What’s in a Name?

I’m terrible with names. It’s embarrassing. I could work with you on a project for a week, exchange Emails regularly, and even break bread with you from time to time and still gum up when I have to introduce you to someone. If I had it my way, we’d all go through life with name tags permanently pinned to our wardrobe. Yet I go all gaga when someone I think has no business remembering my name flat out remembers it…and does so in public. My chest puffs up, my peacock feathers open for all to admire. I know…it’s a little narcissistic, trivial…maybe even juvenile. But at that moment, I feel vindicated. I’m noticed. I made an impression somewhere along the way. It’s a reward. It’s recognition.

Silly? Maybe. But I think there’s more to it than that…

Long ago I was in charge of orchestrating a big annual meeting for all the men and women who had been newly admitted to the partnership of one of the largest professional services firms in the world. All of the firm’s executives would be at that meeting (and related celebrations). And every year, the CEO of the firm wanted an advance copy of the New Partner Announcement – which had a headshot and bio of every new partner that year. The first year I ran the meeting, I failed to get said CEO a copy of that book in advance of the meeting. The week after the event he called me into his office. He asked, “Charlie, do you know why I needed an advance copy of that announcement?” I answered, “Ummm, so you could admire the merits of the incoming class, sir.” And he lowered his eyes and slowly shook his head as if I had just missed the meaning of life and said, “I need that announcement because I spend half a day prior to the meeting memorizing every name with every face. And then when I see all these new partners and their spouses at the black-tie party, I can go right up to them, congratulate them, shake their hands, and call them by their first names without their having to introduce themselves. And I couldn’t do that this year.” Needless to say, it was the last year I didn’t have an advance copy of that announcement in his hands.

Here’s a man who ran a multi-billion dollar entity and was responsible for the welfare of 30,000 people in the United States.  He found it important enough to memorize the names of 200 people who would have been thrilled to just introduce themselves. He did this because he knew it would make an indelible impression on his most important assets. He knew it would demonstrate his genuine interest in and support for these newly minted leaders. He knew it would demonstrate that better than any canned speech or toast he might make. And he knew that while it may be seem silly to some, it would make a world of difference to most.

Image Credit: The Phillips Collection

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  • http://www.facebook.com/tincup William Tincup

    I asked my wife to marry me in front of that painting… “Luncheon of the Boating Party” (1881) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir… just FYI… oh yeah, nice blog post btw…

  • http://twitter.com/new_resource Chris Fields

    I’m always proud and shocked when someone mentions my name, especially big ole important folks like you. Great post and great reminder.

  • Jay Kuhns

    Great post Charlie…absolutely spot on.

  • Anonymous

    dude, i’m just a lower rung on that ladder you’re climbing…

  • Anonymous

    i just got all tingly.

  • Anonymous

    someone shared this link – http://lifehacker.com/5626604/how-to-remember-and-deal-with-peoples-names – over on a thread around names on Focus.com (http://www.focus.com/questions/what-tricks-do-you-use-remember-peoples-names/) it’s a really good set of tips on remembering names…and networking in general. check it out!

  • Staffing Solutions

    As a provider of staffing services, I understand how simple remembering names can make a difference in building connections. In HR, it does seem difficult to keep track of all the names of indiduals we interact with but if we go the extra mile it makes an impact to those we associate with!