This is the time of year when I forget the names of my children.
Like Porky Pig I stutter through every name in the family until I land on the right one. And even then, sometimes I don't get it right. Abee Ceebie Deebie Eeebie Rider, stop throwing the football in the house before you break a lamp!
Rider is our cat.
It is the time of year when we are all still searching for routine, when social activities introduce kids and parents into our lives like an algae bloom, when new and old acquaintances regularly flash into our consciousness as if we are peering into the windows of a fast moving commuter train.
It's a lot of people to keep track of.
My kids think misplacing names has something to do with age, but even they make mistakes. They come bounding down the stairs looking for their cleats and scream at me. Mom, I can't find my . . .
I correct them with some helpful clues. Dad: low voice, big forehead, hairy legs. Mom: long hair, attractive, patient.
It turns out mistaking the names of loved ones is quite common. It is called the Bob Syndrome, named after noted psychologist Ernest Von Something-or-Other, who in his book, My Name Is Not Bob, argues that familial name displacement is positively correlated to the size of the nuclear family. Sadly, the author was an only child.
But this doesn't explain why I juggle the names of my youthful subjects, yet have total recall for their objects. In my misplaced directives to the kids I never stumble over whether they are throwing a football a baseball a basketball or a boomerang, or whether they are about to hit the lamp the vase the window or the cat. I just get their names wrong.
The truth is I am pretty good at remembering names—even at large social gatherings. I find paying attention helps.
For example, when someone pops before me at a party I quickly cram the hors d'oeuvre I have just been handed into my mouth, politely shake their hand, and concentrate on their name instead of say, the hot Chinese mustard that is dribbling down my chin or the fact that my tongue has just burst into flames.
I also find I remember names if I spell them out in my head. B-O-B. Nice to meet you Bob!
But often people have exotic names from distant parts of the world like Mongolia or Mozambique or Cleveland and I have to ask them to repeat their names several times. S-X-A-R-U-J—is it OK if I call you Bob?
Sean is the worst name in the world. Nobody knows how to spell it, not even the people who use it.
There are other ways to remember names too, but I often forget these tricks when I need them. Once I tried a name memory trick at a large social event only to realize later that it was the method used to ease jittery nerves when speaking in front of people. Whenever I met someone I tried to imagine them with no clothes on. It's a pleasure to meet you, Harry!
Thankfully, I didn't meet his wife.
Of course nothing works in loud settings where people have to cup their hands to their mouths when they speak. Hi, my name is Smfffgiry. What? Smfffgiry! WHAT? SMFFFGIRY! OH, PLEASED TO MEET YOU SHAWN, HOW DO YOU LIKE THE GREEN DAY CONCERT?
My name is so common that I help people out when I introduce myself. Hi, my name is John, J-O-Q-N. The Q is silent I tell them. This makes people laugh and helps distinguish me from all the other Johns in the world. They smile warmly and shake my hand. Pleased to meet you Shaun, they say.
My wife and I ran into a couple at a restaurant recently. I could vividly remember meeting the husband from a recent social event, but his name took some time to bubble up. Sean? Smifffgiry? Bob?
Then he waved me over. John with a Q! Hey, good to see you again. It's Harry. Remember? I don't think you met my wife Fannie. . .
I will never forget their names again. Ever.
Of course, I don't really forget the names of my children; they just go missing temporarily, like sanity. So sometimes I just call them You Guys even when I am talking to one. Hey You Guys, don't throw the basketball in the house or you will break the window!
OK Mom, says my daughter.
It's the time of year when I start to call my daughter Sweetie, my sons Buddy or Pal, and my wife Honey because well, that's how I feel about them.
And I never mix them up.