What’s in a name?

| Vincenzo Randazzo | May 17, 2017 | 1 Comment

You know the feeling: You are being greeted by a lot of familiar people, they all know your name and you’ve forgotten theirs.

It’s the worst.

This happened to me recently: I walked into a venue to see my friend perform in her band, and I hear, “Hi Enzo!” I turn and I see a familiar face, but I cannot put a name to it.

It seems that when Minnesotans forget someone’s name, they are much more likely to pretend they know and just say, “Hey … you!” or something. But I, being from Michigan, tend to gamble: “Hey — Dan?” I said.

“Nope” he replied.

“Philip?”

No, he said, now looking a little offended.

“I am sorry. Remind me of your name,” I said.

“Think ‘archangel,’” he said.

“Mike! Of course, Mike. I remember now.”

Thank God he didn’t tease me and say, “No, my name is Gabriel,” because I honestly didn’t actually remember — his hint made it obvious.

I then sat down with Mike, who proceeded to name everyone around me and tell me about them. I’d met him just a couple of times, and not only did he know my name — first and last — he could recall my work and the last conversation we had.

Mike struck me as being full of love and interested in others. I don’t know for sure, but he also struck me as a man who prays. I asked him how is it that he’s so good at memorizing names. He said to me simply, “I care about the people I meet.” I was embarrassed because I knew my forgetfulness wasn’t because I lack a God-given gift, it was because of my lack of love.

Later in the week, I heard a homily where the priest emphasized memorizing people’s names as an act of love. That priest, whom I know personally, is probably the best name-memorizer I’ve ever met. But he didn’t speak of memorizing names as an end, he spoke of it as a means to better love our neighbor.

I began thinking about Mike and all the people in my life who seem to have this skill. It occurred to me that many of the people I know who are “good at names” are priests, and so I wondered if there is a correlation. Priests care about and pray for people — it’s their job — and people who care about you and pray for you are people who know your name.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda, himself very good at memorizing names, asked the men at the Archdiocesan Men’s Conference in March to make a daily examination of conscience. Prior to his words I thought of the examination as merely going through the Ten Commandments — which is a good examination — but the archbishop raised the bar: “In your examination each day, do not just look at where you were sinful, but look for where God was present in your day and how you responded both positively and negatively.”

This, he said, would enable us to become men of contemplation and men of action, and men who better love others. I’ve since realized that must be how Archbishop Hebda memorizes names: He thinks and prays for the people he encountered in his nightly examination.

I have tried to do the examination in this way every night. It’s a hard discipline to keep. But when I do it, I look at how God has blessed me during the day and the blessings inevitably involve people. It requires me to put names to faces, which requires me to care for them and to pray for them.

In this way, memorizing names is no longer the end goal, but a secondary means for what ought to be the main goal: to better love our neighbor. If we men are going to grow in love for others, we ought to take to heart Archbishop Hebda’s challenge to examine our conscience every night.

Randazzo is an evangelization manager in the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and director of development at St. Stephen in Minneapolis.

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Category: Catholic Watchmen

  • Jeff Reither

    Great advice. First I am going to start with my kids names. I am always impressed with those who have the gift of remembering people’s names. Your nightly examination and daily prayer for those in need, by name, will help. Thanks Steve. Sorry. Thanks Enzo.