Names are worth the effort to remember

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at

It’s a family favorite, one of my father’s best known stories.

A former governor of North Carolina was making political rounds in the state, shaking hands, kissing babies, and gener­ally trying to impress the voters.

One old fellow came up to Governor Cherry, took him by the hand firmly, and started pumping.

“It’s good to see you again,” the governor said. “Glad you’re here.”

“What’s my name?” asked the old-timer.

The governor clearly didn’t know the man’s name and tried to avoid the issue.

“Surely is good to see you,” the governor said reassur­ingly, trying to ignore the man’s question.

“What’s my name?” the man insisted, still holding and pumping the governor’s hand.

Again, the governor deflected the question, attempting to move on to the next person.

But the man held on, locked his eyes and asked a third time.

That did it.

Red-faced with frustration and anger, Governor Cherry announced, “Somebody tell this danged nut his name and send him on his way!”

We can understand both persons. Sometimes it is hard to re­call names and match them with familiar faces. Many of us depend on the ability to connect and maintain new relationships as part of our work life success, yet we still struggle to recall names.

But we can also identify with the old gentleman. Our names are im­portant to us. They stake-out the little spots we occupy in this vast universe.

I appreciate the classic story about a mother’s reaction to the census tak­er who asked her how many children she had.

“Let me see. There’s Agatha, and Jonathan, and …”

But the census taker interrupted her. “Never mind the names,” he said with irritation. “Just give me the number.”

“In our family,” the mother stated indignantly, “the children do not have numbers; they have names!”


One of my pet peeves is the way some health and educational professionals refer to parents, especially in routine meetings. Instead of learning our names, they refer to us as generic “mom” or “dad.”

“Mom says Susie had a fever last night,” the nurse tells the physician in the child’s annual exam.

“Mom says Johnny is having homework trouble,” the teacher announces at a regular team meeting.

“My name is Becky,” I want to shout. I am not “a” mom. I am THE mom of your patient or student and have been for a while. I know your name. Can you take the time to learn mine?

Names are important. In this day when you are asked your Social Security num­ber even before your name, it’s important to hang on to your name. And it’s important to make every effort to hang on to other people’s names. Their names are as important to them as yours is to you.

As the holiday season approaches, why not surprise that elderly lady, that busy clerk, or that small child with a gift they will never forget. Learn his name, her name or their names…and say it with a smile.