The Power of Using Someone’s Name

Calling someone by their name will help you remember how they made you feel

Walking down lower Fifth Avenue in New York City, on my way to The New School, where I teach, I passed several people on the sidewalk asking for money – a fairly usual sight, especially when the weather is warm.

One man was singing and playing a guitar, his case open next to him, on the sidewalk.  I tossed in the spare change I had in my pocket. He was playing You’ve Got A Friend, by James Taylor. Good song choice, I thought.

A block further along and on the opposite side of the sidewalk, was a man sitting behind a brown cardboard sign that said, “Smile if you masturbate. Now give me some money.”  He was the only one smiling. His jar was almost empty and he didn’t seem to be getting a lot of takers, which I imagine was not his main goal with a sign like this!

Then I met Mark.  Mark was sitting on the sidewalk in a folding chair, with a blanket over his lap. He had a cup for money in his left hand and with his right hand extended in a handshake gesture, he introduced himself to everyone that passed.  “Hi, I’m Mark. It’s nice to meet you.” Mark stopped me in my tracks.  He extended his hand to me and I responded with a firm, long handshake, saying, “Hi, Mark. I’m Sara.”

“Hi Sara,” Mark replied.  I put a few dollars in his cup.

“Thank you, Sara,” he said.

“You’re welcome, Mark, I followed.”

“I hope you have a wonderful day, Sara,” Mark said as we shook hands again before I continued on my way.

Suddenly, Mark became someone I could identify because I knew his name and he knew mine. There is something powerful about speaking ones name. It immediately forms a connection that’s more personal and caring.  Mark was no longer an anonymous person, or a random stranger I passed on the street. He was someone I greeted and exchanged words and information with.  Although I only knew his name, I felt like I knew a bit about him just by the way he connected with me.

When Mark reached out his hand and introduced himself, I gravitated toward him.  I stopped, turned and we faced each other. This man, who was asking for money on the street made me feel important and valued as a person because he introduced himself to me and used my name in return.

Because of this, I can still see him in my mind; see how he looked – his smile, the burgundy color of the blanket on his lap, his overall persona.  I can’t tell you what anyone else I passed that day looked like.  But I think I could identify Mark again.  And, if I see him, I can walk up to him and say, “Hi, Mark,” and call him by his name.

The Power of Using Someone’s Name

It’s important to remember that making more personal connections and acknowledging people we meet during our day, everyday, will have lasting impact on our memories and feelings and help us connect in deeper and more respectful ways.  Getting to know someone – even just knowing their name – allows us as human beings to make more personal connections and create memorable moments.

I walked to the corner and turned back to watch. Other people were stopping, to shake his hand.  “That’s Mark,” I thought.

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