What’s your name?

My daughter’s consistent question whenever we encounter people is “Mama, what’s his/her name?” To which the majority of time I reply, “Honey, I have no idea.”

And my own answer left me feeling like something was missing. Some connection. Some opportunity. Something . . .

So I began adding to my reply, “But we can ask, if you want.”

I think about why I don’t bother to know people’s names. I take great care to get off of my cell phone when I am checking out at the grocery store or ordering my coffee at Starbucks. But I rarely make use of the nametag pinned on for my reference.

Joan Chittister in “Listen with the Heart: Sacred Moments in Everyday Life” says this:

Naming is clearly a holy act, an act of creation. It begets identity. . . There is no greater extinction than not to be called by name. What we do not address directly does not exist for us. And the people who are not being addressed know it.

I imagine Jesus traveling on his journeys referring to people by their names. An act which signified intimacy, care, and respect. And yet most of the time, I am too busy to even read that little nametag and speak to someone using his or her name.

So I began an experiment. I started easy on myself. For those people whose names were identified for me, I used them. In the grocery store check out line, I thanked the cashier by name. When I ordered food at a restaurant, I greeted the server by name. And so on. The results were certainly varied. Some people didn’t seem to notice; perhaps because they are used to hearing their own names called. Some people looked at me a little funny; maybe the intimacy was a little too much. But many people responded by a question or a comment: they engaged in conversation with me. Just one example: The lady at the gym shared about her son with sickle cell anemia and the courage of his brothers who were being tested to see if they were a match for a transplant. Wow! I never would have known if I hadn’t stopped to engage her. Now I can pray for her and have a reason to follow up later.

So I’m curious. Anyone experimented with name-calling (the good kind!) recently?



  1. Hmmm…the good kind. ummm….Well, back when I delivered pizzas I would often forget my name tag on my dresser, so I’d just grab one from the Medium-sized Box O’ Name Tags. As far as I can recall the only time anyone called me by by name tag name was when they wanted me to make a beer or cigarette run for them (“Dude, uhhhh…Chester/Ralph/Caesar/Jim/Bob…you’re already in your car, here, go buy me some cigs.”) , and this one night when the random name tag from the box said “Juanita.” I am pretty sure every delivery called me Juanita that night. πŸ™‚

    Oh, and as my dad would say when I was young, when you don’t know an adult’s name they are Ma’am or Sir πŸ™‚

  2. Stopped by to say I absolutely loved meeting with you this morning! I know I talked way too much (I have a tendency to do that when I meet a kindred spirit). Hopefully we can do it again (except I’ll bring duct tape).

  3. As I’m reading your post, the song “He Knows My Name” is running through my mind.

    I’m also thinking about speaking the names of God, and how we can call HIM by name. … El Roi, the God who sees Me, comes to mind.

    Yes, the God who seems Me, also knows my name!

    Thanks for sharing, spaghettipie girl. I’d call you by your real name … if I knew it. πŸ™‚

    Jennifer Dukes Lee, ‘cuz that’s my name

  4. I like addressing clerks by their names, too. I wonder if they think I’m checking their name, just to report a problem. We (my Mrs & I) have made friendly with a few folks we see on a regular basis. Plus, I like it when, after swiping my credit card, the clerk addresses me by my name.

  5. I’ve played with this a little. I grew up in a small midwest town where everyone knew everyone. The NYMetro area is NOTHING like that place. I’ve found I miss it. A little. πŸ™‚ So I’ve tried to get to know the people we see regularly at the dry cleaners, the grocery store, etc. I’ve had the same reactions as you — some of annoyance and some of appreciation.

    I like the quote you gave. It’s true. Think about how much time and consideration we put into naming our children or even our pets!

  6. meh

    Oh, I love this post. There is such a feeling of…care, I guess…when someone uses my name and it is unfortunately a weakness of mine. I have the hardest time remembering people’s names. But your post has encouraged me to to keep plugging away and to expand it to the many people who help me out during my day.

  7. spaghettipie

    M – What, you wore a fake nametag??

    H – You crack me up. I had a great time chatting with you!

    JDL – You bring up a great side of this whole concept.

    C – That’s something missing in our culture today. We’re too busy being connected to others not in our physical presence. I just heard the author of Why We Hate Us on NPR the other day discussing this very thing. Perhaps I’ll get the book and review it here!

    TD – We do put a lot of time into naming our own, so why don’t we realize that others did the same for their children (etc), and use them?

    MEH – Keep plugging away! It makes a difference. At the same time, don’t feel defeated for plain not being good at remember names. πŸ™‚

  8. Mrs. Spaghettipie,

    When I forgot mine at home, yeah I wore a “fake” or at least a non-“Mike” nametag. Which was a lot of the time, because if I forgot and left it on when I washed the shirt it would end up in the washer or dryer, and if I remembered and took the nametag off before washing I would forget to grab it from wherever I laid it down.

    I guess I’ll be the one going against the grain, but I don’t like all the forced intimacy and forced casualness we are all doing now. If I am specifically invited to call someone I don’t know by their given name or nickname I will; that’s common courtesy. If your given name is Michael but you prefer to be called Jim, then that’s cool, I’ll call you Jim if you ask me to. But if not, then I’ll stick to Mr. Whatever, or the more generic “Sir.” For me to presume otherwise seems rude and in a business environment or transaction seems unprofessional and disrespectful.

    I called my barber Mr. Picket for years until he asked me to call him Chuck. It felt good to be invited to do so, like he’d invited me into his house. To just presume to call him Chuck without being invited feels like breaking into his house, raiding his fridge, and putting my feet up on his coffee table.

    I like the bank to call me Mister, it conveys professionalism. I’m not leaving my money with a buddy to hide under his mattress, I’ve left it in a respectable place that will take care of it properly. When the cashier looks at my card and calls me Mike that annoys me, even though if he calls me Mr. Mike, I say “Oh, just call me Mike.” And I’m not going to call the cashier Jim or Mary just because they have a nametag on, I’m going to treat them and their job with some respect and say Sir or Ma’am, unless they ask me to call them something else. And I’m not going to hold up the line and waste everyone’s time by engaging in chit chat with the cashier as that is disrespectful to the cashier and to the other customers: I’ll get in and out quick and then he or she can engage in chitchat with their co-workers if they want to because there is not a long line of customers waiting.

    I’ve often thought that rather than given names the nametags at stores should have the clerk’s last name, much like how the uniform of our soldiers does not say Jim or Bob, but Johnson or Schwarzkof. Then as I gather up my purchases to leave and the clerk thanks me, I could say “You’re welcome, Mrs. Smith.” She could then say, at her choice, “Oh, call me Nancy.” And we’ve made a connection there, she’s invited me to use her given name. Or she may not, and that’s cool, too. And then the next time I am in her checkout line I can greet her by name, assuming I remember it, and I am not just reading it off her name tag, and there is a real connection there, not a fake one. That, to me, seems a better and more civil way than what we do now.

    One last thing: we do need to figure out a better place to put nametags, as cashiers and even wait staff are usually moving around a bit, requiring more than just a glance at the whole chestular area to be able to read the tag, and if it’s an unusual name it can take a while of looking at it to figure out how to pronounce it, or perhaps the angle is just not right and I can’t tell what exactly the name tags says, and the whole time one is staring at someone else’s bosom, which can be uncomfortable for the stare-ee and for the stare-er as well. Or that might just be me, dunno.

    Best wishes to you and your family.




  9. Krista

    I like doing this when I can but when some stranger does that to me at work– like looks at my tag and then at me and calls me “Krista” it sort of freaks me out.

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