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What's in a name? I really don't know

Columnist Steve Lange wouldn't remember your name even if, coincidentally, you were also named Steve Lange.

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Numerous experts profess various can't-miss tips for remembering people's names, including mnemonic devices, repetition and visual association.

These do not work.

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It doesn't matter if your name is Red Jeans and you exclusively wear red jeans, I will, no matter what expert advice I attempt to use, forget your name seconds after you introduce yourself.

RED: Hello, I'm Red Jeans. If you have trouble with names, just remember that I always wear red jeans.

ME [aloud]: Why, good to meet you, Red. Well, Red, I hope you're having fun at this event we're both attending, Red. Red.

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ME [talking to myself]: Red Jeans always wears red jeans. Red Jeans, red jeans ...

MY WIFE LINDY [walking into the conversation]: Why, what interesting red jeans you are wearing. Steve, are you going to introduce us?

ME: I'm sorry, I'm drawing a blank. For the life of me, I can't remember the names of either one of you.

On speed dial, I have the numbers of Rochester-area friends—people who know people. I am regularly texting or calling them, often as someone whose name I should know is walking toward me.

This has happened enough so that my emergency contacts don't even question it when they answer the phone to hear me screaming something like, "I'm at the Boys and Girls Club Chair Affair! Need the name of the former KROC radio woman! Her husband's name is like Noel or something!"

TRACY MCCRAY [on other end of the phone]: Are you talking about me? I'm walking towards you right now. And my husband's name is Joel. You play trivia with him every Wednesday.

It sounds disrespectful, but anyone who suffers from the same deficiency knows that it's not a case of disrespect.

My wife, Lindy, is not only good with names, but, if you've met her, she probably also remembers your eye color, right down to specific shades of blue or flecks of green or "a hint of mustard coloring around your pupil."

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That is a real description she has used.

It's one of her gifts. I honestly could not tell you the eye color of, say, my brother. I'm pretty sure his eyes have that white around the outside and a dark pupil in the center, but that's about it.

I am jealous of Lindy's ability to make such a personal human connection so easily.

And I am embarrassed when I think of my numerous examples of botched names.

I am now going to tell you one of the worst botched-name stories of my life. This won't make it any less painful, but I'll also add this: I have, in the last few years, talked with my former neighbor about this incident more than once. We've even laughed about it. But, at the time, it was horrible.

So, consider the following a warning as to what can happen when you don't bother to learn the names—and hopefully eye colors—of those closest to you.

A former neighbor and his wife had very similar names, names that can be either gender. We'll call them Jesse and Jamie.

The neighbor's wife, after a long illness, died while my wife was out of town.

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Lindy suggested that I wait until she got back from her trip to Michigan before I approached or even spoke to him.

Slightly offended by Lindy's insinuation that this was something I could not handle, I took it upon myself to buy him flowers and a card. I walked to his house to offer condolences. When our neighbor answered the door, I handed him the card and flowers and said "I am so sorry to hear about Jamie."

Then he looked me right in the eyes and said something I'll never forget. He said "I am Jamie."

"I am so sorry," I said. "For everything."

I stood in that doorway for a long time, then, trying to make conversation. Trying to say something that would make him feel better. Trying to come up with any possible excuse for me to take back from his hand that card, on which I'm certain I wrote "Jesse, I am so sorry for your loss."

Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.

Related Topics: PEOPLEODDCHESTERROCHESTER
Opinion by Steve Lange
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