I was too caught up in the moment to spell it out.

I said “Karthik.” on the phone. There was a perceptible pause. She echoed, “Plastic?”

I let out a chuckle. And the lady at the other end joined in. We had a good early Saturday morning laugh while confirming a reservation.

And I was proud of myself. Self-deprecating endeavors lighten our heart.

I have come a long way. Once upon a time, I took my name seriously. The argument went – there is a reason my parents named me the way they did. What is the point in monkeying with it?

That was how my façade of argument went. Through the years, my respect for my parents never wavered. Somewhere along the way, my seriousness of keeping the bar high on name expectations diminished.

Why? I felt the same pain the other side felt.

One side of the coin – fMRI scans indicate that our brains light-up when our name is mentioned. The other side – remembering names of other people is tenuous. The most abstract thing ever.

I tried many tricks. Almost all failed. Somewhere along the way, I started connecting names in unusual (but less abstract) ways – from funny to practical.

3 productivity hacks to remember names

All examples are from my experiences [with tweaks to protect identities.]

1) Connecting with a famous name.

Recently, I met Niomi. I said aloud – “like Naomi Campbell?” She smiled. She told me “you can call me that full name- I would not mind.”

2) Connecting with words.

Hui-min helped me to remember her name. “we mean” as in “we mean business.”

3) Connecting with a story

Krste (same sound as Chris) shared the story that his parents wanted a name with no vowels in the middle.

If I hear just the name and no story – I make my own up. An Englishman named James Berry – I link his name to the river Thames with berrys falling into the river.

It takes me effort to remember people’s name. I can understand the predicament of others with my South Indian name.

I explain my name as “Car” – imagine me steering the imaginary steering wheel with my hands and “thick” like tree trunk. Almost always, people smile. They appreciate the help.

It is one thing to remember names, how to react when you misspell someone’s name. Plain sorry is one way to do it. The late humorist John Kande’s ideas brought a smile to my face.

Once he misspelled Cecelia as Cecilia. He acknowledged the error with a quick second email. “Oops, misspelled your name Cecelia. Sorry about that. Jhon.”

In math, a negative’s negative is positive. He intentionally misspelled his own name to add to the charm.

It is one thing to deliver other people names with thoughtfulness, what happens when you are at the receiving end?

3 cool approaches to react elegantly when your name is misspelled

1) Signoff differently.

Cooney (candid disclosure – no l) or Clare (without an i) is one way to do it.

2) If you have the heart, laugh it off. My experience – worth every positive angle.

I was helping out a new colleague. We were working on a file together. Wanted to send me a copy of the working file through email. Started typing CarThick – I chuckled. My mnemonic had worked. We chuckled. “Said that way, spelled differently,” is all I added.

Another time, I found that Karthik Rajas has a good ring tone to it. Rajan[my dad’s first name and my last name] means king. Rajas mean many kings in Tamil.

3) Making money with misspelled name

Beyond laughter, many take pictures of their misspelled name and post it online. Thanks to barristas – Starbucks has free ads.

Long names have value. Schlotzsky’s deli’s tagline is memorable –“Funny name. Serious sandwich”

Bringing it together: What is in a name?

Many good answers are available. My off-beat answer – efficiency. We say our name every-time we meet a new person. In return, we politely ask/listen to their names. We remember few. We like to recollect more. #WorkplaceProductivity at play here.

We do not think about this activity much. It adds up pretty fast. And makes us scurry for cover during key encounters.

A name is an abstract representation of who we are physically. And as the days glide by, three questions reside within each one of us.

1. How to react when someone misspells our name?

2. How to remember other people’s names?

3. How to help people remember our name?

Every name has a story, what is yours?

A dreamer who likes to connect dots,

Karthik Rajan. (only one n in the whole name!)

While reading this, if a thought crosses your mind, do add a comment.

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Link to my blogs here.