Keep the Rank and Serial Number, But I’m Gonna Need the Name

I have been accused of being Old School. I mean, School of Athens old. I tie my own bow ties. I own bow ties. I want trains to come back, everywhere. I want men to feel uncomfortable about not owning a tuxedo. I beg women to go through doors so I can open them. (They always seem so annoyed when they come back out the door and continue on their way to wherever they were really going.)

This is a good start. But it takes more to do it right.

This is a good start. But it takes more to do it right.

Still, I have made peace with modernity. I fully enjoy technology. I have lived through microwaves, the Macarena, and Modern Family. But there are some things I cannot understand, no matter how I try.

What. Is. The. Deal. With. Just. Saying. Your. Name?

I have lost count of the the number of times I have introduced myself to people, or been introduced, using my first and last names, extending my hand for the shake — and in return I get a fishy handshake (oh, don’t get me started; that’s another post) and then…nothing. Nada. Zip. A nice-to-meet-you, maybe, likely insincere. But NO. NAME. A first name, at most, and that less than half the time.

Whaaaaaat is the enormous problem?

This drives me batty. We’re talking basic manners here. Yes, I am more public and outgoing than many people. But I don’t think it requires my level of social courage to simply tell a person your name. And yet legions of people who seem well-educated, socially competent, polite and otherwise respectable omit this courtesy regularly.

I used to think it was a disease of the young. Meeting some teenagers, it became clear that even their unintelligible mumbles were too much effort. So names fell by the wayside. But I soon discovered that many adults just gloss over this important exchange as well. This puts me, or anyone else who has come halfway in the introduction dance, in a spot. I have stepped up obligingly, worn a sincere welcoming smile, extended my hand, and said, “Hi; Adam Barr. How are you?” To get, in return, a nameless “Hi” or “Tim” is rudely disappointing.

At times, it becomes a potential safety issue. When my son was about six, he asked to play at the home of neighbors. I didn’t know these folks except to wave when we passed by. But my wife, who knows everything that goes on in our little hamlet of stucco and swimming pools, seemed to think they were O.K. So down the street our boy went.

I went to pick him up a couple hours later, a little before dinner. As I stepped into the foyer at the invitation of the parents, this was the exchange:

ME: Hello, I’m Adam Barr. Thanks for having Joseph over. Did they have fun?

FATHER: I’ll get him.

ME: Sorry; I didn’t catch your name.


ME: And your wife?

No one spoke. No one. I know I had been heard. She just stood, looking at me. He did not intimidate her in any way that I could see.

I collected my son and returned home. I took my wife aside and said, “He’s not going back there.”

Later, out of my boy’s hearing, I explained why. I had no idea who they are. They wouldn’t share more than one first name between the pair of them, so they’re unlikely to have been forthcoming with other details. They stood to be entrusted with the safety of my child for a few hours at a time, and I was willing to do the same at our house. But as it stood, I didn’t know them, what they did, whether they had guns in the house, how they kept them if they did, their views on decent behavior –you name it; I didn’t know it.

Now, I don’t need to pry into every corner of a neighbor’s personal life, nor do I want to. But if my son is involved, there are certain basics I need to know. Fortunately, my wife agreed, and my son was not particularly attached to the playmate in question. Game over.

In most social settings, the stakes aren’t as high as in a child-care situation. Still, the name secrecy continues.What causes this ridiculous reticence about names? In a world where we’re willing to talk about everything from our meals to our sex lives on Facebook and Twitter, do people really feel the need to seek safety in some kind of false anonymity? When you withhold your name, a thing that should be a source of pride, what do you gain or protect? Is first-naming really a species of informality, or a childish refusal to play like big boys and girls?

Frankly, I don’t see any excuse. Be shy if you’re shy. But stand up and say your name. You owe your fellow person that much.♦

© 2013 Adam. Adam Barr. Yes; nice to meet you too.

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8 thoughts on “Keep the Rank and Serial Number, But I’m Gonna Need the Name

  1. k8efitz says:

    People are MUCH friendlier in PA – you’re always welcome 🙂 And you’ve always ‘Got a Friend in Pennsylvania’. 🙂

  2. Ellen Hickey says:

    Wow. Bob, huh? I am left to hope that your reference name was generic. If not, please allow me to apologize for him……Signed, Bob’s wife, Ellen 🙂

  3. mazzoladm says:

    I’ve been surprised to encounter similar behavior as well. It feels like a more recent phenomenon in my life, but I suspect it’s because I wasn’t raised that way and traveled in different, or perhaps just smaller circles. Not only the lack of introductions is concerning, but I’ve also met people who don’t acknowledge others when they enter a room, say hello or goodbye at gatherings, repay gifts with thank you notes…the list goes on and on. I don’t think of these courtesies as old school, as much as basic human socialization.

  4. When this happens to me, I usually come back with, “And YOU are?” … Sometimes it’s ego — as if I should KNOW who they are before I’ve met them. I don’t care if I’m meeting the president of the United States, I want, “Hi, Barack Obama. Nice to meet you.”

    Or …

    “Eric Stratton, rush chairman. Damn glad to meet you!”

  5. SusanO says:

    I wonder if it’s at all a conservative/liberal thing – I don’t think I’ve noticed it here in PDX or Berkeley.

  6. John Duval says:

    We live in the Xbox generation now. Social skills and common etiquette have been replaced with OMG, SMH, LOL and a culture of mistrust and contempt. I used to know my neighbors personally, now I’m lucky to get a simple “Good morning”

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