Frankly, I don’t know why church folks have such a love-hate relationship with me. I serve one of the most important functions in a congregation. I help you remember each other’s names. If names were not important, I’d be out of a job in no time. I am of special help to pastors and lay persons who are new in a church, like Laurie Haller. I am a nametag.
The truth about human beings is that most of you don’t have eidetic (photographic) memories. I hear you stutter and stammer.
“I’m sorry. I forgot your name.”
“Yes, I know you introduced yourself to me several times already over the past few weeks. But there are lots of other names clamoring to be stored in my brain, too. Thank you for your patience.”
“Hi, my name is Laurie. I know I should know your name, but I confess I don’t. Who are you, anyway?”
I also see you studiously avoid talking to church people you’ve been around for ten years because you are ashamed to admit that you still can’t call them by name. I feel your pain, especially when other people good-naturedly embarrass you by making you go around the table and guess everyone’s names. There is a solution, however. Me. The nametag.
Why are name tags important? One simple reason: names are important. Since the beginning of oral and written history, people have had names. In ancient times, names were derived from location or occupation, were inherited, or were descriptive of a person’s nature rather than just a pleasing collection of sounds.
In the Old Testament, biblical names recorded some aspect of an individual’s birth, expressed the nature and function of a person, or communicated a message from God. The occasional giving of a new name indicated a new beginning in someone’s life.
The word Jesus has the same meaning in Greek as the Hebrew name, Joshua: “The Lord saves.” Hence the angel’s words to Joseph in Matthew 1:21: “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Jesus ministered to so many people that I’m certain he had to wear a nametag at times. Eventually, he memorized his disciples’ names, but what about the feeding of the 5,000? I was there, pinned to his tunic as well as everyone else’s.
As Christianity grew, Christian parents were encouraged to name their children after saints in the church. As non-Christians were converted, names of native saints and martyrs were added to the Christian pool of names. Today, most names have no special significance except for the fact that they are your names. They are an announcement of identity. You honor other people by knowing and calling them by name.
Dogs and cats respond when they are called by name. In recent years it has been discovered that even dolphins have names that they give themselves and use often. Because sound is the best way to communicate in water, dolphins have a distinct whistle by which they identify themselves. And when a dolphin wants to connect with another dolphin, it will call that one’s “name” (Sally), to which the other dolphin will respond, “Yes, it’s Sally.”
The primary secret of anyone who is in sales is repeatedly calling people by name. When other people use your name, you are more inclined to connect with them and be open to their sales pitch. For example, when you get a letter from your church, are you more apt to read it if says, “Dear Laurie” or “Dear church member”? Every organization worth its salt personalizes critical communication, whether by email, letter, or social media. It almost makes you believe that American Express, Comcast, and Costco really do care about you!
That’s where I come in. Nametags help you remember other people’s names so that eventually the name will stick in your memory and you will be able to make a better connection with them. I can be simple or very creative. I can stick on, clip on, pin on, and hang on. I can even be a fancy magnetic nametag that doesn’t ruin your clothing.
Great organizations, including churches, understand the value of nametags. When the organizational culture includes nametags as a matter of course, no one is ever embarrassed again because everyone wears a nametag all the time. The truth is that calling people by name recognizes others by acknowledging their uniqueness. Dale Carnegie said it best: “There is no sweeter sound to any person’s ear than the sound of their own name.”
Of course, you can’t use me as a crutch forever and will eventually have to learn the names of others in order to be successful. Remember how you feel when someone forgets your name? No one likes to be forgotten. The good news is that there are a few tricks to learning names.
- Remember to listen closely. The most common reason for forgetting someone’s name is that you are not really paying attention. You may be thinking about what you are going to say next and are not focused.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for the name again right away if you didn’t catch it the first time. The longer you wait the more uncomfortable it is to ask a second time.
- Repeating the person’s name back to them multiple times in the conversation reinforces the name. Continually repeat the name in your head as well.
- Associate the name with a distinctive feature of that person’s face, an object or animal that has the same first letter, or a word that rhymes.
- To reinforce the name, write it down.
Naturally, my suggestion is that everyone wear a nametag where the name can be clearly read and seen. Keep looking at me – the nametag – and eventually the name will stick. My other counsel is to be patient with yourself and others, especially at church. It takes new pastors a long time to learn names. You just have one name to remember, but they may have to learn hundreds and even thousands of names.
If you don’t mind my saying so, wearing a nametag may even help you uncover your true self as a child of God. Isaiah passed along the promise of God to Israel and to you (43:1): “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Life is a process of becoming who God has already created you to be. Subconsciously, you already know that, but as Richard Rohr has said, “Life is not a matter of creating a special name for ourselves, but of uncovering the name we have always had.”
So why is it that you balk about putting on a nametag? What’s the big deal? Too impersonal? Children don’t seem to have a problem wearing a name tag. Not stylish enough? Create your own unique nametag. Can’t seem to remember where you put it? Buy several nametags at a time.
There is no sweeter sound to any person’s ear than the sound of his or her own name. So … wear me … a nametag.