It has happened to all of us at one time or fifteen. You’re at a work function, about to introduce a colleague to the person you have been chatting with, and then hesitate as you realize that you can’t remember the person’s name. I have just discovered (with some delight) that the Scottish have given a name to this specific form of tortured hesitation. You, my friend, have just “tartled”.
Tartle recovery: apologize and move on
When you forget someone’s name, there are only two things to remember: (i) be honest; and (ii) stay cool. It will only be a big deal if you make it a big deal. Just say quietly to the person, “I’m sorry, I have forgotten your name.” When Elizabeth Bennett says her name, you can proceed. “Of course, Elizabeth, I’d like to introduce Fitzwilliam Darcy.”
There will be times when you are tempted to fuss. You manage to forget her name at every one of these things. Or you’ve worked with her for two years and have gone blank in your nervousness. Or she is a Big Cheese and she just introduced herself to you two minutes ago. Whatever you are feeling, though, you must resist the temptation to fuss. It will only embarrass the person further, and further highlight your gaffe. If you need to quieten your inner critic, (silently) promise it that you will write “I will not forget Elizabeth Bennett’s name ever again” 100 times after the event. Then let it go.
Don’t fake it, just in case you don’t make it
The most common trick I have heard for dealing with a forgotten name is to try and delegate the introduction to the others. For example, if you can’t remember Elizabeth’s name, saying, “Hello again. Let me introduce you to Fitzwilliam Darcy.” or “Nice to see you again. Have you two met?” I don’t think the risks you take here are worth it. First, the risk that one or both do not complete the introduction, which leaves you in even more of a pickle. Second, the risk that even if they do complete the introduction, your fakery is evident to Elizabeth and has caused her embarrassment that could have been avoided by being honest and low-key.
Two ounces of tartle prevention, and one ounce of cure
Wear your name tag where people can easily find it and see it in a moment of tartle panic. It should he high up on your right side, just below your shoulder, because this is a natural place for someone’s eyes to rest when they shake (right) hands with you.
When you approach someone at an event, help them out by leading with your full name and reminding them where you last met.
If someone forgets your name, and seems flustered by it, throw them a bone. A simple, “please don’t worry, it happens to me all the time,” will do. Heck, you can even tell them about this cool new Scottish verb you learned.