Wednesday, January 24, 2007


How offensive is it not having your name remembered? It happened to me a couple of months ago when a casual acquaintance shouted 'Dave' across an empty room at me and got disgruntled when I didn't answer her. I wasn't terribly offended - in fact I was a bit relieved as the lady in question is a bit of hard work at the best of times - but I am often sensitive enough about getting other people's names wrong. Having worked as a teacher for the last few months, thus necessitating recalling the names of about seventy different people every week, I have made a few mistakes along the way, occasionally because of genuine absent-mindedness, occasionally because of a bizarre mental block regarding certain individuals. And then there are certain people whose appearances morph into those of their classmates, at least from their teacher's point of view. Of course it is ridiculous, especially considering that these very people barely know one another and they probably have little in common so to hear their teacher confounding them is as perplexing as it might be hurtful.

One class I had before Christmas included three French guys, all in their late twenties or early thirties, named Francois, Fabrice and Patrick, whose names, despite teaching them for six weeks, I could never place without recourse to a careful study of the attendance sheet and the respective types of pen and ink that they had used to sign it. In another class I more than once mixed up two middle-aged women, which caused them annoyance, and no end of embarrassment to myself. The other day I had my worst experience yet, worst because I had not forgotten the names of the students but I had nonetheless momentarily mistaken one for the other. And it looked worse still (or at least to my over-sensitive mind) because the two girls happened to be both black (and both sitting opposite each other in front of me); one was from Haiti and the other from the Central African Republic and both are, not surprisingly, noticeably different in both personality and appearance, but I still called the wrong name. True it is the only time I have mixed the two ladies up but I felt rather small at the time. Being stripped of your individuality is no doubt a difficult thing to take, and though the mistake seemed to be taken in good spirit by both - and by everyone else in the class - it still made me feel stupid. And there is the guilty idea that forgetting somebody's name reveals a blind spot that one would rather not have.