Why We All Need To Be Good With Names

I don’t aspire to be famous anymore, to have my name etched across the front of a book, to be a keynote speaker at a conference somewhere on the other side of the map, or to start a world-changing business. Joanie, the woman I met at the swimming pool, cured me of shallow, selfish visions all because she chose to call me by name.  

She of course has no idea the impact she’s had on my life. Me in my black, scrappy tankini, swim cap, and super tight, blue-tinted goggles, and her in her cute one-piece, blue flippers, and kickboard. Up to this point we’d been splitting a lane for lap swim every so often when the pool was over-crowded and loud, and at the very least seeing each other over the lane dividers every other day. But we had yet to hold a conversation.

I think I asked her some sort of swimming related question that particular morning, and then after her response she kindly asked me, “By the way, I’m Joanie, what’s your name?”

We chatted and shivered for a minute in the waist deep side of the water, then she jumped out and headed for the changing room. “Have a good day, Charissa!” She said as she snagged her towel and waved at me.

It was a week later when we were finally face to face again. I walked into the changing room and she was drying off. “Morning Charissa!” One of the kindest greetings I’d received from someone whom I still considered a stranger.  

Being on the receiving end of a such a friendly welcome in a public setting, where it is no one’s required job to notice you, left me stunned. It felt amazing to be seen that morning and for someone to remember my name with such confidence and enthusiasm.

Immediately, I replied, “You remembered my name?” She could see by the look on my face that I was surprised. She didn’t hesitate to tell me that she is “good with names.”

Good with names.

It’s a phrase we use with those people who have an excellent memory. Some of us are good with names and some are not. But I’d like to think it might be more of a practice, a skill any of us can develop no matter how good or bad we think our memory might be.

Joanie, who is at least seventy years old, continues to call me by my name any time I see her at the pool.  

Her voice is to me the voice of my Creator calling me back to my identity, returning me to my roots where I am known only for my name and not my appearances, past failures, or present entanglements.  

Could the power of learning someone’s name and speaking it back to them as often as possible be an antidote for our dreadful loneliness?

We mistakenly think it is fame we need, but what we really want is friends.

We wait and hope for the whole world to know our name, and spread it far and wide, when instead we could be ruthlessly affirming the humanity of the one person in front of us by calling them by their name.

No doubt, it takes practice to become good with names, but our names have a way of reminding us of the inherent goodness in one another and the friendship that is possible whether it’s across swimming pool lanes or cultural and religious divides, that is if we’re brave enough to say, “Hi, I’m Charissa. What’s your name?”

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