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Marks My Words: First names first

How often do you use your friends’ first names? Now that you think about it, is it really that often? You only have to use their name if you want get their attention from across the dining hall, right? You could probably go for days, weeks or even months just by using “dude” instead.

There’s probably nothing wrong with this at all. But sometimes, rather than not use a name for someone you know, you have to choose whether to use a name for someone you don’t know. Was that too confusing? Here’s the story.

A few weeks ago I had a phone interview. It was conveniently arranged for me via email a few days in advance, and the mysterious woman at the other computer informed me that I’d be speaking with “George.” And so, when I lugged myself out of bed at 8:45 a.m., I was prepared to pick up the phone for a nice, early 9 a.m. chat with George himself.

At 9:01 a.m., the phone rang.

“Hello?” I knew exactly who it would be, but obviously I couldn’t open with, “Hey you must be the guy from _________, right?” So I left it at hello.

“Hello, is this Miriam?”

“Hi George! Yes, this is Miriam.” Yes, I had jumped the gun a little bit. I used his name before he introduced himself. But come on, I was pretty excited to know that it was George on the line, and not some random wrong number.

There was a pause.

“Wow, you just called me ‘George,’” the voice said. Oh no, I had blown it. He probably went by “Jorge” or “Georgey” or “G-money,” and I had already brought back some terrifying childhood memory when the kids made fun of his name. I didn’t know what to say.

“Um…yes? Is that okay?” It was the worst response I could’ve come up with. I wanted to crawl under my desk (not that it mattered because I was alone in my room). I wanted to hang up the phone.

“I’m just surprised…” What was he surprised about? Maybe my voice didn’t sound like what he expected, maybe I butchered the pronunciation of his name, maybe maybe maybe…

“…No one has ever called me by my name in an interview!”

I should’ve been able to tell by his tone that he was happy about this strange turn of events, but I stupidly kept it going.

“Oh! Well is it okay that I did? Did you like it?” If I hadn’t semi-blown it before, I certainly had now.

Thankfully, he chuckled. “Yes, that’s not a bad thing.”

The rest of my interview with George went pretty well. And since our chat, I can’t help but think about his pleasant surprise at my use of his name.

We hadn’t physically met, and yet the mutual use of first names was unexpectedly significant. It makes sense. Thinking about people in terms of their names tends to remind us that they’re individuals too–they’re not just the cashier, the waitress or the nameless phone interviewer.

Obviously it might be impractical to go around pointedly using all of your friends’ first names. But maybe it won’t hurt to slip them into conversation a little bit more, to add the ever-so-slight intimacy that comes with first name usage.

If this sounds crazy, think about how you feel when someone forgets your first name. It’s kind of annoying, right? You feel that nagging insecurity that you must not be special enough for them to remember you. Maybe your outfit was too plain or your personality was too boring. Or maybe you need a more interesting name, something short and catchy like “Miriam.”

If you’re one of those people who’s bad with names, don’t be afraid to let it be known with an advance warning. Because otherwise, you might get yourself in a bad situation.

A friend of mine was once at a party, obtaining one of the infamous mixed drinks readily available at the Phi Psi bar. Turning around, she found that a guy had smoothly sidled up to her and opened with a relatively lackluster pick-up line. But it got worse: then he asked her name.

The problem? She had met him before… five times before. And yet somehow she had never been as interesting to him as she was on that particular Friday night.

And so, never forget the value of using a first name. It can help you get a job, help you make a friend, and it can probably save you some embarrassment.

If you remember her first name, go ahead and send Ms. Marks an email, using [email protected]

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