Don’t worry, this isn’t another piece on how many times people mispronounce my name or ask me what my nickname is – though, I do particularly relate to and enjoy those. This is about the importance of making an effort to learn someone else’s name.
The other day, my mother sent an article to our family chat about a boy who got into college because he submitted a letter of recommendation from his school janitor. He had the same SAT scores, roughly the same application with the same accolades, and the typical college essay. He was a great candidate for the school, but so were the other thousands of kids that had applied. The letter talked about how kind of person this boy was and how the janitor appreciated having him as a friend in school. He made an effort to learn everyone’s names and help wherever he saw himself needed. And that’s how he got into his desired college over the other applications. It reminded me how unfamiliar something like that – niceness – is these days, but how common it should be. I know at times I’m aggressive, but when I get the opportunity to be nice, I almost always take it. It got me thinking of something I learned when I was in elementary school.
One day after school in 1st grade, I came home raving about the cool “thumb falling off” trick our elementary school “cleaning man” (elementary school vocabulary for “janitor”) used to show us in the hallways. He’d show us his ten fingers, then ball his hands together, and gently blow on his fists – and when he’d pull his hands apart his thumb would come off! As I got older, I realized that this was a common things adults do to fool little children and entertain them by simply bending both thumbs and bringing them together, then placing a finger over the crease and pulling away – so it looks like their thumb is coming off. It reminds me of him every time I see someone do it.
See Exhibit A below for what I just tried to poorly explain in words:
Anyway, I came home and it was all I could talk about. My dad, being the lesson teacher that he is, responded with, “Cool! What’s his name?” His name? What does his name have to do with his awesome thumb abilities? “You see him every day – what’s his name?” “I don’t know his name, Baba,” I responded timidly because now I could sense I was in trouble. For what, I wasn’t sure. Because I was so young, he went easy on me with this lesson – “You see him every day. You should ask him his name. His name matters just as much as your teacher’s. Make sure you learn everyone’s name you meet in life when you get the chance to.” He also emphasized the importance of treating everyone equally no matter their corporate status in life – or lack of one. I think it’s why I have no problem talking to anyone these days. I could have the same conversation with the principal of my school or a teacher as I would with one of my girlfriends. Same goes in the business world, I speak to executives the way I speak to the man who empties my garbage can and cleans my desk every night – whose name is Luciano, by the way. And we get each other birthday presents and Christmas cards. Every so often, I’ll leave a Post-It note in English for him before I leave at night, which I’ll come into work the next morning to find his response in Spanish.
“You see him every day – what’s his name?”
That advice from my dad is something that has stuck with me since that very day and it’s something I take great pride in — that I care about everyone enough to learn their names and become some type of friends. It wasn’t until I got an internship with a major corporate company (Victoria’s Secret) that I realized how someone not making an effort to remember my name could make a person feel so small and unimportant. I was an intern working with top executives of the company, meeting the same people over and over again almost every other month, for two years – and we’d work together, though briefly, each time. I’d have to reintroduce myself to the same people, as if we had never met before. Every. Single. Time. It still happens today. I go to trade shows and am in contact with clients every day and there are some people who, no matter how many times I see them, will never make the effort to remember my name. And it’s not something I take personally, I understand this probably happens with the majority of people they meet since they meet so many. But I also like to pride myself on making a lasting impression on those I do get the chance to meet. And I also meet a lot of new people on a daily basis. Having to reintroduce myself over and over and over again reminds me that I still haven’t seemed important enough to someone for them to make an effort to remember me. And I never want to make anyone feel that way.
So, wherever I go, I make an effort to remember people’s names because I realize how important they are to our identity and how refreshing it is when someone remembers mine. Our high school janitor, who has the kindest most enthusiastic heart I have met thus far – his name was Lenny. I unfortunately saw him a months ago at his nephews funeral. It wasn’t the greatest of situations but I got the biggest, greatest hug from him that day – after nearly 7 years of not seeing him. I mentioned the man who cleans my desk in the office, his name is Luciano – the woman who helps him is Jenny. The man who used to take me up and down the freight elevator in the Victoria’s Secret headquarters when I’d be lugging POUNDS and racks full of clothing for the Fashion Show, his name was Abdul. We bonded over our starvation during Ramadan.
The man who hands out the Metro paper outside of the PATH station every morning in Hoboken, his name is Ulysses. At first, he only recognized me because I typically have Stella, my 10lb Chiweenie puppy, strapped to my body in a baby carrier (#dontjudgeme), but eventually he started saying, “Hi,” before I could and remembered what I looked like without a puppy. And I must say, Ulysses is the only person I’ve ever asked for their name who answered with, “I’m Ulysses – and your name?” Which made me feel great. Henry is the homeless man that used to “live” to the left of the entrance of my grocery store, in front of a vacant “FOR RENT” store front. He’s recently “moved” a block down because the owner asked him to move. He loves snacks – particularly boxes of cereal. I get the boxes of cereal for Henry from the convenience store across the street from my apartment – owned by Raj. He opens and closes the store every day – from 5AM to 11PM (1AM on weekends). He likes Saif, my fiancé, more than me because he changed the smoke alarm battery for him once that was beeping for 4 and a half weeks because he was too short to reach it himself. He still thanks us for that by throwing in random packs of Tic-Tac’s every now and then, which is totally unnecessary.
The young guy who used to grab my car for me at night from the parking garage when I’d drive into work at times was David. I haven’t seen him in a while since I’ve moved and no longer need a car, but we’re Facebook friends and he seems to be doing well! When I’d be heading to the garage late at night after a date, he’d ask me how it went. He met many of the men I “dated” because I must say, although all very douchey, they all insisted on walking me to my car. The guy that used to park it for me in the morning was Renee. He loved Stella – he used to mark my ticket with “STELLA” on it. The man who works at the laundromat I go to is named Tomas. And the man who delivers our UPS boxes to our office, his name is Aldwin, and I make a point to call him that because of how he responded to my name question, “It’s Aldwin, but that’s hard for people to remember sometimes, so if you want, you can call me Greene.” My response, “Nice to formally meet you, Aldwin.” Every so often, we’ll run into each other on the street while I’m headed home or to CVS and he’s making deliveries in the area. We’ll shout from across the street and ask each other how our days have been going. He’s always very optimistic.
My point isn’t to flaunt the fact that I try to remember everyone’s name – it’s to encourage you to do the same. Because I am my father’s daughter, I, too, enjoy lecturing people and giving “life lessons.” Growing up around, and now working in, one of the busiest, most fast-paced cities in the world – it can get lonely sometimes. Everyone is always rushing to their next spot or to make the next train, so it’s easy to overlook people or accidentally not smile at someone when you make eye contact (I refuse to believe they do that on purpose). Noticing someone on a personal level can improve their mood and making other people feel good about themselves should make you feel good, too. It’s human nature. Everyone enjoys feeling noticed whether they like to admit that or not. And everyone wants to know they’ve made a lasting impression on someone else, one that was important enough for that person to remember who they were for next time. All that lasting impression has to be is simply “existing.“
And for those of you who were wondering if I found out that fancy thumb trick man’s name – it was Emilio. And we were friends until I graduated 5th grade, which is when he taught us all how he really did that trick.