carsten - Castin’ out my fishin’ line and hopin’ to catch meself sumpin’ for me supper (I imagine saying this with a delightful country accent)
Meg - Nutmeg, spice rack
Gordon - Flash Gordon
Even as I write this, I am impressed by my efforts. But there are drawbacks. I’m sure my face glazes over just after I have met someone, while I string their name together with other words and images in my mind. I probably look disinterested, ill or extremely stupid, none of which are very attractive.
Furthermore, there is the risk that I tap into the wrong part of my word association on next meeting them …
I pass Louise down the street and she gets a cheery and confident, ‘Hi Thelma!’
I sit beside Meg in a meeting and whisper, ‘How you going, Cinnamon?’
Montana serves me at the bank and I say, ‘Thanks for your help, Georgia … I mean Carolina … I mean Virginia.’
Peter’s out in his garden as I walk past. I think, ‘Nursery rhyme!’ In my mind, I start reciting ‘Little Jack Horner, sat in a corner.’ I shout out loud, ‘Lovely day for it, Jack!’
You get the picture.
So now I need to refine my technique, give myself more specific ways to hang a name in the wardrobe of my memory. The moment I meet someone, I probably need to repeat their name out loud, over and over again, write it several times on a piece of paper, then create an entire poem dedicated to that person. I know that will work. But will the owner of the name still be waiting to chat when I am through? I suspect that they will have dashed away to talk to Little Jack Horner who is sitting in the corner, because even though he has atrocious manners and is sticking his thumb in his dessert, at least he is not completely bonkers.