The importance of getting a name right

Published 9:03 am Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Column: Tales from Exit 22, by Al Batt

The significance of Easter is a celebration in itself. The food is fantastic, even for someone like me who doesn’t eat chocolate.

It’s interesting how people eat those ubiquitous chocolate bunnies. Some folks start gobbling at the ears and other people begin gnawing at the opposite end.

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That’s the reason why, when two chocolate rabbits meet, you’ll likely hear this conversation.

“My butt hurts.”


I was working in Minneapolis right before Easter. In the course of things, I stopped to get gas in Minneapolis because I wouldn’t have been able to get out of Minneapolis without stopping to get gas.

There I was, fueling my car while watching the numbers on the pump climb much too quickly and much too high.

I looked up from my position at the corner of the car and noticed a guy at the neighboring pump. I knew him, but my brain’s files were missing some important data. His name. It happens. A memory often ebbs before it flows. If a man could remember the name of everyone he’d ever met, he would not only be president, he would be king.

I couldn’t recall his name, but given enough hints, I figured I’d be able to.

I greeted him, “Why, hello.”

I figured he wouldn’t remember my name either.

He strolled over and shook my hand. “Hi, Al,” he said with a smile.

Rats! He remembered. I bet he remembered his name, too. Why couldn’t he be wearing a nametag? I told him that it was nice to see him again. I meant it. I asked him how he’d been. That’s an innocent inquiry that I hoped might produce some hints at forename recognition. I listened intently, trying to measure his voice with my ear, waiting for him to play an identification card.

He said that he was trying to shed a few pounds. He’d been exercising week after week for two weeks and hadn’t lost an ounce. He told me that he’d been divorced since the last time we’d talked. He added that he’d become a “wasband.” He blamed the divorce on his wife’s failed career. She’d been unemployed long enough that she’d been able to needlepoint her resume. She was always changing her mind. He kept hoping she’d get a better one in trade. He admitted that it didn’t help the relationship when he referred to her flabby triceps as “Hi, Helens” because they waved along with her when she greeted a friend. He should have stuck with calling them “bingo wings.”

Then he mentioned his dog, Lloyd.

As soon as he said that, I remembered the man’s name. It was Lloyd.

That’s right, he’d named his dog after himself. It wasn’t a case of narcissism. It just made it easier to remember the dog’s name. It’s not unlike getting married on one’s birthday so that anniversaries aren’t forgotten. These things make life easier.

How could I have forgotten Lloyd’s name? His wife, now his ex-wife, once told me that if Lloyd died first, she was having him cremated and his ashes put into the cat’s litter box.

I tried not to dance a jig when I called him by name. I was overjoyed to do so. If I were writing my memoirs, that would have been a moment worthy of a chapter.

Few words, if any, have more power than names.

My favorite word today is “serendipity.” It describes the faculty of finding valuable or agreeable things that weren’t sought.

Tomorrow, another word might be my favorite. It’s gratifying to find the right word. You don’t want to give your chimney a flu shot and have your flue cleaned at the clinic. A friend tells me that his favorite word is “OK.” That’s OK, but to most of us, our favorite word is the name to which we answer. We like hearing our names — usually.

Hearing your name in a courtroom might not be good. Or hearing the coach say, “Batt, that’s the third quarterback we’ve had carried off on a stretcher this game. Get in there and run this play — Red 123, split right.”

It’s important that a name is correct. That’s a challenge with the endless spellings and pronunciations of names. Getting names wrong is a life’s constant we strive to overcome.

Our memories do not always perform with distinction. If you are of a certain age (it’s up to you to decide what a “certain age” is), you should love your memory as it is now.

In 20 years, it’s going to seem very good.
Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.