Estimates regarding how many people the average person meets in their lifetime range from 10 to 100,000. Regardless of the exact figure, it is inevitable that we will each encounter a vast range of new people in our lives. And so, it is equally inevitable that we will each face several hundred names in our lifetime and, for those who are as useless as me, this is really rather a struggle.
All too often, I stand in front of a class and ask each of them to tell me their names. By the time I hear the fifth name, I have already forgotten the previous four. Those with common names slip into the ‘unregistered’ category, whilst those with more complex names fall into the ‘what was that?’ section, lost forever. Given an hour or two and I might remember the naughty kids’ names. Given a third I might even remember a few others. And yet, try as I might, it is rare that I remember even half of their names by the end of term.
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This same, terrible failure of the memory occurs in many other environments: a new group project, a new job, a party. Everywhere there are names to learned. Faced with such a task, it is easy to enter the territory of simply not caring; of wondering why on earth any of it matters.
From a distance, I don’t suppose that names really do matter. It is entirely possible to maintain a conversation with someone without knowing their name. We talk to strangers everyday, thanking them for opening doors or blessing them when they sneeze. Life can occur without any naming at all.
Despite all of this, we still have names. They are treated as a basic human right. Why do we go to all of this effort only to spend our lives feeling guilty for our inability to recall such names?
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But, contrary to all that I’ve said, names mean really rather a lot. When someone remembers your name, it is because they have taken the time to do so. They have consciously decided that you are worth remembering, not as an action or as something that you said, but as you. It means that they listened to you and cared, even just for a moment, about what you had to say.
An individual’s name is what makes them more than just a fleck of paint on the coloured wall of our society. Names lift us out of the ever-moving, never-caring world and into someone’s personal, caring bubble.
Names are hard to remember, but they matter, more than we could ever care to realise. For, whilst our names do not dictate who we are, they do give others the ability to show that they care about who we are. That is a right that everyone is entitled to.