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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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I’ve Run Out of Namespace in My Brain

Comments (157)

I’ve never been great with remembering names the first time I meet someone.  I’ve tried all the usual tricks and haven’t found one that works.  For me, it’s a matter of regular meeting – eventually I’ll start to remember your name.

The most embarrassing part is forgetting the names of spouses that I work with.  For whatever reason, I only have room in my brain for one of the two names (gender doesn’t matter).  I’ve solved this by referring to wives as “Tifanny” and husbands as “Herman”.  So far, 100% of the time, I get the correct name out of the spouse, along with a chuckle.  I figure that on the day that I don’t, that person’s name is actually either Tiffany or Herman.

For a while I managed to associated names with images of people in my head and use that to help me a little.  I realized that all the faces on the Internet has completely ruined this for me.  The namespace in my brain is now full of name:image pairs and – in addition to no longer having room for names, I no longer have room for images either.  I went to the Apple Store the other day and asked for some extra memory, but they didn’t have a type that was technically compatible with my brain.

So – please don’t be offended when I call you Tiffany or Herman.  More importantly, when you come up to me and say hi, if you don’t get a “hey <correct name>” back, remind me of your name and affiliation.  If it’s comfortable, I’ll often say “remind me who you are”, although there are many circumstances where this either doesn’t work or I forget.

As Tim discovered the other day, if you say “hi, I’m Tim” enough times, I’ll eventually replace some other name:image pair in my brain with yours.

  • http://www.gist.com T.A. McCann

    I guess we need to add spouse mapping, then facial recognition and matching between Gist and the iPhone. Working on it…

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JChauncey JChauncey

    Sounds like you need an assistant who just follows you around telling you who people are.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      I’d prefer a memory upgrade!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/heather_duey Heather Duey

    I thought you were pretty good with names – you managed to remember David and me (and associate us properly) after just one meeting – although maybe we got into your memory before the overload. ;-) I've found that if I don't think I'm going to see the person on a regular basis (like spouses of coworkers), I'm much less likely to remember their name – although I don't come into contact with anywhere near the numbers of people that you do.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/TedHoward TedHoward

    It's good to know I'm not alone. I gave up on remembering names. I focus on other aspects of the person. My significant other serves as my name memory. She doesn't even notice when I start a story with "the guy who grew up in Wyoming and kept talking about Vegas at Eric's party …" instead of with "Tom …"
    Everyone needs a nametag at all times.

  • Dave

    The polite and effective way for all to handle this is to re-introduce oneself, and this can be initiated by either party. To assume that someone remembers your name after a single meeting is an error and really a faux-pas. "Hi, I'm Jane Doe, we met at the OpenCoffee last week." That should also be a signal to say your own name…

    And Brad – you're actually not out of namespace/visual space, you're just not encoding – it's like you're not doing a commit to the DB. I'll tell you about it later.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

    I'll try any solution you have for me.

  • Denise

    I'm not sure I agree with Dave above – I've reintroduced myself to a few people and had the unpleasant reaction of them being offended that I think they wouldn't remember me – I think you just can't win if you're not good with names. I'm good with faces, so at least I remember that I should know them.

    • Dave

      Interesting. That's just rude. My reaction to that is (a) I will now probably remember them! because (b) I'm going to avoid them. Just curious – are these people under 25?

      • Denise

        Nope mid-thirties to forties would be my guess. But I'm worse at judging ages than remembering names. Definitely not youngsters and in a professional setting.

  • http://www.ProTrails.com Dave

    Bill, great blog post! For anyone who doesn't read this blog, Bob Feld has tremendous insight into the VC and tech community (obviously!). Ben, keep up the great work and as always, I will continue to be a daily reader of the Blake Feld blog!

    Best,

    Dave @ ProTrails

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Feel free to call me Spike.  Or anything.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/alan_shimel2002 alan shimel

    Brad – being a few years older, all I can say is hold on tight, it gets worse!

  • techdom

    Not a problem Leo~ O darn, you're not Leo Laporte, you're whatisname….

  • http://twitter.com/raj raj

    My brain file system (BFS) tends to have overly aggressive garbage collection set to true. It's actually an object based store and apparently introspection is still alpha.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JChauncey JChauncey

    I have to ask this though, do people find your forgetfulness offensive?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      No clue.  There’s a wide range of things people find offensive that I don’t understand so I try not to worry about it too much.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/tfalls tfalls

    well, while I am glad I made my way into the name:image database, i apologize to the person whose spot i took – looks like you will have to remind brad of your name next time you see him. and just let him know it's tim's fault that he forgot your name – that way he won't feel so bad. and to all those aspiring to be remembered: persistence pays off

    -tim

  • http://www.bundlesoflove.org Herman

    I know the feeling! It sucks getting old…

  • Bill Mosby

    Sounds like me. It once took me about 10 years to remember the names of the 30 or so radiochemists who worked down the hall from my lab. They weren't co-workers, but I saw them more than anyone else during that period.

  • David Locke

    As a tango dancer, I'm always dancing at new venues and meeting new people. I just suck at remembering people's names. A dancer will introducer herself once. Then, she expects you to remember it forever. If I'm lucky, I'll write it down on a list without any other associations. That way I can always look the name up.

    It's pretty bad when she wants to marry you, and you don't know her name.

    Yes, if people would just introduce themselves every time they meet you until you say "Hello Nancy" first. And, yes, I'd still have to introduce myself until she says "Hi Dave."

    If I had a camera phone, …

  • http://www.siliconverse.com Ruchit Garg

    I have a solution for those who want to be remember by Feld ( guess anyone).

    Send him a meaningful tweet a day (atleast) and make sure that you have a real pic on your twitter profile.

    This would keep your name fresh in Feld's cache.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/dudumimran dudumimran

    I wander what is using the space reclaimed for forgotten names? Is it other names, which means the names are stored in a names specific area and it is just limited in size and you meet many new people or is the memory of a general purpose nature where it is reclaimed by some not important news on a new gadget. I have the same problem and I noticed that if I read too many posts/news for a while the names area get deteriorated as well(:

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/dudumimran dudumimran

    I wonder what is using the space reclaimed for forgotten names? Is it other names, which means the names are stored in a names specific area and it is just limited in size and you meet many new people or is the memory of a general purpose nature where it is reclaimed by some not important news on a new gadget. I have the same problem and I noticed that if I read too many posts/news for a while the names area get deteriorated as well(:

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/dudumimran dudumimran

    I wonder what is using the space reclaimed for forgotten names? Is it other names, which means the names are stored in a names specific area and it is just limited in size and you meet many new people or is it memory with a general purpose nature where it is reclaimed by some not important news on a new gadget. I have the same problem and I noticed that if I read too many posts/news for a while the names area get deteriorated as well(:

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/dudumimran dudumimran

    I wonder what is using the space reclaimed for forgotten names? Is it other names, which means the names are stored in a names specific area and it is just limited in size and you meet many new people or is it memory with a general purpose nature where it is reclaimed by some non important news on a new gadget. I have the same problem and I noticed that if I read too many posts/news for a while the names area get deteriorated as well(:

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      It’s a function of meeting a huge number of new people on a regular basis.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

    Clever.  And true.

  • http://www.thomsinger.blogspot.com thom singer

    This is not uncommon. But it is a matter of priorities. If you met someone who was VERY important to your career or your family… my guess is you would remember their name. Since so many people are on the fringes of our lives… we do not make them a priority. This is NOT a shot at YOU… this is just the way things are for most of us.

    To improve name – recall…. I tell people to decide in your head if a person matters. If not, then you will forget them. If yes, that commitment to viewing them as valuable will help you solidify their name in your head.

    The most important thing is when you forget somebody's name…OWN IT. The worst is when people try to fake it. Just say, "I am sorry, I forgot your name". Most people are cool with it the first 2 times. After that they will think you to be a selfish jerk, and since most people don't want others to see them as a jerk… they will make that persons name a priority after forgetting it twice (it works if you commit to always owning you fault of forgetting.. as long as the one who forgets names is not selfish in his or her soul. Selfish people do not give a shit what the other person thinks… and thus there is no hope).

  • Herman

    As I tell my wife Tifany, I always enjoy reading this blog, "Herman Thoughts", for his insightful comments.

  • http://www.anotherperfectgift.com/ Ralph

    It's funny how some people don't seem to mind when you forget their name while others take it as the biggest insult ever. When I'm going to meet a large group of people for the first time I use a little cheat sheet…I keep a note pad that will fit in the back pocket of my jeans with a pen. Let say I hypothetically meet a girl named Jessica and she reminds me of Jessica Simpson or she has a squeaky voice….well, after chit chatting for a minute or two I will step aside and make myself a few notes. Before our next get together, I review my notes and people are always impressed that you remember their name or even something specifically about them….who cares if you had to use a little cheat sheet- isn't the effort that counts?

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  • Bob Feld

    Maybe it is a Feld thing…I am absolutely horrible at remembering peoples names…emabarrasingly bad! Must be genetics :)

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