Top 3 Secrets to Winning the Name Game

Ever see the Antiques Road Show?  You know where people bring in stuff from their attic?

The chair they bought at a garage sale, or an ugly picture they’ve never liked that’s been handed down in their family and they ask the experts how much the item is really worth.  People are usually surprised when items are worth much more than they think.

I’m going to let you in on a secret.  In church world, we may not have antique art, but there’s a valuable skill that’s worth a fortune in spiritual collateral that few people talk about.

The real way to be a superstar in church world isn’t jewels in your crown from selfless serving, or stars on your Awana scripture memory chart, or how many people you’ve “prayed the prayer” with.

What’s most valuable in church world?



More specifically, name recall.  It’s Olympic gold.  It’s Sampson’s hair.  It’s Kryptonite in the hands of Lex Luther only used for good.

Here’s how it goes…

You’re in the Great Room before church starts and you remember the name of a visitor from last week?   You’re a super-star. You’re the Oprah Winfrey of Christendom.  The visitor considers accepting Jesus on the spot because they feel so loved.

You feel like doing a victory lap around the sanctuary with high fives.

But…you forget a name?  You’re Clark Kent without a cape.  Peter Parker without his spidey sense. You’re playing with Monopoly money.  People begin to suspect you’re probably a closet back-slider to boot.

If names are the currency of ministry, my husband John and I are mite-less widows.  Basically paupers.

John is the senior pastor of a very large church.  Here in Minnesota that translates to about 4,000 blond Knudsvigs and Knudsons to keep track of.   And we are about as adept at remembering names as Lindsay Lohan is at staying out of the news.

However, desperation is the catalyst for creativity so we have developed a list of techniques.   We’re willing to share because, well, we may be name losers, but we’re generous darn it.

Here are our 3 tips to winning at the name game:

1.  Fake it.  And throw your spouse under the bus.

John to anonymous person whose name he can’t remember:  “Hey!  I don’t know if you’ve met my wife!”

Translation: “911, Laura.  I performed this guy’s wedding ceremony, baptized his  6 kids, and buried his mom, but I have no idea what his name is!”

This is my cue to thrust out my hand even if I’ve met the person 17 times before and say “Hi, I’m Laura.” fervently hoping they return the favor and share their secret identity.

Danger: The person may call your bluff.  I once approached a woman with my friendliest smile, stuck out my hand and said “Hi!  I’m Laura.  I don’t think we’ve met yet!”

She narrowed her eyes and glared at me with a withering look.  “Yes.  You have.  I’ve been in your home!”

Well, she was one of 129 singles who had been at a large group gathering in our home once 2 years previous and I hadn’t seen her since, but she was not buying any of my apology.  When that happens, accept your loserdom and wish them well at their next church.

2.  Spy Support.  Garner as many facts as you can through conversation with the anonymous person and email the clues to your church membership secretary.  In our case, her name is Beth (remember this name!).  She has spy skills that rival my own – considerable – and has a church database at her disposal.

I have done this many times.  Here’s an example…

Me: Beth, I’ve got a blond woman about 5’2, seen at the Starbucks in Edina, mentioned an 8 year old son who plays soccer, had dog with her, referred to ex-husband so she’s divorced.  Help?

And faster than you can say “Rumplestiltskin” Beth responds:

Hortense Spinkleman.  Age 37. Lives at 4567 Moniker St.  Got a speeding ticket on May 8, 2003.  Likes beets.

Danger:  Someday Beth is going to realize she’s the most valuable person on our staff and demand a trip to Tahiti and a Lexus.

3.  Nicknames.  When all else fails, adopt the practice my husband is famous for.  Call everyone generic names like “Bubba”, “Sweetie” (for children), “Dude”, “Sister”, or “Stud”.

Danger: If you’re a man and you want to live to see another day, avoid the deadly mistake of using the nickname “Beautiful” or “Babe” with anyone other than your wife.

The bottom line is that names are the currency of the kingdom because people need to know they matter to God and to us so we’re trying.  We really are.

John is praying that someone invents a name recall brain chip that we can have surgically implanted.  Until then, the world is filled with “Bubba’s” and “Friend’s”.

Are you good with names?  What tricks do you use?


10 thoughts on “Top 3 Secrets to Winning the Name Game

  1. I admit I am terrible with names but last week I admitted that I was not good with names to a woman who has called me by name for a least a year and a half. Her answer was that we had sat together and I had signed the Friendship Pad. Now I know her name and will remember it. I will try her technique and see if it helps.


  2. Laura, I have a composition book set aside for church. I take sermon notes, etc… as soon as we are in the car, or between services, I take out the pen and write down every bit of info on anyone we met — especially their names. Our church does not have name tags but I have often wondered how to get that going… Kathy


    • Of course, I cannot refer to the book on a moments notice, but it has come in handy especially if I review it before a women’s conference or special event where I know I will see some of the same folks I recently just met. (a reverse problem is to know the name–as in receiving an email from someone who met me–but not know their face because I don’t remember meeting them. I have stalked them on facebook to get a glimpse of them before I run into them somewhere!)


  3. Ha, this is so funny and true.

    Here’s a few simple things I do to try and remember:
    -Repeat their name back to them when they tell you. Take a moment to repeat it in your mind.
    -I once heard of a technique: when you meet a person, imagine writing their name on their forehead. You can choose a unique color and font to match their personality! (You can also slip in the ‘how do you spell your name’ question.)
    -I often try to associate their name with someone else I know with the same name. This gives me more mental cues for the next time I see them.

    You are right Laura, it’s SO welcoming and comforting when someone calls you by name.


  4. Yep, you’ve nailed it here. This is a tough one for me too. While shaking my new friend’s hand, I try to remember to say their name three times and cross my fingers twice.


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