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I have a coworker at my place of work that I am somewhat friendly with. Often times when I pass his desk, we'll both say hi and talk for a couple minutes about this or that. We're not exactly close friends, but it's fun talking to him.

I cannot remember his name.

As far as I can tell, there is nothing at his desk to indicate his name, as many other employees have. Looking at his badge would be too obvious, as badges here are generally attached to belt loops, and I'd have to lean in to get a good look, and that would be extremely weird.

Should I tell this person that I can't remember his name? Would that be insulting to him to say that I've forgotten? Should I just let it go and leave them as Mystery Coworker in my mind? We don't directly work together, so I don't think I would ever need to know his name. I'm not sure what the best move is here.

11 Answers 11

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Many companies have a list of employees with pictures somewhere. If yours has one (and even if you don't think it does, it might) then that would be a very easy way to figure out the names of your colleagues. Given that it's a very valuable resource for new employees, most companies will try to keep such a list around.

Might help you learn a few other names, too.

(Of course, if your company doesn't have one, this answer isn't very useful to you, but it might be to other people checking this question.)

  • 138
    It turns out there was a seat map! I was able to find his name without any awkwardness at all. – TheSoundDefense Oct 17 '17 at 23:46
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    @TheSoundDefense The irony here is that normally such a tool is used because you know the name but not the seat... But I suppose it works the other way around, too. – corsiKa Oct 18 '17 at 0:37
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    Make sure that the seat map is up-to-date ;) – neverendingqs Oct 18 '17 at 12:05
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    Yeah.... the seat maps at my workplace are always far out of date. Just further awkwardness. – Saguaro Oct 18 '17 at 15:35
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    No worries, the seat map has images as well. Verified, it is him. – TheSoundDefense Oct 18 '17 at 16:08
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The best way to do this without being super awkward is to ask one of your coworkers what his name is.

Hey Bob, do you know the name of the guy that sits in the corner next to Alice? I talk to him all the time but I don't think I ever got his name!

No need to make it super complicated or make a big deal out of it. It happens to everyone.

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    yes good suggestion, asking other coworkers is definitely the least awkward way of doing this (seems we answered almost at the same time ha). – DarkCygnus Oct 17 '17 at 16:55
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    I think, if you phrase it right, you can probably just ask directly (no need to go to co-workers). "Sorry, I'm really terrible with names. What was your name again?"... Sure, do that enough times and it'll label you as "that guy who's terrible with names", but asking co-workers will likely have the same effect in the long run anyway. – Shaamaan Oct 18 '17 at 14:05
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    Unless he's the one guy in the office whose always there but no one knows. Spooky. – Rivasa Oct 18 '17 at 17:38
  • @Shaamaan You can do that maybe the second time you're talking to him — at a max the third time maybe. Ages later it would be really awkward youtube.com/watch?v=fN4_NiCIdcw&t=42s – anotherdave Oct 22 '17 at 11:17
  • @anotherdave Well, at that point you risk getting the "bad with names" label anyway. ;) PS. I'm bad with names, so I should know! :P – Shaamaan Oct 23 '17 at 5:28
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Just say "I'm sorry, I'm really bad with names, could you remind me what your name is?" or something along those lines. Any reasonable person won't be insulted, in fact they'll appreciate you care enough to actually ask.

If they are insulted, then they aren't a reasonable person, so there's not much to do about it in that case. But I've never had a single person react negatively when I've asked to be reminded of their name.

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    I don't think he would be insulted; it just looks awkward / weird to be talking to him for some time without knowing his name (which is usually one of the first things people ask when start socializing). – Mo_ Oct 17 '17 at 20:29
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    Don't worry about looking awkward - I'd say a majority of the daily interactions we have would fall in the "awkward" category.... like when the bagger at the store starts using plastic bags instead of the bags I brought and it's like "er, um, I have bags here"; or the person on the phone asks me to spell my name and they get it wrong 2-3 times (I have an unusual last name, so that happens constantly).... awkwardness is everyday life, so don't worry about it. – Saguaro Oct 17 '17 at 20:36
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    I am really bad with names, and have had to do this quite a bit, in the workplace and otherwise. Like @Saguaro, I have never had a negative reaction. +1 – njuffa Oct 17 '17 at 20:40
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    About half the time I confess to forgetting someone's name, they sigh with relief and admit that they forgot my name too. And then we both have a good laugh. – Todd Wilcox Oct 17 '17 at 22:12
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    I had to marry my wife, since I couldn't remember her name! :( "Do you take Meghan as your lawfully wedded wife?"... "Aaaah, it's Meghan... I knew it started with an M". – Stewie Oct 18 '17 at 9:07
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I have been at both ends of this situation on several occasions. I just go with, "I'm sorry, I forgot your name." The other person instantly provides their name, and we move on to the business. I do the same when my name is forgotten.

Don't make the solution more complicated than the problem. Don't go bothering other people to remind you, don't go asking for emails. It is common for people to forget names. A lot of people don't even remember the names of movie stars and other celebrities.

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    Just keep calling the guy "Newman" and eventually he'll correct you. – Omegacron Oct 18 '17 at 20:11
  • "I do the same when my name is forgotten." What do you do when it is your name and it is so masked you cannot see it? – Michael Karas Oct 20 '17 at 11:37
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    @MichaelKaras Then I just say, "My name is Uchiha Madara". Nobody asks me any further questions. :) – Masked Man Oct 20 '17 at 12:48
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If you are not sure about his name you could try discreetly asking other coworkers about it, so it does not create a possibly awkward situation by asking that person directly.

How that person may take it really depends on his personality, but if you ask politely I see no problem in asking him directly, as you say you are on good terms with each other. Again, not sure if he knows your name or if you salute yourselves with it, but how he takes it strongly depends on him.

You could also try, as an alternative, asking that person for his company email. Usually those email accounts are something like "lastname.name@company.com", so you could infer his name from that information.

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    Even better, ask him to email you something. You'll get his email (which will have parts of his name in it), his name as his email client sees it, and probably a name in an email signature. – David Yaw Oct 17 '17 at 17:27
  • yes good suggestion :) it is highly probable it has its signature there – DarkCygnus Oct 17 '17 at 17:31
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    But then he'll have to admit he doesn't know @TheSoundDefense's name, and hence doesn't know his/her email address. – Thierry Oct 17 '17 at 19:45
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    @Thierry I'm not sure I understand your point here. I'm assuming you mean TheSoundDefense would have to admit he doesn't know his coworker's name, since the opposite isn't really a problem. Most companies can't quite do "lastname.name@company.com" format, since there's often a little name overlap (especially since OP has said ...the company I work for is several orders of magnitude too large for [looking up the employee's picture] to be feasible). It usually ends up "lastname.name<number>@company.com" or something, so asking for an email doesn't necessarily mean they don't know their name. – Lord Farquaad Oct 17 '17 at 20:38
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    @LordFarquaad I was merely implying that perhaps the person whose name is unkown to TheSoundDefense, does not know TheSoundDefense's name either. – Thierry Oct 18 '17 at 11:52
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Just ask. Showing an interest in a person is pretty much automatically flattering. Unless you are constantly forgetting their name most folks will be pleased that you are going to the effort to learn/remember theirs. Once they tell you, be sure to say it again at least twice in that conversation and try and use it again a time or two in future conversations.

Hey, how's it going. Look, I'm kind of embarrassed to admit it, but the longer I leave it the more embarrassing it will get so I'm going to go ahead and just admit I've forgotten your name.

My name's Bob, it is kind of a common name.

Good to "meet" you again Bob. I sure you remembered my name was @TheSoundDefense right, ha ha ha.

Oh yes... Of course. *Embarrassed Smile* Alright, I should get back to work. See you around Bob.

  • Seriously! It's not really all that awkward. You might be embarrassed that you can't remember a name (or maybe were never told), but when you ask they will most likely smile/laugh and all will be fine! – Octopus Oct 20 '17 at 21:00
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In addition to simply asking (which I've done, just said "Oh man, I just totally blanked on your name, I'm so sorry!" - only to find out they didn't know my name either! We were both a little embarrassed) you can also offer to send them an email then ask how they spell their name so you can make sure they get it. It looks a little contrived if you don't actually have something to send, but if you do it could work like this:

I just saw the most hilarious video of Spongebob singing Black Sabbath's War Pigs! I'll send you the link, um, but I don't think your in my contact list. How do you spell your name again, y'know, just to make sure I send it to the right person?

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    This will sound very weird if their name is easy to spell. – Erik Oct 17 '17 at 18:13
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    You spell it B-O-B? Oh gosh, I thought it was B-A-H-B! :) – Don Branson Oct 17 '17 at 19:36
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    @DonBranson: But at least you'd still get their name! – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Oct 17 '17 at 19:39
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    Do this the other way around then? "Hey, remember when we talked about [random subject] and you said you knew a great location to do [kayaking/hiking/dancing/whatever].... do you mind sending me the details in an email?" – Patrice Oct 18 '17 at 16:50
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    Oh, I knew your name was Bob ... I, well, I forgot what your last name was so asked how to spell it to cover my embarrassment. I totes new your name was Bob, and this whole convoluted thing wasn't a clever ploy to figure out what your name was. Nope. – aslum Oct 19 '17 at 13:30
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  1. Next time you walk by his desk and he's not there, look at the phone on his desk. If it has an LCD display on it, it might show his name. If not, it will probably show his phone number.
  2. Memorize the last 4 or however many digits you need to make an intraoffice call.
  3. When you know he's not at his desk, call his number and wait for his voicemail. (You'll probably want to make the call from a conference room phone so that his phone doesn't tell him he has a missed call from you.)
  4. Hopefully he will have customized his voicemail greeting to say his name.
  • If you can find out the person's extension from your steps 1 & 2, there might be a phone directory you could peruse to find out the name, too. Preferably one that's online so you can ctrl+F for the number. ;) – hairboat Oct 20 '17 at 18:24
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There are already great answers, and I for one would simply ask him again. But I also have an additional way of re-retrieving the name if you don't want to ask him directly: Find something that might interest/entertain him on the internet. Then ask him for his mail address, because you'd like to send him something interesting. Depending on the topic, you may first start a conversation about that topic and then tell him you have an interesting/funny thing to show him and ask for his contact details. Alternatively, you can ask for a chat account or similar, if your company manages something like that.

Of course, you are out of luck if your company mail addresses do not include the full name, but you would know that from your own beforehand to decide if this approach can work for you.

Also, first you might think about whether he may have already sent you a mail. In that case it's easy, just dig out that mail and hopefully you have his name.

Also, our company has a floor plan at the entrance and each room has pictures and names at the door - maybe you have something similar and overlooked it so far?

There are also two very culture depending options I've seen (also dependent on your character):

  1. If he shares an office with you, ask your colleagues if you can take a picture with them - as you like to collect them / show your family who you work with, then print it out and have them sign it.
  2. If he doesn't share an office and you don't have a floor plan, simply draw one yourself and let it go around - ask your colleagues to fill it out, each with their own name. That way you get all the names and they may even pick up the idea and ask you to hang it in the floor somewhere so all new guys have the benefit of it.
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    Sounds too planned. I prefer the "don't make a big deal out of it" type answers. – HankCa Oct 18 '17 at 2:04
  • @HankCa Me too, (except maybe for the email approach which might just fit if you have anything to send him anyway), but these are some things I've seen and I added them as suggestions for people that don't feel like asking (again). – Frank Hopkins Oct 18 '17 at 8:45
  • That is a looooot of effort just to find out someone's name. – Masked Man Oct 18 '17 at 9:41
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This will only work if your company has a workplace chat or messaging app.

What I've done a few times is put eyes on my coworker as they approached their desk in the morning. Then once I saw the "John McJonathan has logged in" message, I had a good idea of their name. Of course, I'd want to do this two or three times before I was convinced that was actually them.

It also works as they're leaving, but it's a little harder to keep track of "John McJonathan has logged out" and then see your coworker leave, since you aren't really sure what name you're looking for.

I'd try to do it in the mornings if you can.

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One I always use is hey what was your name again? When they respond say "Opps I mean your surname!". Since surnames are more often forgotten it is not awkward at all.

This works because most people don't introduce themselves with their last names, also you generally just work first-name basis.

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    This reads more as a comment than an answer. Can you elaborate as to why this is the right approach? – Jane S Oct 18 '17 at 1:40
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    It's an answer because it provides a way of obtaining the name without it being too awkward. – Gertsen Oct 18 '17 at 7:33
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    @JaneS what is particularly troublesome is it merely repeats prior answer that was posted 5 hours before. I could understand a repetition if it was somehow better presented or explained but this doesn't look like the case here. OP seems to completely ignore guidance to Back It Up and Don't Repeat Others – gnat Oct 18 '17 at 9:41
  • @MaskedMan Hahahaha now that would be awkward. In many ways at once. Especially because I can't think of any escape at all. – Pedro A Oct 18 '17 at 22:01
  • @gnat gj you linked a meta post on my first answer here :| think about it. – Christopher Oct 19 '17 at 18:21

protected by Jane S Oct 18 '17 at 1:27

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