Divya Ramesh | Dropping names
Through My Eyes | Sometimes you want to go to a college where all your classmates know your name
February 17, 2013, 11:35 pm·
Through My Eyes
My efforts to learn the names of all my classmates and fellow students have turned me into a bobblehead doll whose head does an almost-360 degree loop.
As part of my covert operations, I listen to the professor mutter bits of names as he returns weekly papers. My head goes in quick circles to see if I can match Melody (or was it Mallory?) with a student in the classroom. Given that I am not actually a bobblehead doll, the process has given me a smidge of what I self-diagnose as “neck-carpal tunnel.”
I accept that I will never learn everyone’s name in my 150-person “Hindu Mythology” class without obnoxious effort. But I am ashamed to say that in my “History of Biology” seminar of 30, my name recall stagnates at 50 percent. In a philosophy recitation of 25 the figure is probably even lower.
The gnawing feeling of not trying hard enough worsens when I realize that my high school classes were about the same size — classes in which I knew everyone by the first week.
It’s been more than a month into the spring semester. Why am I failing miserably?
As I asked others at Penn how they recalled names, it surprised me that it didn’t matter so much to everyone. Many students agree that icebreakers don’t always work and shouldn’t be emphasized more than they already are — are we really going to remember someone by knowing her favorite mark of punctuation (a real writing seminar icebreaker)?
We all find it awkward when we mix up names, but it seems I’m the only person upset over rechristening Sam as Wesley and mistaking Mary Kate for Caroline.
College freshman Jane Meyer thinks that it is important — though not a top priority — to learn the names of classmates for the purposes of discussion and collaboration. She says that she comes away from small classes knowing about one-third of the names of her classmates.
We expect professors in small classes to learn our names, but just as the professors work to learn our names, we also need to work to learn each other’s names.
While I am not suggesting that we all adopt bobblehead doll methods and bend over backwards to name every member of the 10,000-plus Penn population, I think that we need to improve our efforts.
Whether we admit it or not, we all have egos and it’s nice to hear our names. As College freshman Stephanie Munoz said, “I am thrilled when others learn my name because it shows that they made an effort to remember … and address me correctly.”
A study done by the Institute for the Study of Child Development shows that names hold a great deal of power. “[H]earing one’s own name has unique brain functioning activation specific to one’s own name in relation to the names of others.”
In other words, our brains perk up and are more alert and active when someone addresses us as Melissa or Kavya as opposed to “Hey you, blue sweatshirt girl,” gesturing in our direction.
I know it’s difficult. It’s tempting to give up and say, “Oh, I am just so bad with names!” But, we shouldn’t. I have tried rhyming people’s names, learning two names a day and initiating conversations about linoleum with the sole purpose of using names out loud.
Experience has shown me that when conversing with a familiar stranger about yoga classes at Pottruck, there isn’t a single graceful way in which to break the exchange and ask, “Excuse me, what is your name, again?” But I do it gracelessly anyway:
“Sorry, I recognize your face but am blanking out on your name even though we’ve been talking for a good 20 minutes. Have we met?”
Do I feel dumb? Yes. Do I wish I had a rhyme to know that person’s name? Yes.
But awkwardness aside, I have met another person and learned her name, improved the sense of community at Penn and made a large place a tad smaller.
Divya Ramesh is a College freshman from Princeton Junction, N.J. Her email address is email@example.com. You can follow her @DivyaRamesh11. “Through My Eyes” appears every Monday.