What Do You Say Next to What's-His-Name?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008; Page B03

I turn to you seeking advice. What is the proper etiquette in the following situation? You're walking down the street, outside your place of employment, say. You see a person walking toward you. You recognize him as a co-worker, not someone you know well but someone you have conversed with from time to time. Your brain riffles through its mental Rolodex and pulls out a name.

"Hey, John," this person says as he draws near. (For the sake of argument, let's say your name is John.)

"Hey, Tom," you say as your paths cross.

And the instant those words escape your lips an internal claxon sounds: " Woop! Woop! That's not Tom! That's Chris!"

So now what? Do you lamely mumble, "I mean 'Chris' "? Do you e-mail him when you get back to your office and say, "Hey, sorry I got your name wrong on the street"? Do you make a point of going past his office later in the afternoon and saying, "Hey, Chris. How about those Skins, Chris?"

Or do you just spend the rest of the day cringing and hoping he'll get fired or transferred to the Guam office so you'll never see him again and have to relive your shame?

This sort of thing happens to me all the time. I suppose it could be early onset Alzheimer's, but more likely I'm just an idiot, incapable, now that I have to remember multiple PINs and computer passwords, of storing a new name any longer than it takes for the person to pronounce it. (And yet I can remember entire seasons of "The Brady Bunch" and old jingles and the name of Rockpile's drummer.)

Maybe things would be easier if we didn't have boring, unhelpful names like "Anne" and "Cindy," but instead, as in some Native American tribes, had descriptive names. "Hello, Wears Too Much Makeup," we could say when we ran into a co-worker in the break room. "Hi, Man Who Always Smells Like Speed Stick."

Or, "Hey, Chris Who Looks Confusingly Like Tom."

School Daze

Has your area high school class reunited recently? Post your favorite photos from the festivities in our reunion gallery. Go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/reunions.

These classes are reuniting in the coming weeks and months. For more, visit http://www.washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

Wakefield High Class of 1988 -- Oct. 10. Contact emgerard10@hotmail.com.

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