I’ve long had a sneaking feeling that all the excuses of “Oh, I’m so sorry, I’m just terrible with names!” and so forth were just a rough translation of “You’re not important enough to remember!” and Professor Harris confirms.
You may think it’s just how you were born, but that’s not the case, according to Kansas State University’s Richard Harris, professor of psychology. He says it’s not necessarily your brain’s ability that determines how well you can remember names, but rather your level of interest.
“Some people, perhaps those who are more socially aware, are just more interested in people, more interested in relationships,” Harris said. “They would be more motivated to remember somebody’s name.”
Well, okay, maybe it’s not quite a matter of “you’re not important enough to remember” and more of, “I don’t care enough to remember names in general.” But still. If you meet someone that you know will be important to you, then barring any neurological issues that impair memory formation, you will remember that person’s name.
I used to have a co-worker who kept screwing up my name, calling me something like, “Alice,” but with a bit of extra hesitation at the end, and when I corrected him for what was at least the 3rd time (I will answer to certain permutations of Alyson, but “Alice” is not among them), he fell back on the excuse that his English wasn’t very good. I wasn’t convinced at the time, and now I know it’s nonsense. Since then I’ve lived in a different country and spoken their language, though not as comfortably as my former co-worker speaks English, so I have no time for that language-barrier defense. You live in America and speak English for years, you should not have a problem with a clearly Anglo name. If you don’t remember, it’s probably because you don’t listen.
However, I notice when people mangle other names, not just my own. There are, for a different example, my co-workers whose non-Anglo names are regularly brutalized by other, native Anglophone co-workers, and they (the ones whose names get screwed up) never speak up about it. Drives me nuts to hear one guy’s Ethiopian name get turned into another guy’s not-terribly-similar Indian name, and confuses me even more when the Ethiopian dude doesn’t say anything. I guess it’s a privilege thing; there are certain battles I don’t have to choose.