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What to do When You Forget Someone’s Name

What to do When You Forget Someone’s Name

It’s happened again: you’ve forgotten someone’s name.  This situation is so common that you would think we would all know how to handle it by now, but it never seems to feel less awkward.  The truth is, it happens to everyone, and people will be more forgiving than you think.  But here are a few tactful ways to deal with the situation and make you feel less uncomfortable the next time you draw a mental blank.

Introduce Yourself First

If you encounter someone you know you’ve met before, but can’t for the life of you remember what letter his or her name starts with, take the initiative and reintroduce yourself first.  Do this as a courtesy to the other person, who may have also forgotten your name. This is also a nice way to recognize the fact that it’s been awhile since you were first introduced and that you’d like to get reacquainted.

Introduce Someone Else to Them

If you have a friend by your side, try the approach of introducing him or her to the person whose name you have forgotten.  Most likely, they will introduce themselves to your friend, and there you have it!

Ask Them to Spell It

If the situation is appropriate, ask the individual how they spell their name.  You may dig yourself into a deeper hole if it turns out that you’re speaking to a Bob or a Susan; but if this comes up, say something along the lines of, “Right, and last name?” while you laugh it off.

Ask for a Business Card

Not only will asking for a business card solve the name problem, but you’ll also receive their contact information and an open invitation to get in touch – which can lead to further opportunities!

Flat Out Ask

While it’s preferable not to make it obvious that you’ve forgotten someone’s name, a clumsy attempt to conceal this can muddle an awkward situation even further.  So sometimes the best rule to go by is honesty.  People will certainly understand because they have been there before, and they will appreciate your straightforwardness.

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17 comments

  1. Article is bang on! Truth is sometimes we forget out own names, especially after working an 18-hour day!

  2. I used the “ask them to spell their name” thing today. His response was, “B-O-B.” Then he laughed and asked me my name…

  3. Might consider this one: “I never forget a face, but sometimes a name.”
    That’s been very helpful and a warm way around the awkwardness

  4. I agree with Lauri – I ask people to “remind me” of their name. It feels kinder and more welcoming.

  5. While I wish there was just a magic wand, thanks for your good suggestions. A favourite period in my life was holding a position in a world-wide club, where at meetings kind people would say, while
    (re)introducing me: “Of you remember Alfonso (Greta, Terry…)”. Bless you people!

  6. I like your last option: flat out ask. I have led large organizations of women in the past where it’s impossible to remember everyone’s name even though they know yours. I think it’s a lot kinder to the person to just apologize and ask them to remind you of their name then to call them the wrong name. :-)

  7. It’s really ackward if it’s a distant relative or your spouse’s family member.

    Good tips though for normal occasions.

  8. It could be tough if you are seeing a client and drove to see him/her and then wonder what their name is…

  9. Used to work well with my boss….

  10. I need to come clean…

    There is a wonderful barrista at my local Starbucks that greets both me and my finance by our names. She’s told me her name, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember it.

    Finally, yesterday I broke down and fessed up. I told her that I felt bad but didn’t remember her name. It was no big deal, and now it’s engrained in my memory.

    If you ever visit the Starbucks in San Clemente, say hello to Fiona!

  11. Ihad to read this article because I even sometimes forget my name and have to pull out my driver’s license to remember.

    I can remember faces and names are much harder. The ideas are good. However, since I am getting on in years it is much easier to use the excuse that I forgot.

    So I can just say: I’m sorry. I have misplaced your name in my memory and I want to make sure I never do that again. My name is Gary Gile and you are…

  12. Or else you can just say, “I’m really sorry, I don’t remember your name” and then re-introduce yourself. Or if you ask how they spell their name, and it’s a relatively easy one, you can joke “No silent Q anywhere?” Diane Darling, of Effective Networking, teaches people how to handle this and other networking situations. She gives out buttons that say “It’s ok, I don’t remember your name either.” Problem solved!

  13. These tips are really simple, enough so that even I can remember them. So thanks for that!

    One must talk to people. That is the way to find things out. – Alexander McCall Smith

  14. Jason Grant-Henriques

    LOL!!!!!! If i had a nickle for everytime something like this happened to me! Great tips though!

  15. Mike Shields (@MatchesMalone)

    Excellent tips all. Thanks, Bob.

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