Although I’m not particularly a fan of the music, maybe Eminem was actually onto something with this song.
My name is, huh? My name is, who? My name is chicka chicka…..Eminem
Okay, the chika-chika was just added on for fun, and although the rest of the song really has some questionable lyrics, in my opinion, the opener I’ll admit is a bit genious and fitting for one of the most important topics in the world of relationship building and management. You see, no matter what the context or who it is with, a person’s name is arguably the single most important asset either going in or coming out of an interaction.
Why are names so important?
If I had to guess, if not yourself, you have known someone in your lifetime who has had children. For many, finding the perfect name for that child is one of the most perplexing and difficult tasks throughout the pregnancy – if it’s not, then it’s purely an anomaly! Although easier with my second only taking about 4 months, our first child’s name took about 7 months to agree upon.
Finding the perfect name is so important because it is the most precious words outside of “I love you” that any human being hears for the first time. Why? Because that given name is something that will carry with them their entire lives, quite literally from birth to grave.
Doesn’t something that holds deep personal, cultural, familial, and oftentimes historical roots sound important to you? Our names connect us socially, they often allow us to relate to our past, and in some cases carry with it a unique story that carries forward for generations. In short, alongside our personal characteristics and traits, names are a part of our identity which defines who we are, and they matter!
WHAT? Use them in the conversation early and often.
WHY? People love hearing their name, it makes them feel valued, and opens the door for a deeper connection!
WHAT? Use proper pronunciation. If you don’t know it, ask!
WHY? Provides a simple way of showing others that you care and that you know it is important to them! Oh, and it might save you a bit of embarrassment 🙂
WHAT? Introduce others using names (preferred name)
WHY? Much like the point above, it shows others you care, but more importantly that you care enough to remember it! Using a person’s name in introductions will also help you to store it in your memory and recall it later!
So, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably bumbling around in your head going, “I can use a name, I understand why to use the name, but how the heck do I remember names of everyone I interact with – sounds crazy, right?
Well, before you can answer the how perhaps you should start with why you may have a hard time remembering someone’s name, to begin with. Not to say there aren’t many more, but the most common reasons we fail to remember the names of others can be one or many of the following:
1. We may have been distracted at the time they were introduced to us
2. We simply don’t care, are uninterested, or don’t like the other individual based on initial perceptions
3. Maybe there is a cognitive or audible impairment that prohibits your ability to recall
My personal favorite…
4. Names are not visual – meaning, they would be much easier to remember if we could just see them!
There’s a pretty decent article excerpt by Dean Burnett that is worth the read if you’re interested in learning more about short-term vs long-term memory and how applying visual imagery can help commit new things to memory such as names. Feel free to check it out HERE.
Okay, so, now you’ve got a pretty good handle on the basics, but let’s boil it down even further. Before you can even begin to start a conversation with someone, use their name frequently and in the right context. Perhaps one of the most fundamental aspects of names is ensuring that you quite simply refer to them using the “preferred” name and pronunciation!
Look, I am no stranger to this, and I’ll be honest, the first time someone said my name the wrong way, I laughed it off, corrected them, and we moved on, but after carrying my last name for nearly two decades, I’ll be candid and tell you just how irritating it is that no one ever gets it right!
I went from having a simple last name to Ouellette, and yes I thank my husband every day. Almost always, I’m greeted with, “oh you must be French” to which I politely respond, “no”, it’s my married name. Very candidly, it is annoying that just because I have a French last name, everyone assumes I must be able to speak the language, but I’ve just succumbed to the fact that a very small percentage will ever get it right on the first try.
While it’s been irritating for me over the years when I’m called Ms. Omu-let, Ms. Ovu-let, and other odd variations, what I appreciate more than anything is when someone takes the time to stop and ask me, “How do you say your last name”? This particularly is fun for me as I now get to explain how I created a bit of a jingle to spell my now husbands last time to impress him before he took me out on our first date and how we shortcut our name for the pizza delivery guy by spelling it out the way we sound it out nowadays as “O-LET”.
Technically, our last name is pronounced “Wuh-let” and we’ll never complain if you get it right, but we’ve also accepted another pronunciation as proper. I do something similar with my first name, and while formally it is Nancy, I like to look at myself as a bit of an informal individual and prefer to go by “Nance”. I’ve always felt that Nancy was just old-fashioned, and perhaps I wanted to be a bit more hipster, but nonetheless, it’s what I prefer, but how would you ever know, unless you…. asked?
I have a lot of Spanish friends and a couple of them happen to share the same first name so I often catch myself having to use their middle or last name just to distinguish between them, especially in shared company. Interestingly enough, the biggest challenge they have is not in sharing the same first name, it’s in the incorrect pronunciation of it!
Put yourself in my friend Jesus’s shoes. That’s right, I have a relationship and am friends with Jesus! Okay, I won’t deny it, I have a relationship, and one that I’m greatly proud of with Jee-zus but I also have a friendship with a dear friend (Earth side), Jesus, or as my Latin friend prefers, “Hay-soos”.
Look, my friend, Hay-soos will never get upset if I just happened to call him Jee-zus, because well… that’s who he was named after, but the fact remains the pronunciation in Spanish is actually Hay-soos, which he prefers. The point is, if I know my friend appreciates it when I use proper Spanish pronunciation, Hay-soos” rather than the English one then why would I call him Jee-zus?
Whether I know the preference or not of my friend Hay-soos, it goes a long way to understand how he likes to hear his own name so he knows I actually care and respect that there are cultural differences.
It goes a long way in building a solid foundation to the relationship when you let the other person feel valued by simply saying their name, and sayint it correctly.Nancy M. Ouellette
I don’t know how else to emphasize just how important it is that you simply come straight out and ask, “How” do you say your name? Again, there is no shame in it, but there may be plenty of it when you butcher the general pronunciation of a name.
Well, we’ve touched on the what, the when, the why, and even sprinkled in a few pointers on the how, so let’s close with the when.
When to use a person’s name is somewhat of an art that really needs to remain balanced. The challenge that we all face, yet comes easily to some, while others remain a chore is first assessing the situation, context, and identifying surroundings (including other people) who can disrupt our focus and drain energy necessary to maintain the interaction.
As a general rule of thumb, you should use a person’s name early and often, however, in case you weren’t aware, you can certainly overdo it! Look, we all love feeling valued, and hearing our name is a part of that value received during a conversation, however, there is no doubt potential to sound awkward if you use a person’s name in every statement spilling from your lips. This is where maintaining awareness to ensure a proper balance is achieved.
Consider this an example of the Goldilocks Principle for names! I’m not sure about you, but if I were in a situation where someone goes, “Hi Nancy, how are you? Today is a beautiful day, isn’t it Nancy? Hey Nancy, do you know Billy’s phone number? But Nancy, how do I know this will work,” and all I hear is my name, I’m personally going to start to get annoyed!
One of my favorite articles which does a good job of breaking this down, along with a few other fun, common sense tips and tricks is “A No-BS Guide to Socializing“; you should definitely check it out.
My preference is to always start and end a conversation with an individual’s name (commonly known as bookending) and if less than a ten-minute talk, end with that, otherwise in longer conversations, I just simply sprinkle it in once or twice more – TOPS!
Look, if there was a precise recipe, I’d give it to you, but truth is, Goldilocks tasted all options, and by the time she got to the porridge that was “just right”, the temperature probably changed ten times from the time she started the sampling exercise to the time it took to end.
I get asked all the time how to master this piece, and truthfully, the answer is pretty simple – practice! Generally, when I tell someone this, they quickly respond with, “but I don’t want to look silly, how am I supposed to practice this”? Well, that’s another easy one, you need to practice with the people who are most forgiving! Whether I am going into a critical business conversation, a sentimental personal chat, or going on stage to deliver a keynote, without fail, I rehearse with those who I know will look over my shortcomings – MY FAMILY!
My son is going on ten years old, and probably gives me way to much latitude at times, but when he does this and I overuse his name for the fun of it, I typically am just gauging my own feelings and ask myself “is that too much”? The point here is that although it is best to practice, you should also follow your gut when it comes to the frequency of use!
No matter the situation or circumstance, if there is one thing you should get from this message, it’s quite simple to say their name! Think about it, do you like hearing your name? Well, if you’re being reprimanded, probably not, but in normal circumstances, most people do. So, do yourself and them a service by:
1) if you don’t know it, ask what their name is 2) use proper pronunciation 3) say it often, and by doing these three things, you will improve your chances to 4) remember it for next time!
Now, if this hasn’t resonated with you well enough, perhaps a quick substitution in the 1999 song famously sung by Destiny’s Child, “Say My Name” will stick with you. Simply take the word MY and swap it with THEIR! Now, go ahead….. thank me for “Say their name, say their name, say their name” being the tune forever stuck in your head!
Now, go and get to practicing!
Credit where it’s due
Destiny’s Child. (2009, October 25). Destiny’s Child – Say My Name (official video) – youtube. Youtube. Retrieved November 2, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQgd6MccwZc.
EMINEM. (n.d.). My name is (clean version) – Eminem. SongLyrics.com. Retrieved September 12, 2022, from http://www.songlyrics.com/eminem/my-name-is-clean-version-lyrics/
Nguyen, V. (2013, October 14). Stop saying their name over and over, a no-BS Guide to Socializing. Self Stairway. Retrieved October 25, 2021, from https://www.selfstairway.com/socializing/.
Wikimedia Foundation. (2021, August 31). Goldilocks principle. Wikipedia. Retrieved October 25, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldilocks_principle.