Introductions Deconstructed (Rules and Exceptions) – Part 2: Names

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“A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” – Dale Carnegie.

Welcome back! In Part Two of “Introductions Deconstructed,” we’ll focus on the importance of names in making introductions.

Saying and Remembering Names

Everyone enjoys hearing her name. Thus, it’s important to pronounce names clearly when making introductions. Don’t hesitate to ask someone to pronounce his name again; people are happy to ensure that their names will be pronounced correctly and don’t mind repeating their names or hearing their names repeated by someone else. Westerners frequently experience difficulty in pronouncing Asian, African and Middle Eastern names and vice versa. As a result, people whose names are difficult to pronounce in the country in which they live often adopt a nickname that people in their adopted country can understand. It is in line with the tenants of etiquette to make every effort to pronounce one’s native name, but if a person is comfortable with his nickname, it is acceptable to use it in everyday, informal, language. I’ll address this topic with respect to correspondence and formal invitations in a future entry.

Forgetting Someone’s Name

When you’re expected to introduce someone whose name you’ve forgotten, you may say something to her along the lines of, “Have you met Mary and Tom Andrews?” When Mary and Tom return the greeting, it is hoped that the person whose name you have forgotten will introduce herself and solve the problem. If not, you should be honest and apologize for drawing a blank and ask the person’s name, as in the following examples:

  • I know your name, but it has momentarily escaped me.
  • Forgive me, I know your name, but I’ve just drawn a blank.
  • I cannot believe that I have forgotten your name! Please remind me.
  • Please tell me your name again; I’m having a mental block!
  • I’m sorry, but I am having a senior moment (or blackout); please tell me your name. (Use this only if you are the eldest member of the group so that you do not offend a senior citizen.)

Forgetting a name happens to everyone and the key is to act quickly to resolve the problem and avoid prolonged awkwardness. When someone reminds you of his name, quickly say, “oh, of course!”  And, smile. Conversely, if you realize that someone has forgotten your name, be a hero and quickly introduce yourself and mention the connection, such as, “Hi, I’m Jake Haley – we met at Carley Hanson’s house.”

First Names Versus Surnames

When to call someone by his first name can be confusing; however, unless you are specifically invited to use someone’s first name, you should continue to address him by his title and surname, such as “Mr. Roberts.”  This applies especially to the following individuals:

  • A significantly older person.
  • A superior in one’s profession (unless it’s obviously the custom to use first names).
  • A business client, unless you are invited to call her by her first name.
  • A person of higher rank in government.
  • A professional offering you his/her services, such as a doctor or lawyer, who is not a personal friend (conversely, the professional should not call you by your first name unless you request that he/she do so)
  • Your friends’ parents.

When referring to someone that the person to whom you are speaking has never met, use the person’s full name rather than just the first name, and mention something identifying about her.  For example: “I spoke with Ann Lindstrom, who is our student body president, about forming a committee to clean up the Duck Pond.”

Spouses

When a woman retains her family name, include it in the introduction to ensure that she is properly addressed as “Ms. Smith” rather than “Mrs. Jones,” or as “Emma Smith” instead of “Emma Jones.”  When a woman who uses her own last name introduces her husband, she should include his last name so people will not call him by her family’s last name, that is, “this is my husband, Jack Jones.”

Introducing Yourself

Whether attending a social or professional gathering, meeting, conference, symposium, trade show or any function where there are people you don’t know, don’t hesitate to introduce yourself.  At parties and formal occasions, it’s the host’s duty to introduce his guests to one another; however, if the host is occupied with hostly duties, take it upon yourself to meet other the guests.  At a large social gathering, such as a wedding, bar / bat mitzvah, graduation, house warming, etc., it’s impractical to expect the host to introduce everyone. Similarly, at large professional events, it’s not expected that the organizers will introduce everyone. Accordingly, you must be able to mix and meet people on your own.  On such occasions, simply walk up to a person or group of people and say:

  • I don’t believe we’ve met; I’m Homer Simpson.
  • Hello, I’m Hermione Weasley, with the Ministry of Magic.
  • We’re Denny Crane and Alan Shore of Crane, Pool and Schmidt.
  • Excuse me; may I join your group?  I’m Ellen Evers, a friend of Mimi’s, and I’d love to meet some of her Syracuse friends.

Clearly state both your first and last names, but do not use your courtesy or honorific title, such as Ms., Mr., or Dr., President, Senator, etc. For example, medical doctors and Ph.D.’s show confidence and humility – two excellent and endearing characteristics – when they drop their titles and use only their names; their credentials and status will be revealed in due course.  An exception to this guideline may apply to the clergy:  “How do you do?  I’m Pastor Kettlemeyer.”

It is always helpful to mention something about yourself to help others remember you.  Whether you have an unusual name and want to help others remember it, or wish to mention your profession, others will appreciate the information. This technique is especially useful when you are introducing yourself to several people or an audience:

  • Good evening, my name is Nan Olson. I am an undergraduate student at Binghamton University.  My major is French Literature, and I plan to study in Paris next semester. My goal is to teach French literature and philosophy at a college or university.
  • Hello, my name is Paul Diddy, not to be confused with P. Diddy, the rapper. Although, I am a wrapper — the kind who you’re likely to find at the gift-wrap counter at Macy’s while working my way through law school.

When You Are Introduced

You want to ensure that you are introduced correctly.  If your introducer mispronounces your name, or otherwise gets it wrong, and / or communicates inaccurate information about your background, job or education – make the correction without embarrassing your introducer.

Examples (imagine saying these words with a warm smile):

  • Actually, Jan, professionally I use my own last name rather than my husband’s.
  • Jim is a good name, but my mother would insist that I ask you to call me James (laughing).
  • Oh, my name is pronounced, “Nancy,” even though I spell it as though it were pronounced, “Nance” (NANS).
  • Please call me, “A.J.” The only person who calls me, “Anthony,” is my great Aunt Iphegenia.
  • I’m glad to meet you, John. And, I happy to report that I’m now a vice president at Merrill Finch (when someone misstates your professional status).

There are, of course, many other situations in which your name might be mispronounced or otherwise said incorrectly, but you get the idea!

Until next time,

Jeanne

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