The Cardinal Rules

Ever wonder how many people you have met in your lifetime?

If I could recall the face of each person to whom I’ve been introduced, chances are I would also remember their names. A mind that has the power to recall every single individual it encounters is a mega brain.

I like my brain. It is an amazing tool. Unfortunately, I have not yet tapped into its mega features. In other words, I can’t bring to mind every person I’ve met. I get a D- in remembering names I should know.

It’s said that the most important word to every individual is his or her name. Family members, friends, work associates, and acquaintances address each other by their birth names (and possibly a few other choice nicknames).

The minute a name is stamped onto a birth certificate, a library of words begins to grow under and over and around it. That library of words forms a reputation. Reputations travel with names.

The exception is when our reputations precede us. But I digress.

Names are like tennis—sort of. If either of us double-faults or misses a return of serve in a tennis match, my friend Charlotte says—in a most serious tone—“We broke a cardinal rule. We cannot break the cardinal rules.”

There are four cardinal rules when it comes to names: 1) Never forget a name; 2) Never call someone by the wrong name; 3) Never mispronounce a name; 4) Never misspell a name.

I am guilty of breaking all four cardinal rules, but my percentage of error declines a great deal as I make my way down the list. The key is to never forget a name.

When I remember a name, the chances of embarrassing myself with 2, 3, and 4 are minuscule at best. But therein lies the rub—the big “IF.”

It is torture from the inside out when I can’t recall a person’s name. Sometimes, I don’t even recognize the person.

Hearing the individual say things like, “Oh, Genny….,” and “Do you remember when we…, Genny?” is dentist-drilling—no pain-killer administered—agony.

I search for an escape route and plead with my brain, “What is her name? Just give me a hint!”

I’m too embarrassed and proud to say, “Who are you and how do you know me?”

It could be worse. I’d rather not remember a name than say, “Hello, Janet” to a girl named Jill.

There are tips to avoid this self-induced pain—if only I could remember to employ them. Most of the time we lose the name of a person we meet two seconds after he or she utters it because our minds are busy thinking up what we’ll say next.

That’s why we’re encouraged to repeat the name over and over in our heads, which means we won’t be listening to the person we have just met.

As soon as we reengage in the conversation, we’re supposed to give the new name a creative link.

I meet a person named “Wendy” and think about Chicago, the windy city. Then, I am supposed to say her name in the conversation as often as possible.

“Wendy, have you ever been to Chicago? Did you know, Wendy, that they call it the windy city?”

A little over the top? Maybe.

The percentage chance of me recalling her name soars if I repeat it when we part company: “It was a pleasure meeting you, Wendy (windy city Wendy who is not from Chicago).”

I am making progress. I met a woman named Rhonda a month or so ago. In my mind, I immediately dubbed her “Help Me, Rhonda,” as in the Beach Boys tune.

I have succeeded in retaining her name. Problem is, I have to stop short of saying, “Hi, Help Me Rhonda,” every time I see her.


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