I’ve called someone I work with by the wrong name for a long time. Let’s say her name is “Judy” and I called her “Jody.” Only recently did I realize my mistake. I asked her about it, she just laughed and said, “Don’t worry about it.” But I had the sense it did bother her on some level. Is it weird I actually feel annoyed at her for not correcting me all this time, especially because her close co-workers were probably aware of my mistake and snickering at me behind their hands?
I, Faux Pas-varotti (so-called because whenever I open my mouth I unleash a veritable faux-pas-ria of gaffes, goofs and blunders), have performed pretty much every faux pas known to humanity, yes, including the timeless classic Oh I See You’re Pregnant.
Also that other well-worn number Nice to Meetcha (To People I’ve Already Met). Innumerable times: that one has landed Faux Pas-varotti in more hot water than a dozen hot tubs.
But oddly, never the one you describe (that I know of: though maybe someone out there is not correcting me). I do have a long-running one in the same vein of “people whose names you really ought to know”:
I’ve been going into the same variety store around the corner from my house on a more or less daily basis for more than 20 years. Every time I go in the proprietor greets me with “Hello, David, how’s it going?” He told me his name once, but I forgot it, and was too embarrassed to ask. Then time passed and it became too late to ask. So I always just go: “Great, how are you?” I’m pretty sure he knows I don’t know his name. But I can’t ask now!
Basically, I think the whole question of people whose names you really ought to know and/or who you call by the wrong name is more common than most people realize. I bounced your question off a few people and many said: “Oh, yeah, I’ve done that.”
Also, there’s a Seinfeld episode in which a character on step nine – “making amends” – of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program comes up to Jerry and says: “When we first met I thought your name was Gary. And I think I may even have called you Gary a couple of times. I don’t know if you noticed, but I always felt bad about it, so I’m sorry.”
Jerry: “Thank you. I did notice, and I appreciate you rectifying it.”
Of course it’s possible your colleague is stewing a bit. Thinking: “[Your name here] thinks she’s such a hotshot she can’t even get my name right.”
Me, I like to be ignored and overlooked and just assume no one remembers my name, so always promptly introduce myself.
But other people seem to like to be remembered and noticed and have you not forget their names. Especially the eidetic-memory types, who seem to remember every detail about you: “Hey, haven’t seen you since we bumped into each other on the street five years ago. You were wearing a blue checked shirt and had just got back from the dentist,” etc., etc.
They’re particularly surprised when you don’t remember every detail about them. So it’s possible your colleague is irked, maybe even miffed, over the fact you kept getting her name wrong.
But you know what? That’s her problem. I wholeheartedly endorse your comment that she could have corrected you at any point and feel like it’s a tad passive-aggressive she didn’t.
How hard is it just to say “Uh, it’s Judy, actually”?
Thus saving you embarrassment – though I sincerely doubt her colleagues were really “snickering behind their hands.” They probably just shrugged and, ideally, went back to work.Because it’s such a common, minor mistake.
And really that’s the ticket here, I think. In the grand scheme of things it’s such a low-grade, garden-variety faux pas (trust Faux Pas-varotti on this one: I’ve done ones that would curl your hair, singe your eyebrows, and make your blood run cold) ultimately I wouldn’t worry about it.
Just use her name as often as possible going forward, so she knows you know it now, and go about business as usual.
Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.
Live your best. We have a daily Life & Arts newsletter, providing you with our latest stories on health, travel, food and culture. Sign up today.