Uncluttered benefits of learning people’s names

Have you seen the “What’s That Name?” sketch from the Paul Rudd-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live this season? If not, go watch it, it’s pretty funny.

SNL writers got this sketch right when they poked fun at the way people routinely dehumanize each other. When we’re in a hurry and on cruise control, it can be easy to forget that the person driving the bus or handing you dry cleaning or taking your order in a restaurant isn’t an automaton. People in service industry professions are often treated like robots, or, worse yet, like they’re invisible.

I grew up in a small-ish Midwestern town where everyone already knew everybody else’s name. When I moved to a major city, I missed knowing my neighbors and the people where I went. So, a decade ago, I started making it a point to know people’s names. I know the names of the checkout clerks, butchers, and the wine and cheese buyers at the grocery store; I know the names of my regular UPS man, mail carrier, and FedEx lady (and even most of their substitutes); I know the name of the woman who schedules appointments at my hair salon; I know the names of bus drivers, cab drivers, and the women who work at the dry cleaner’s. And, for the most part, these people know my name, too.

Although learning people’s names takes a little bit of time (you must strike up a conversation), I’ve found that the act has incredible uncluttering benefits overall. Had I not started talking with my butcher, I’d have never known that I can order a quarter of a cow (instead of a whole cow) from a local grass-roaming, organic farm each year and that the butcher will cut up the meat for me exactly how I ask him to, free of additional charge (well, I do give him a nice tip). Buying a quarter of a cow has saved me incredible amounts of money (it’s insanely discounted compared to buying separate cuts of meat) and time (I don’t have to run to the store). Twice, I’ve called the receptionist at my hair salon and she has found a way to get me on the schedule at the last minute, and I haven’t had to whine or beg or threaten or do anything other than ask nicely. The mail and package delivery folks always wait for me to answer the bell, instead of slapping a sticker on the door and driving away like I know some of them do. I get my package on the first delivery attempt instead of having to go to a central office to pick something up or wait another day. Bus drivers have waited for me as I’ve hurried down the street. Simply stated, my life runs more smoothly because I’ve taken the time to learn someone’s name and taken a sincere interest in what they do.

I’m not suggesting you learn someone’s name for the singular purpose of getting better service. Rather, I’m suggesting that meeting the people — all the people — who are a regular part of your life can be beneficial in many ways. It is certainly more enjoyable to go to the market when you know you can learn something from the people there, instead of thinking about the errand like a mundane chore and the people who work there as idiots (they’re not). And, as someone who has previously worked in a service industry job, the work day went much more quickly when I was able to help someone who saw me as a person and took an interest in what I did. I enjoyed helping those people most of all.

Even if you have ignored someone you encounter regularly in your life, it’s never too late to extend your arm, shake a hand, apologize for never learning his or her name before, and properly introduce yourself. In my experience, you’ll immediately feel more connected to your corner of the world and see a few uncluttered benefits, too.

68 Comments for “Uncluttered benefits of learning people’s names”

  1. posted by Lynn on

    Amen. After 9-11, I decided that I would talk to people in elevators. I work in a large city, near our Federal Building, and if that is ever a target of misguided zealots, I could very well be stuck in an elevator for awhile. I decided that I would rather be stuck in an elevator with people I care about, than a carful of strangers. [I am not a pessimistic person; I just know that the things I am prepared for, generally don’t happen.] I am a knitter, and one day I had my sock-in-progress with me while I ran an errand in the building. I met another knitter in the elevator. We exchanged Ravelry names and all sorts of knitterly stuff, to the stunned amazement of the menfolk sharing the car. (I can picture them going home to their wives and saying, “You won’t believe what happened on the elevator today. Two crazy knitters, burbling on about yarn and stuff.”) And now she’s knit-blogging, too.

  2. Profile photo of

    posted by writing all the time on

    This is a great idea, Erin, I’m starting today.

  3. posted by pelf on

    I always make it a point to remember someone’s name by repeating it after him/her. And when we part ways, I’ll say something like, “See you again, Catherine!” or “Nice meeting you, Susan”.

    I found that this way, I am better able to remember their names πŸ˜€

  4. posted by Christy on

    Thanks for bringing some light to this. Some of my favorite people are the clerks and other folks that I encounter every day. They bring joy to my life.

  5. posted by Pamela on

    I have done this for years, too. I even give my regular service providers little gifts during the holidays … homemade cookies or a small gift certificate so they can have a coffee and muffin on me. In the card, I thank them for all they’ve done for my family over the past year and wish them happy holidays. I find that their over-frazzled faces, stressed during the holiday rush, relax and warm when they are faced with an expression of gratitude.

    It’s great to know the people you see every day, and it’s nice to be able to offer them something in return for their hard work.

  6. posted by Amy on

    Great idea! It is such a shame how people think it is suddenly allowed to be rude towards people working in the service industry. I worked myself at an ice cream shop for a while and I experienced what it was like to be at the other side of a counter. Before I worked there I wasn’t really quite rude or anything, but after I worked there I did take more care in being nice to the people who are providing me a service. A “hello”, “good morning”, or something like that from a customer is much nicer than just a plain monotone “I want that” or not even saying anything for a person working there (at least to me, especially on slow days); being nice is really appreciated.

    By the way, that ice cream shop was located inside a train station and I frequently had customers that were quite rude. There was once a guy who had to catch a train in 2-3 minutes and (while I was preparing his order) rudely complained how I was too slow (I really was not that slow, I was quite fast compared with my colleagues) and he got quite angry about how he was going to miss his train because of me. I didn’t say anything because I think it is pointless to get into an argument about that, but really, don’t come and buy ice cream if your train is about to leave in 2-3 minutes!

  7. posted by Beth on

    I know all of the names of the office staff and nurses at my doctor’s office where I routinely get allergy shots. I always try to ask about their families and keep up with the things they are doing. This has been helpful more than once when I’ve called in (and they know exactly who I am) and need a sick appointment for someone in my family. Sometimes you have to wait days for an appointment, but we always get right in. It’s not why I’m friendly to them…but it definitely has benefits.

  8. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    Although I haven’t learned the names of our recycle or garbage truck drivers, I wave to them whenever they stop to get our bins and yell have a nice day when I’m outside. I also leave them messages taped to the bins & bags (Happy Holidays, Happy Thanksgiving, etc.).

    One day when I was sick and late getting the garbage out, the driver got out of the truck and came around to our back door and took the bins out to the truck for me as it was cold and I was still in pyjamas.

    Putting in the little extra effort is SO worth it!

  9. posted by Mimi on

    The truth is, remembering someone’s name and saying hello can make a person’s day!
    It takes only a moment and there are a lot of lonely people out there who shine when they are aknowledged.
    I’m one of them!
    I have worked some not glam jobs – maid, retail worker… theme park employee..
    And when someone remembered my name and took a moment to ask how my day was.. well, sometimes that’s all it took to turn my not so great day into a much better one.
    Being kind is never a ” waste of time.”

  10. posted by Ki on

    I worked in the hotel industry for 10 years and have met all different kinds of people. I would say the majority treat bellmen or front desk agents as lower class citizens – demanding all sorts of things above and beyond what they have paid for – and if they don’t get it they complain about everything during their stay in order to get a discount at check out.

    I don’t need you to know my name – but whatever happened to common courtesy? Just to be treated like a person goes a long way. You attract bees with honey – not vinegar. Of course people are going to be nicer to you if you are nice to them! Who doesn’t want that?!

  11. posted by Mary on

    Even if I don’t learn someone’s name, I always make a point of making eye contact. So many people go through the day without anyone acknowledging their existence! Especially in an age where most of the population is looking down at their phones all the time!

  12. posted by WilliamB on

    I had a teacher who felt this was very important. One question of a 10 question quiz was “What is the name of the janitor who cleans the room after class?” Not an extra credit question, you’ll note.

    After that I started paying much more attention. I don’t have all the receptionists’, guards’, and janitors’ names but I do work on it.

  13. posted by paul on

    You may interested in Dunbar’s number, the notion that the human brain is the size it is to keep track of about 150 people, ie your troop or tribe, and that this is directly related to language use, which ties in neatly with learning people’s names and their skills.

    There are other benefits, as well, besides good manners, but this post underscored the central premise in a new way for me.

    http://www.lifewithalacrity.co....._numb.html

  14. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    One thing I should point out is that if you aren’t great with names, it’s usually not a big deal since most service-industry employees wear name tags. It’s the introduction, the acknowledgment, and the on-going relationship that matter most — just look at someone’s name tag as you approach if keeping track of names is difficult for you.

  15. posted by Anne on

    While I think your relationships such as the one with your butcher are lovely, don’t forget that there are different conventions to using names in different cultures. As a British person, I find me and my fellow Brits (although naturally not all of us) tend not to use names so much until we really get to know a person, and striking up a conversation in a public setting is often unwelcome when we want some personal space, peace and quiet, and privacy. A particular irritant is when call centre staff start peppering their spiel with my first name – it feels like unearned intimacy. Of course, I and hopefully my compatriots believe in being polite and kind to strangers, but remember that names are very personal, and to use them too early can come across as a little presumptuous.

  16. posted by Ben on

    I’m also from the UK and I am in agreement with Anne on this one. I’ve worked with the public a lot and I do think it’s an area where there’s a bit of a transatlantic cultural difference. Americans mostly seemed to want to know how my day was, though I gather that there is only one correct answer to this question; “Great !”. I didn’t particularly feel I had made some human connection because they asked that. It was slightly reminiscent of the corporate-approved greetings one expects from employees at McDonald’s.

  17. posted by priest's wife on

    I watched this SNL sketch on HULU (would neve watch an entire episode0- it was funny- and Paul Rudd is always great

  18. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Anne and @Ben — You both make good points about names in different cultures. In France, for example, I’ve found that using the appropriate title (Mademoiselle, monsieur, etc.) is what is deemed respectful. In the States, though, using someone’s name after you’ve been properly introduced is what is most respectful.

    I can’t imagine introducing myself to someone, learning her name, and then days later calling her “Ma’am.” It’s definitely a cultural thing.

  19. posted by Sam on

    This is a wonderful useful idea that works like magic and thanks for bringing it up. One day a couple decades ago I got thinking of how many of the same people I interacted with every day. I decided to learn all of their names and this of course, led to conversations. The result wasn’t just better service but it was fun and friendships were made that wouldn’t have. I have since made it a habit.

  20. posted by Beth on

    I always make it a point to speak to people. My husband will be with me and he’ll ask “Who was that?” and I’ll have to say that I have no idea, I was just being friendly!

  21. posted by mike crosby on

    You’re absolutely right Erin. I think I don’t remember names for a number of reasons, and they’re all not good–Lazy, Don’t place value, I’ll just forget. And do it for the reason, not what will I get out of it, but do it as a common courtesy.

  22. posted by Sam on

    To remember names, I used to write it down on a scrap of paper later, since I tend to remember things I write. Now I type a note on my phone, name & place.

  23. posted by Carol on

    I talk to people who are waiting in the same line that I am all the time! We probably won’t introduce ourselves, but a nice little chat about all the packages you’re mailing, where are they going, etc. helps pass the time at the PO in early Dec. But that said, I work as a receptionist, am not British at all, but still tend to be a little suspicious of someone that learns my name immediately and then uses it in every sentence. I no longer keep a nameplate on my desk just so I can be the one giving out my name. The last client who used my name all the time tried to bum money from me!

  24. posted by Anita on

    Getting to know the staff at 3 of my local photography stores has done me a world of good. While they always give everyone fair and courteous and helpful service (doesn’t take much to get a photographer to talk at length about cameras and express their personal preferences!), if you take the time to make chit-chat, they’re fairly quick to let you in on future sales, give you discounts, let you play with any piece of equipment you can imagine, and tell you more about every camera maker’s policies and inner workings than you probably wanted to know. A lot of what I know about the photography industry has been from talking to them.

    That said, I’m with Carol in that I don’t like people using my name against me :). And people who use your name in every sentence (or even several times in the same sentence) are on my list of pet peeves. “Hi Joe, how are you Joe?… That’s great, Joe. So Joe, I was wondering…”

  25. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Carol and @Anita — I don’t know people who use someone’s name in every sentence. Is that a regional thing? Seriously, I’ve never heard someone do that. That would creep me out, too.

  26. posted by Col on

    Thank you for this article ERIN !

  27. posted by Kelly on

    I do try to speak kindly to everyone I meet during my day even if I don’t use their name. I’ve made it a daily goal to “make someone’s day” and it starts with being kind, respectful, and wearing a smile.

  28. posted by LLM on

    Hmmm…the thoughts of your post remind me of Dale Carnegie’s classic book “How to win fiends and influence people”. Or a modern update of it by John Maxwell,”25 ways to win with people”. Such simple things as a smile, remembering someone’s name, asking a genuine question about their life, etc – can go such a very long way!

  29. posted by Julia on

    I’m not British, but while I’ve thought of addressing the grocery clerks by name, I decided I wasn’t comfortable with it. Just because your boss has pinned your name to your shirt doesn’t mean you really want people to use it.

    However – I find that commenting on what’s going on around us is just as effective. “Wow – the store’s really busy, has it been like this all day?” or even just “The produce looked really good today.” People appreciate it when you notice the effort they’re putting out to serve you.

    Hmmm…just opened a fortune cookie that seemed right for this blog: “Happiness is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.”

  30. posted by abby on

    @Erin – In my experience, the people who start dropping your name into every sentence tend to be the ones who are either trying to sell you something or want something else from you.

    There’s definitely a difference between this smarmy tactic and taking a minute to genuinely take an interest in someone else’s day/life. In my mind, it should be pretty easy to tell the difference.

  31. posted by Kris on

    Hunh. I figured that folks who are working in service industries are there to do their job, not to socialize with people who randomly happen to come their way. I’m always polite, but I never ever assume any kind of intimacy whatsoever with clerks and such. I figure that their ideal customer is someone polite, quiet, and who puts no additional demands for small talk on them when they’re trying to remember what the produce code for rutabagas is. I would find it super-irritating to have people trying to talk to me all day long.

    (On the other hand, while I don’t know the name of the receptionist at the place I go to have my hair done, I have occasionally done tech support for them when it was clear that I was the only person in the building who might know what their router looked like.)

  32. posted by Leah on

    I agree, especially with the intent. I like to strike up conversations with people, and I often find out interesting information that I wouldn’t have received otherwise. You never know what will happen when you just talk to people.

    I grew up in a city, and I now live in a small town. I do sometimes find it difficult (I recognize so many people but don’t remember their names), and I think I should try harder on remembering their names. The conversation part I have down, and the names would probably help me remember who I talked to about what.

  33. posted by Julia on

    Kris – you’re right, you do have to let them concentrate on their work – but something more than a “hello,” something that recognizes a person as an individual has seemed to be appreciated.

    And of course it depends on the kind of work being done as well.

  34. posted by Living the Balanced Life on

    Having been in sales for years, I am used to finding out people’s names and nametags are a huge help. I try to always use their name at some point in the conversation/transaction. It served welll in work, but it also just a good thing to do. It helps people feel important and can show that you actually care for them.
    Bernice

  35. posted by April F. on

    Kris – I think you have to use your best judgment to pick up on the cues people give off. If the grocery store clerk is friendly and chatty, I figure he or she won’t mind if I make small talk and might even enjoy it. If they’re quiet and seem tired, I won’t force my good mood on them. πŸ˜‰

  36. posted by Theresa Finnigin on

    Great SNL clip. Great post. So true. I hadn’t decided on a NY resolution or goal for 2011, but maybe learning names and talking with people will be it! Thanks for sharing and opening our eyes.

  37. posted by Abigail on

    Yes! This! A good impression can be so much more powerful and we’d much rather have them than all of the bad impressions. About the only place I am regularly enough is my subway train stop and my coffee shop but the people there I see nearly every day are beginning to know who I am. Even if you just bring a relatively cheerful comment, it can brighten a day. And offering sincere thanks works wonders.

  38. posted by Carol on

    I think Abby nailed it with the word “smarmy” … the man using my name all the time was hoping to get a seasonal job from us. Once he asked me personally for money, he had NO chance since I passed that info along! (Regional? I don’t know, I am in northern AZ in a town of about 35,000.)Like Julia, I also like to recognize the efforts employees make even if I don’t call them by name. I compliment workers anytime it is appropriate, especially if others in line are grumbling about the wait, and the employees are working as fast as they can.

  39. posted by Shizuka on

    I think being polite to everyone you interact with is important,
    but having too many conversations/interactions in one day leaves me tired.
    I have friends who are super outgoing and talk to the checkout person, the waiter, etc.
    Sometimes it’s exhausting to be around them because everything takes that much longer. Not to be a grump, but often I just want to get things done as quickly as possible. Having said that, I do know the dry cleaning lady’s name and often talk to her and her daughter.

  40. posted by Phalynn on

    It never snows in Atlanta but we have been snowed in for the last 4 days….I have made more friends this week on the sledding hill than I have in the last year. This article reinforces my commitment to open my mouth and talk to more “friends I have not met”! Thanks for the great article!

  41. posted by Jeanette on

    We’ve always made it a point to know the names of people we deal with regularly. However, we have encountered situations where service people clearly prefer that you not know their name or use it. It’s important to pay attention to the other person’s comfort level. For some people, it’s being too familiar.

    Also, the real issue here is not so much using names, per se. But acknowledging another human being and being polite and respectful in your dealings with them.

    Some people know names but are not respectful or considerate of others. I’m constantly amazed by how many people don’t use basic manners in their interactions with others. What happened to “please” and “thank you.”?

    From what we’ve seen, it’s not an age issue. There are polite young kids and rude adults. It’s not even an education or socio-economic thing (Plenty of rich, rude, entitled folks where I live! Folks who think their money or degrees make them better than the folks who provide needed services. HATE that attitude.)

    Respecting others and demonstrating that respect and being demonstrably grateful with your behavior goes a long way in creating good relationships, whether professional or personal.

    I’m not going to know the names of the many bus and cab drivers or store clerks I may meet daily. But I greet them all. And I talk to them like I would anywhere else. (Drivers have even commented to me how unusual it is for people to talk to them with respect and not attitude or indifference.)And I thank them at the end of our transaction. Small stuff but it makes a difference.

    I think some people have tried being friendly in the past and had negative encounters and just given up the effort. (And FYI, I really don’t think we always need to know someone’s name. I’m thinking of restaurants where the wait staff all introduce themselves. If I have to remember your name, or you have to say it, for us to have a good encounter, something is wrong.)

    As a city person, we’re not used to automatically giving out our names. And for good reasons. So I think one has to be selective and careful. But being polite, friendly and human doesn’t require a name.

  42. posted by Gil on

    How about if you just, for the life of you, cannot remember names? I’m horrible at it. I practice it, make conversation, usually do ok for about a day and then, everything is gone. I even have a hard time recalling people’s names that I knew at some point, even friends from years past. Horrible name to face recognition, even though I recognize people (and places I’ve met them). It’s hard to ask them their name multiple times as you’re trying to remember, and not everyone wears nametags these days. Any good tips?

  43. Profile photo of

    posted by Laetitia in Australia on

    One of the cleaning ladies at work is “Karen”. I knew the names of the post office franchisees in our last location but I haven’t yet learnt the names of the new people at the post office where our PO Box now is.

    WilliamB – was your janitor’s name Dorothy? Your experience sounds like a story that circulated the internet a few years so I’m wondering if there were more than one teacher who had the same idea or if another student of your teacher wrote the story.

  44. posted by Katya on

    The other thing you can do is indicate that you hope they are having a good day, and also, if there is a problem, ask politely for them to help you with it. I often say something like, “There seems to be a problem that has occurred, could you help me solve it?” I don’t pin the blame on anyone and I indicate that I really appreciate their helping me solve it. I was recently at an airport and elicited smiles when I remarked to the personnel dealing with frustrated passengers, booking later flights, etc., “Well, you don’t make the weather, after all!” If you are polite, don’t accuse, acknowledge circumstances beyond anyone’s control, say thank you, etc. you almost never have problems and it is nicer all around. When someone says something like “salespeople are so rude” it never resonates with me — to me, they almost never are, because I am always polite to them.

  45. posted by Lisa on

    Brilliant topic. I always make a point of greeting my bus driver and thanking them upon exiting. I’m sure my hair would stand on end to hear about what they’ve likely encountered in their position in terms of awful passenger behavior AND it cannot be easy to drive a bus in Chicago’s traffic. They get hundreds of people to their destinations safely and on time every day. HUGELY important. Everyone deserves kindness and respect unless they indicate otherwise!

  46. posted by wendy on

    thanks for making people aware that service industry people are human. It really does make a difference in our days when someone is just nicer then the regular demanding customer.

  47. posted by steve crane on

    Service is what you in the US do so well and something many of us in the UK can learn from.Actually showing kindness and being thoughtful and considerate to our fellow human beings doesn’t take much energy and yet everybody benefits and we all feel just that bit better.Great post-again Erin.

  48. posted by Marija on

    I like that someone had brought up possible cultural issues about learning names. I would like to add, that there can be some issues with using someone’s name and the language you use.

    For example, in Lithuanian you have two options of saying “you” (and all the verbs associated with the 2nd person forms), one is a polite/official/formal way that sounds the same as addressing a group of people directly, the other is a informal/friendly/rude way.

    The problem is, that if you use the informal way of addressing a person you do not know, especially if they are a service person, it is considered rude and a way of looking down on them. However, using a name with the formal way of addressing also tends to be either rude or awkward.

    That’s why it might not always be possible to use another person’s name.

    On the other hand, being polite and considerate transcends both language and cultural issues. There’s always a way in any culture or with any language to be nice to the person you are dealing with, thanking them and wishing a nice day.

    I prefer to keep in mind that when I am provided a service, it is because the other person choose to provide it, not because I am entitled to it in any way by just being there or paying money. It really cheers people up, when they know that their hard work isn’t taken for granted and is actually appreciated.

  49. posted by Jen on

    I have a thought about name tags. Do you ever go to meetings where you are trying to get to know people, and the name tags are on long strings so you have to look down at their stomach to read the tag? Especially awkward if the person is someone you have met before but you can’t recall their name. You just want to catch a glimpse of the name on the tag before greeting them to make sure you have their name correct. I really wish meeting name tags were worn higher, closer to the face. I always shorten the string on my tag.

  50. posted by WilliamB on

    @Laetitia in Australia, who asked if the janitor was named Dorothy:
    No, the janitor was a man tho’ after all these years I no longer remember his name. The janitors where I now work are Bernice from Honduras and Marie from Haiti (who doesn’t want to talk about Haitian politics or the earthquake).

    @Katya, who says something like “There seems to be a problem that has occurred, could you help me solve it?”
    So true! Not only is it polite it’s pragmatic: you’re more likely to get what you want if you start nicely. You can escalate this sort of conversation but it’s almost impossible to descalate one.

  51. posted by Tiffanie on

    I may be late on this topic but its a good one. My sister and I always try and strike a conversation with someone where ever we are. This is such a small world and the people in it are so fascinating so that’s what leads me to want to get to know people, even for a minute.
    What I will do, if i can’t talk to someone, is I’ll try and smile at people. Especially when I’m in a busy location such as the mall. It helps remind me to smile big and genuine and it encourages the person I look at to smile as well. Hopefully it’ll brighten that persons day (most people will smile back) and they’ll spread that smile to someone else.

  52. posted by Tracy on

    Here in Orlando, most employees wear nametags. I am so used to it, I really hate when a waiter, etc isn’t wearing one. I hate to say, “Hey you” when I’d rather say, “Hey John, can you grab me some more bread when you get a chance?”
    Even when service employees are super busy, they usually appreciate a quick, friendly chat. One of our favorite questions to ask customers is “so where are you from?” We get great stories from that. It really is a small world after all.

  53. posted by Wanda on

    I’m not great with names but after a person in our building passed away in a home fire, I thought it was important to at least know the names of people on the floor. Also after 5 years with the mail carrier coming into our office (not always the same person) I now know their names as well as when someone new is substituting or has been assigned to the route. I don’t always remember but I admit I forgot and am trying.

  54. posted by Pam on

    To remember a name try this…. In your mind, choose a descriptive word that to you reminds you or sort of describes the person whose name you want to remember, for instance…. pretty Pam, bashful Bob, schoolteacher Sarah, weathered Wilma, jittery Janet, cashier Carole, eclectic Erin. Try it! It works for me.

  55. posted by Barbara Bell on

    Hi, Erin,
    I posted this on my FB page and have had a re-sounding response. I am a huge fan of learning people’s names, and I learned this from my mom. She always felt it took no time at all to be kind to the people that help us by remembering their names. And … it comes back tenfold.
    Thanks for your post!

  56. posted by Trinity on

    What a wonderful and simple idea. Find out people’s names. I used to know everyone’s name but then moved to back to big city and got swallowed up, or perhaps just felt that way. I’m always amazed and flattered when people remember me. It’s time to share that feeling with others.

  57. posted by Amy on

    I used to travel with my grandfather, and when I was younger, it drove me crazy that he would strike up a conversation wherever we were with whomever was there. As I have gotten older, I have become exactly the same. And I have found that my life is much more enjoyable. I know the shop owners in the blocks around my home, and, yes, the receptionists for the places I frequent.
    And when I jog the same path every morning, I have made it my thing to smile and say good morning to the people I pass. Usually the same bunch. The older ladies who are walking their dogs would at first kind of blanch, but now they have started to smile and say hello….I just figure, why not? We all have to be here together, we might as well be nice to each other. And it takes my mind off the pain.
    And there have been total selfish personal benefits from it, for sure. People are much more likely to help me out, give me a little extra. But mostly, it’s just made me a happier, friendlier person over all.

  58. posted by live on

    Gee Erin, did you dislocate your shoulder patting yourself on the back?

  59. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @live — I hadn’t meant to brag or come off as boastful. Definitely wasn’t my intent.

  60. Profile photo of

    posted by Jude2004 on

    I don’t find it necessary to learn people’s names, but when I’m dealing with anyone, perhaps especially peons at Walmart, I make an effort to treat them like human beings. At the grocery store, I recently congratulated Chris for “surviving another encounter with me.” Chris laughed. Chris is socially phobic, yet works with the public. As a fellow socially phobic person, I find it amusing to give him a hard time (which basically, you can do just by acknowledging his existence). Another checker, Dian, overheard me and said, “What do you mean? You’re always nice to me.” In response, I explained that I always give poor Chris a hard time, but to me, as I reminded her, she is still checker of the year (she was named that about 10 years ago) and who could give the checker of the year a hard time? So even though I happen to know their names, in general, I don’t use them. I notice the *people* and pay attention to them, not necessarily to their name tags and I don’t do it to receive better service, but, with luck, to make their miserable jobs go slightly better.

  61. posted by Joerg Daehn on

    THe reason for the naming problem is Dunbar’s number: http://www.cracked.com/article.....phere.html

  62. posted by S Lee on

    Great post. It is a great idea to learn people’s names. Everyone appreciates it. A smile and a hello go a long way and makes for a better day for everyone. β™₯

  63. posted by ecuadoriana on

    This is all great food for thought. Everyone makes a good point here whether one is from the “using first names is impolite in other cultures” camp or the “never hurts to just be polite” camp.

    I have worked in the service industry from time to time (to gather info for my artistic work and to occasionally supplement my income). I never felt comfortable having to wear a name tag (with my first name) on my breast. Many men seem to like to stare at a woman’s chest while saying her name- go figure. Male managers just don’t seem to understand how many women feel uncomfortable & vulnerable with this practice. I have had several instances where creepy guys called out my first name in the parking lot after work trying to get my attention- VERY uncomfortable & dangerous! I’ve for so long advocated for only using a last name on employee name tags, along with a prefix of Mrs., Ms., or Miss, if that is what the woman should prefer. Some creepy guy is less likely to try calling out your last name in a parking lot- especially if your last name starts with “Mrs.”! First name basis is too intimate for the service industry in my opinion- especially for women who would prefer to not have so much intimacy- cultural thing or not!

    Then there is the problem of managers who insist on speed over politeness towards customers, which I believe has made customers feel rushed to the point where it becomes the norm to hurry hurry hurry- and the customers subconsciously act accordingly! Customers don’t bother to be polite and relax because they are treated like cattle- hurry ’em in, get their money, hurry ’em out, make room for the next customer’s wallet! I’ve been reprimanded before for being friendly with customers (Good morning, Mrs. Smith! Did you find everything you need today? Oh, how is your daughter coming along with her wedding plans?…” all the while ringing up her purchases). Managers only see the customer as money- more customers in and out mean more money, as opposed to the idea that happy customers will return time and again to spend money in a certain establishment because they are respected and treated well. Customers pick up on this & subconsciously treat the employees like stupid, greedy automatons when more often than not it is the fault of the corporate goons looming over the heads of the “lowly employee” with an axe. (By now people may have read about the McDonalds assistant manager who was fired for allowing the football star to use the restroom after closing- they obviously only hired her back to downplay the negative publicity which translates into them losing money from particular segments of society that were poised to ban Mcdoanlds- the black community and football fans).

    And here is “dirty secret” that many people outside the service industry do not know: Most modern electronic and touch screen cash registers are on a timer. The computer times how fast or slow the cashier scans your item and the employee will be rewarded or reprimanded accordingly! This practice discourages the employee from making small talk with you. So, when you feel like the cashier is rushing you, please don’t take it personally. His/her job may be on the line based on how fast or slow he or she is scanning your huge, at times seemingly endless, pile of groceries or other merchandise!

    So, on one hand you may want to chat with the cashier or customer service person (phone call service is also timed!) to be polite, but at the same time you unknowingly risk costing them their job! I was recently reprimanded (during a holiday season temp cashier position) for telling a customer, who complained of feeling rushed, about the “dirty secret” of the cashiers being timed! I wasn’t supposed to tell the customers that! So now I spread the word whenever I can to help educate the public about this so they will see the other side of the coin (the one that the stores want to squeeze out of you at any cost!). I once had a frazzled counter service postal worker whisper-confess this “dirty secret of being timed” to me and I assured her that I fully understood her pain!

    This is such a quagmire we’ve gotten ourselves into! How will we ever be able to get out of it?!!

  64. posted by Mr Chrisjohn on

    I completely agree with everyone here. I also know about the cultural differences cause I’ve moved from Canada to the US. I didn’t know if it’s just me or not but I noticed the little difference in saying hi to someone without talking. In canada people I ran across tilted their head upwards to say hi to acknowledge them while in the states it’s a nod downwards to say hi without talking to acknowledge that person.

    I have to agree with the female clerks and their name tags. I’ve never worked as a counter clerk or as a cashier but having you first name on your tag is kinda bad for the fact that some men, think that having someones first name is a easy way to pick up a lady or hit on them. The thing about people repeating your name a few times is a memory technique alot of teachers from school and self help teachs say for a person to do in order to help them remember names. I went to a job search workshop in canada and was told that some employers like the fact that some people remember the employers name cause it show enthusiasm to work.

    Now for my two cents. I’ve always thought that being nice could always changed people from sad to happy, bad days to goods, not helpful to helpful so when I saw some commercials about that I always made a point of showing my three daughters it. 1 was from values.com a simple hi the othe ones are from liberty mutal which I loved their commercials about good deeds and how they are connected and are passed on. My other though is always be nice to people cause you don’t know what the future holds. I know the chances are like winning the lottery but your enemy now might be your boss tomorrow.

  65. posted by Daniel Chege on

    Remembering Peoples name is very instrumental in building relationships. Most people do not try to remember other peoples names because they subconciously think that they will never see them again.For example paying for groceries at WALMART, you do not bother to ask them their name or even take time to READ IT ON HIS NAME TAG. Another thing is, we do not want to know peoples name if we have to pay them. That is where the problem lies. Take time to know everyone you meet even at McDonalds drive through before they SPIT ON YOUR CHEESE BURGER, LOL πŸ˜‰
    – Daniel Chege.

  66. posted by Piper on

    I agree that learning the names of people you are in contact with regularly is good. If you see the same clerk every time you buy groceries, by all means built a rapport. I worked in a health food store where most customers were regulars, and many of them became friends after a while. When someone is a familiar face, I like to attach a name and a personality to that face. It made the work day go by easy, and the customers raved about our great service.

    However, there is another side to that coin. I work in a larger retail environment now, and it gives me a little shock every time a stranger uses my first name until I remember I’m wearing a nametag. When I have never met a person before, and they have no intention of “getting to know me” or even of introducing themselves, hearing them say “Tell me Piper, what’s your return policy?” is awkward. It’s false friendliness, and is strangely personal for such an impersonal setting. I realize that my name is hanging around my neck for the world to see, but that doesn’t make it less surprising to hear a complete stranger whom I’ll never see again say my name like we’re long-lost cousins.

  67. posted by BEka on

    I agree, I work at a gas station, and customers are much nicer if you address them by name. ANd on the flip side, I, the employee will be much more willing to go out of my way to help you , If you address me by name.

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