How To Not Talk To Someone About Their Name

4125yIn this country (the USA, where I’m writing from), I have what is considered an unusual name. It’s important to note that it’s unusual for this country; if you go to India there are plenty of Jayas and Saxenas all over the place, and you’ll be the one out of place with a name like Joseph Tabbert or whatever. What we consider “exotic” is extraordinarily objective, so before we get started, tattoo that into your brain. I do not assume most Americans will have heard my name before, or will know how to pronounce it. There are plenty of Western European names I cannot pronounce (and plenty of Indian names I can’t pronounce, for that matter), and nobody is expecting anyone to get everything right on the first go. What I get frustrated about, often, are follow up questions or inane, racially-coded commentary about my name that, I’m going to guess, the average Mackenzie is not subjected to. I know plenty of people with similarly “foreign” names that share my experiences, but also people with names just considered “unusual,” and thus, game for commentary. Here are a few things I think we’d all appreciate.

  1. Do not make name commentary the first thing you say to someone. Last week I wrote a humorous post about this for The Toast, and it got picked up on a MetaFilter board, where there were no shortage of people arguing about their free-speech right to talk about whatever they want, and PC culture, and how #millennials just need to lighten up, and how when they were kids they talked about their backgrounds and names all the time. NOBODY IS SAYING YOU CAN’T DO THAT. I too grew up in a diverse area and had lots of friends of different backgrounds, and I too spent many recesses talking about where my parents were from, where their parents were from, what our names meant, what other names our parents might have given us, and plenty more. You know why we talked about that? Because we were friends, and shared backgrounds and heritage are what friends talk about. What’s infuriating is when you introduce yourself to someone and the first thing they say is “Wow! What a strange name.” The explanation will probably come in time. Or it won’t, and you’ll live. (Or you can probably just Google it later.)
  2. If you see it written out, do ask how it’s pronounced. Again, nobody is expecting you to know every name in the world, and if you encounter a name you honestly don’t know how to pronounce, ask politely how, without any comment on how “it’s so long” or “you don’t see those letters together every day” or “seems foreign.” You can also try to give it your best shot, but follow up by saying “did I get that right?” That gives the name-haver (???) an opportunity to respond yes or no, rather than coldly having to interject and correct you. Similarly, if you need to know how a name is spelled, ask, and with no addition of “wow that’s easier than I thought.”
  3. Do not pre-emptively nickname someone. When my parents named me, they wanted something that reflected my heritage but that wouldn’t get nicknamed into something stupid. I love my name, but what sad reasoning! How unfortunate that we can’t trust each other to just call us what we want to be called, instead of seeing “Shivangi? I’m gonna call you Shishi.” And yes yes yes YOU may be very progressive and worldly and would never think to do this, but, people do. Again, if you’re friends for a while and a nickname naturally appears, go ahead, but if someone introduces you by their name, call them by that name.
  4. Do not inform someone where their name comes from. Go ahead and assume they know.
  5. Do not inform someone that their name is a burden to you. This comes in many forms. It could be by saying it’s complicated to pronounce, or doesn’t fit on their coffee cup. It could be in the form of a teacher that doesn’t study his new students name list, and on the first day rattles through the Amy Johnsons and Brian Smiths before pausing at yours. It could be the person balking when you introduce yourself, asking “what kind of a name is that?” or making an assumption about what your parents are like.

So, what should you do? My idea: Treat every name like it’s Sarah (or some similarly common name where you’re from). A common comment I get on my name that I’m sure lots of people think is innocuous, or even a compliment, is “wow, that’s so pretty!” And it is! I love my name and I think it’s very pretty. You know what are other pretty names? Jenna and Mary and Laura and Alexis, but they don’t get that commentary. You wouldn’t ask Sarah where her name is from, or where she is from. You wouldn’t ask her why her parents named her that. You wouldn’t tell Sarah she has such a pretty name, even though she does! Maybe start telling everyone they have pretty names and see how that feels. [Ed: I (Victoria) am told I have a pretty name allll the time. But the point still stands.] On a last note, somewhat related to this, I’d like to call for an end to the idea of “respectable” names, which is often just code for white, Western European names. You see this in lots of places, whether it’s the proof that resumes with black-sounding names get fewer callbacks than identical ones with white-sounding names, or people acting incredulous over the idea of a President Paisley. The worst, in my opinion, is saying “that name is made up.” Guess what? All names are made up! John was just made up a bit longer ago than Jaxon (maybe? I actually don’t know that.) So unless their parents have named them something like “Dick Johnson-Schlong” (please don’t do this), accept it and move on.

How to Deal When Someone Doesn’t Remember You

None of these people are going to remember anyone they met.

None of these people are going to remember anyone they met.

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

Would you consider writing a post about what to do when someone you’ve met before reintroduces themselves? Do you tell them you’ve met previously? Do you just smile and go with it? I imagine there’s different protocol for the person doing this whom you’ve only met once before, compared to the person who’s ‘met’ you for the fifth time.


Introduced Again and Again


Official Etiquette

Miss Manners says that you just politely remind people that you have met.


Our Take

Jaya: Was it you don’t remember meeting someone, or they don’t remember meeting you?

Victoria: They don’t remember meeting you was the question, but we can do both.

So this happens to me allll the time.

Jaya: Absolutely, on both sides. I’m usually not offended if someone doesn’t remember meeting me.

There are a lot of people out there! I’m not special

Victoria: Haha yeah! I think it’s fine, especially when you are meeting people in a crowd or its a dark bar situation.

Jaya: Yeah exactly If it’s going on like 5-6 times I’m also usually not offended, it just signals that I’m not gonna be best friends with this person, which is fine, I got friends. I’d be more offended if it were in a business situation.

Victoria: I think it’s totally fine to say “oh we met at such and such a place.” But I hate it when people are like “we’ve met” and are really short about it. It’s like, jeez sorry.

Jaya: Yeah, give someone a break! Plus that doesn’t help me, now I just know we’ve met but have no idea where.

Victoria: Oh and sometimes if it’s been a long time, and I knew they probably wouldn’t remember me, I won’t even say anything. I’ll just be like, it’s nice to meet you.

Jaya: Definitely. Also, if I get a sense I’ve met someone before but forget their name, I like having my husband or a friend nearby so I can be like “oh this is my husband Matt” and then he goes “Hi, nice to meet you, what was your name again?” and then boom, I remember their name.

Victoria: Hahah nice trick. Okay and then if you are the one who didn’t remember meeting them, I think it’s nice to apologize and then say something about being terrible with faces or whatever.

Jaya: Definitely. Or if they bring up the night you met and you remember it being particularly drunken/dark/hectic, mention that.

Victoria: Yes! Now, if this is like the 6th time you’ve forgotten them…..maybe just run away?

Jaya: But yes, if it’s the first time it’s happened, I don’t think you can really get mad. But yeah any more it’s like, this person is probably a jerk and you can avoid them. Or maybe has face blindness. Check that they don’t have face blindness first.

Victoria: And maybe do the super businessy thing of proactively saying peoples names when you meet them so you remember them.

Jaya: Ugh that never works for me. I do that every time I meet someone and repeat their name in my haed and then it’s immediately gone.

Victoria: Haha yeah, I don’t do names either. I just never say anyone’s name unless I’m yelling across a room to get their attention.

Victoria : Did you know that the princess of Sweden is face blind? That must be a nightmare in that position.

Jaya: I love how you just know the princess of Sweden is face blind.

Victoria: I am full of fun facts.

I think also if you forget someone but you sort of think you have met before you can just be like, hey how are you????

And then later be like omg this is so embarrassing I am blanking on your name.

Jaya: Yes! I pull “nice to see you” a lot when I’m unsure.

Victoria: Yeah, I am pretty good with faces but not with names.

Jaya: Definitely. I don’t know, I feel like everyone goes through this, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to be understanding when it happens.

Victoria: Yeah, totally. And I mean, if someone is just being obtuse about it and you’ve met ten times, just ignore them and write them off as someone awful that you don’t want to deal with.

Jaya: Absolutely, there are better things to focus on that one person who can’t be bothered with you.

Though again, if it’s in a professional setting it makes it harder.

Like if a partner at your law firm refuses to learn your name.

Victoria: Yeah, I was going to say, if it’s business and they are senior to you, just keep firmly introducing yourself to them through a smile with gritted teeth.

If they are junior to you, get them fired.

jk jk

Thank Goodness We Don’t Have to Do That Anymore: 1950’s Style Introductions

Be very mature and giggle at the author’s name. We’ll wait.

I have this great book called Etiquette for Young Moderns from 1954. It’s exactly what you would expect from a 1950s etiquette book for teens. And it starts out with how to make introductions.

The rules for introductions, according to this book, are pretty simple:

  1. You introduce men and boys to women and girls
  2. You introduce younger people to older people

This means that you say the name of the “socially superior” person first. Their charming examples:

Right: Mother, this is Chad Bowles.

Wrong: Chad, I’d like you to meet my mother.

Right: Mr. Walser, this is my kid brother, Bill.

Wrong: Bill, meet Mr. Walser, principal of Jefferson High.

They also list out acceptable and unacceptable phrases to use during an introduction.


  • I’d like to introduce
  • I’d like you to meet
  • This is…


  • Mostly this has to do with “giving orders” like, “meet” and “shake hands with”
  • May I present is considered too formal for most introductions

When you are introduced to someone, you simply acknowledge it with a “how do you do” or “hello,” but don’t use frilly phrases like “charmed.”

Men and boys must always shake hands when introduced to each other, but when a man is introduced to a woman, it is up to her to extend her hand first!

These rules are very similar to all the rules you will find in older etiquette books such as Emily Post. Like I said before though, I’m just happy if someone introduces people at all, without having to remember who is introduced to whom.


Nice to meet you! [Via Flickr user schluesselbein]

Introductions are one of those areas of etiquette that I see otherwise super polite people fall down on. I get it, because we get wrapped up in what we are doing and who we are talking to and forget to notice if we are leaving anyone out. But it’s really really awkward to be standing there while your friend talks to their other friend that you’ve just bumped into without introducing the two of you. Yes, you can and should introduce yourself if this happens, but be the bigger better person and introduce EVERYONE.

How to do introductions:

  • You are in a little group where you know all the other parties and they do not know each other.
  • You say, “Oh by the way, Millicent, this is Evelyn” they say hi and you move on and everyone is fine.


  • You are in a little group where you know all the other parties and they do not know each other. But you are hosting a party and need to mingle with your other guests.
  • You say, “Evelyn, this is Millicent- she went to college with me. Millicent, Evelyn plays on my recreational croquet league with me” And now they know something about each other and you can move on.

I am also a big fan of the walk into a big room of people and someone reels off everyone’s name. At least then you have been “introduced” and can reintroduce yourself later.

Whatever you do, just do something! I will tell you all about the crazy introducing rules that we don’t have to follow anymore on Friday.