When You Can’t Remember Names.

I spent more than thirty-five years of my life as a teacher. The first four years were in elementary school where I taught French. Each fall, I had to memorize the names of my students and do it quickly. Young children don’t respond well, to “Hey, you in the blue shirt, turn around.”

The next thirty-one years were spent teaching in a high school setting where we had semesters. So now, each September and each February, I had to memorize almost a hundred names within a week. While it was true there were always kids I knew from the previous year or semester, the fact was that there were generally more new kids than known ones. But it wasn’t only the kids’ names that I needed to remember; it was new custodial staff, new cafeteria workers, new educational assistants, new secretaries, and new teachers. Is it any wonder that I find it hard to recall names now?

This was me thirty years ago. I was 43. Most of my students were under 18. Today, I’m older, but some say I haven’t changed much. The hair may be a different color, the face a little more wrinkled and perhaps a little fuller, but the smile’s the same. Not too many of those thousands of students I taught can say the same. We’ve all aged, but I was an adult when they met me. They weren’t, so having a big, burly, bald-headed man come up to me and say, “Hi, Mrs. Matthews, remember me?” Are you kidding?

The truth is that my mind was a complete blank. I smiled and said, “You look familiar,” but in reality, I hadn’t a clue. Very graciously, he named himself, and the glimmer of familiarity danced around my mind. The truth is that the only kids I remember well were the angels and the helions. Sad, I know, because there were a lot of really nice kids in the middle, too.

But students aren’t the only ones whose names escape me. It also affects friends from my past, be it elementary, secondary, or university years. The boy I crushed on back then, the one with the shoulder-length blond hair, is now heavyset and bald. The football star is a stooped old man who walks with a cane, and the girl who spent hours sunbathing without any skin protection has a face that resembles wrinkled shoe leather.

But, of course, I exaggerate. Many people have aged well and have taken care of themselves. Those are usually easy to recognize, since like me, they haven’t changed all that much, but what happens when I know the person but can’t put a name to the face? I’m embarrassed to admit it. We’ve all been there, and we all have our coping mechanisms, but sadly they don’t always work. If I’m lucky, they’ll walk away, and I’ll be left struggling to recall who the hell they were without them knowing the truth, but sometimes I have to admit defeat and admit that I’ve forgotten their name.

But forgetting names isn’t only a thing of the past. Lately, it seems the moment I meet someone new, I forget the name they’ve given me. I’ve tried the psuch tricks like rpeating the name, using it in conversation, and associating it with time and place, but the truth is, it vanishes and the next time I see them, I ‘ll remeber them, but not their damn names.

So, like it or not, I have begun to say things like, “Hi, how are you? I’m so sorry, but my mind is like a sieve, and I simply can’t recall names these days.” Is it upsetting? A little, but it’s a whole lot easier than pretending I know the name and then using the wrong one. That is humiliating for both of us.

So, how about you? Do you remember names? Do you have a trick to share for doing so? If you do, please share. We can all use a little help remembering.

We’ll chat again next month and Happy Valentine’s Day!

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About Susanne Matthews

I'm a retired high school English teacher turned author. I'm Canadian. My husband and I have been married 48 years and have 3 children and 5 grandchildren, as well as 2 step-grandchildren.  I enjoy traveling, especially somewhere warm in winter.

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