Do You Know My Name?

How I learned that a little kindness goes a long, long way.


It’s a given to say that just about all of us get help from other people every day. And no, I’m not talking about your coworkers. I’m talking about your doorman, the receptionist at the spa, the guy at Saks Fifth Ave who helped you pick out that great vegan leather jacket, the checkout person at your health food store, the food delivery dude, and the woman who runs the food cart where you get your morning coffee… you get the idea.

Do You Know My Name?

Given the “New York minute” pace at which we operate in this otherwise ‘hyper-connected’ world, it’s likely that few of us have made regular eye contact with these facilitators, let alone sharing a smile or saying a quick hello and thank you. I mean, who has time for more? We’ve all got places to be, things to do, friends to hang with, dates to go on, etc, etc, etc. Besides, why does it matter that we get to know the people we have little connection to, or are unlikely to interact with once we stop living / working / learning in these locations?

After spending some time looking into this, it turns out it matters quite a bit.

I used to work as a shoe salesman during my high school years at an upscale store on main street in East Hampton. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that I was regularly grabbing size 8’s for the Jessica Parker’s of the world and other fancy globetrotters that descended into our little town every summer. The job was pretty fun, I met lots of cool people, and was pretty decent at selling shoes (flattery goes a long way people!). After a while, the job started to wear me down. While I was too young at the time to appreciate why my feelings for the job started to turn sour, looking back it seems pretty clear why I stopped enjoying it. Simply…. I felt invisible.

Do You Know My Name? - asking names3 1

Show the people who help you that you recognize that they’re human and you appreciate the help

Now, don’t get me wrong. Most of the clients I worked with were nice and cordial to me. Some were rude and nasty, but they were few and far between. What I realize now was how impersonal the relationship I had with the people I served and how machine-like I felt taking their orders. Similar to someone who works at a checkout counter, or the person who cleans the auditorium at your high school, I never got a chance to truly interact with the people I worked for. No one knew me. Worse, no one seemed to care. I can still remember the only time one of the women I was helping asked me my name and where I lived. It was kinda startling. “Me?” “Uh, well, uh… I’m Mike.” It felt so good to be recognized as a human being and not an order taker. It changed the rest of my day for the better.

A little bit of kindness can go a long way – for both of you.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Jeez, Mike sounds pretty sensitive. What’s the big deal?”, “Besides, what could getting to know the facilitators in my life do for me?” I recently read an interview in the New York Times with Walt Bettinger, CEO of the Wall Street behemoth Charles Schwab. He tells a story of his senior year of college, carrying at 4.0 heading into final exams of his last semester. In one of his finals, the teacher handed out a blank piece of paper. To the amazement of the students, the professor asked them to write down the name of the woman who cleaned the building. Walt stated, “It was a great reminder of what really matters in life, and that you should never lose sight of the people who do the real work in life.” Pretty powerful stuff.

I’m ashamed to say that while I’ve been pretty good about saying hello to just about facilitator I come across, and sharing a huge smile, I had failed to get to know any of them personally. Recently, I’ve started introducing myself to anyone I can, asking their name and maybe a few other questions that help me get to know them. This could be in a cab on my way to a meeting, or chatting with the nice lady (her name is Daisy) who cleans my office every night after work. I can’t tell you how good it felt to see Daisy light up when I asked what her name was and where she was from. We ended up chatting for only about two minutes, but it left both of us feeling great and more connected to the world around us. It makes my day now when I see Daisy every evening; just to say her name and exhange a pleasantry or two before she heads off to finish her work.

Do You Know My Name?

Brighten someone’s day by taking an interest, and see the amazing reactions you’ll get!

In Dale Carnegie’s timeless book How to Win Friends and Influence People he wrote, “If you want to win friends, make it a point to remember them. If you remember my name, you pay me a subtle compliment; you indicate that I have made an impression on you. Remember my name and you add to my feeling of importance.” Powerful words coming from one of the true masters in business.

Remembering the names of all the people you come into regular contact with isn’t easy and might seem a little daunting. Here are some great tips to help remember the names of everyone you meet:

  • Make a habit of repeating people’s names when meeting them for the first time. If you will make this a routine, you will be forced to pay attention to their names when they are introduced to you. (Part of the reason most of us forget people’s names is we never really hear it when they tell us. We’re busy thinking about what we want to say, or who else in the room we want to speak to next.)
  • After hearing their name, repeat it a few times. (Best not to do that out loud!)
  • Try to think of someone else that has the same name.
  • If you don’t understand the pronunciation, ask them to repeat it. If you’re still having a hard time, ask how it is spelled and then try again. People with unique names are used to others mispronouncing them and will appreciate those who express an interest in getting it right.

Here is my challenge to you. Start today; be intentional about remembering people’s names. Keep in mind the impact you can have on other people’s happiness by simply saying their name and a quick hello. Trust me, from my experience over the past few months, it’s a great habit to start!

Avatar of Michael Pellman Rowland

Michael is a Forbes contributor, writing about companies that focus on sustainability. He is also a partner and wealth management advisor for Alpenrose Wealth Management. He loves birdwatching and snowboarding, and can somehow remember everyone he’s met since childhood (in amazing detail!) He's a frequent guest lecturer and has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Financial Times, and Institutional Investor. He was selected for the Investment News 40 Under 40 top wealth advisors list and included in Forbes' inaugural listing of America's Top Next-Generation Wealth Advisors.

Reader Discussion: 60 Comments

  1. Avatar of Trisha Allen

    Remembering names is just mandatory at this age. But clearly, people are to preoccupied that their attention span is like a goldfish. Never remembering names numbers and places are just the norm nowadays. And all of this is because of the smart phone.

  2. Avatar of Chelsey bAtes

    I hAve this trick for remembering nAmes. if I cAn’t remember their nAmes, I AlwAys find something memorAble in their fAce or mAnerisms or even the wAy they dress. so i cAn AtleAst hAve A wAy of remembering them for when i see them AgAin.

  3. Avatar of Robin Collins

    Robin Collins

    always had this problem. I always know someone’s face and where I met them, will totally forget what their name was even if we are talking face to face. really need to get my act together just to recall a glimpse of that miraculous name in my mind.

  4. Avatar of Olivia Peterson

    Olivia Peterson

    A person’s name is the greatest connection to their own identity and individuality. Some might say it is the most important word in the world to that person. So naturally remembering a person’s name is one of the most crucial things in personal and business relationships.

  5. Avatar of Delilah Peyton

    Delilah Peyton

    Not knowing or forgetting a person’s name is out of disinterest in my opinion. Which is very rude… LOL

    • Avatar of Camila Hilhorst

      Camila Hilhorst

      Sooooooo trueee!!! You need to WANT to learn the person’s name. Care for it! it’s important for them and you should give them the attention they deserve.

  6. Avatar of Leslie Williams

    Leslie Williams

    This is also very impırtant during job interviews! Knowing and using the names of the people who are interviewing you is a great way to differentiate yourself, and it might just give you the edge you need to get the job offer you’re seeking.

    • Avatar of Sibel Jenkinson

      Sibel Jenkinson

      Makes sense. You’ll subconsciously relax more before and during the interview. Knowing a person’s name has a way of making a potentially stressful situation not as stressful. The more quickly you talk with somebody using their name, the more quickly the conversation flows better and becomes more natural, all of which works in your favor. 🙂

  7. Avatar of Nicky Bryan

    Nicky Bryan

    Awesome post!! I have a great method for remembering many names in a short period of time that I would like to share with you all.

    Keep a quick note on an notepad app on your phone. And when you meet someone new enter their name. Glance back at it every chance you get, specially after parting ways with them. Open up the note and go through the list at least a few times a day, visualizing each person. When you meet someone new, enter their name at the bottom of list, and once again visualize the people you had entered earlier. In case you see someone and do not remember their name, glance at your list; most of the time seeing the name will ring a bell and you’ll remember!

    I really loved the way it works for me, and seems to be a sure-proof way to remember a lot of names in a short amount of time. I hope it works for you guys too!

  8. Avatar of Emma Blackwood

    Emma Blackwood

    I’m with you on this! Remembering names is one of the simplest yet most important components of interacting with people, no matter in what capacity.

  9. Avatar of Amanda Roberts

    Amanda Roberts

    This is post is an amazing eye-opener. The only way you will be consistent is if remembering people’s names is important to you. I should make it a priority to remember people’s names.

  10. Avatar of Roberta Bennett

    Roberta Bennett

    Very well thought, Michael. I completely agree with you. Addressing someone with their name is just as important as making eye contact, offering a genuine smile and giving a friendly greeting!

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