Shakespeare's Juliet declared to Romeo that names really aren't that important with her famous words: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
But Juliet never owned a service station. She never ran for office or practiced law. She never taught school. And she had the luxury of hiding behind a feathered mask when she walked into a room full of faces, unlike the rest of us who see the same situation as a minefield of names we might not remember.
"You've got to be scanning the horizon when you arrive at a party so you don't get caught off guard," said St. Petersburg lawyer Harvey Ford when asked about his tactics for remembering names.
"I know it's important to people that you remember them, and that's why I try to honor them with that memory," said Gov. Charlie Crist, who effortlessly greets hundreds of people by their first names. "I'm far from perfect. One thing I try to do is say their name back to them when I meet them."
Personal development instructor Alan Mong offered the same tip to the Largo Mid-Pinellas Chamber of Commerce recently during a short program with tips for remembering names. To become really proficient he invited members to attend a seven-hour memory training workshop for $649 hosted by his employer, Freedom Personal Development of Madison, Wis. Mong has led similar programs for SunTrust, Bank of America and Colliers Arnold, among other companies.
"The biggest misconception about memory is that it's age-related," he said to the Largo group.
"Oh, but that's my excuse," lamented Seminole Vice Mayor Leslie Waters.
Mong called on the audience to create one list of 15 random things such as pizza, pumpkin, Afghanistan and sunshine. He then dazzled the crowd by reciting the list forward and backward by memory. Chamber members called out numbers from one to 15 out of order, and he named which item on the list corresponded.
Jaws dropped. Mouths gaped. It was as if he had sawed a woman in half.
"My memory is no better than anyone's in this room," Mong said. "It's just better trained. Having a trained memory can make you more money and reduce stress."
Todd Murrian, general manager of Bob Lee's Tire Co. at 1631 Fourth St. N in St. Petersburg, said he and his employees try to use customers' names as much as possible because it builds better relationships.
"People do like to hear their names," Murrian said, adding that it helps even more with unhappy customers. "By using their name it diffuses irritability right off the bat." He's a visual name placer. He consciously reads the name on an invoice when a customer brings in or picks up a car. The next time he sees that customer he pictures that invoice in his mind to recall the name.
"I'm a disaster with introductions when we're out socially," he confessed, adding that he might not always remember someone's name but he usually recalls what car they drive.
Darry Jackson, vice president of Bill Jackson Inc., the outdoor adventure store at 9501 U.S. 19 N in Pinellas Park, makes a point of trying to remember his customers' names as well, especially students in the classes he teaches.
"It's easiest for me if I can talk to the person one on one before the class," he said. "Then I repeat their names when I introduce them to other people in the class. People's names are very important, and I try to make sure I know them."
Former St. Petersburg Mayor Bob Ulrich is another figure who is known for having a knack for names, though he was hesitant to say so.
"I'm sure when all of us reach a ripe old age we have learned a significant number of names," said Ulrich, a lawyer.
"There are times when we fail at" recalling a name, he added. "The first thing you do is to just be candid about it. Say, 'Please give me your name again.' When you're my age, you can use that other excuse of having a senior moment."
Author and speaker Peggy Post, the great-grandaughter-in-law of Emily Post, once the American barometer of etiquette, grants us all blanket forgiveness for forgetting names.
"Everybody draws a blank, even with somebody they know very well. Don't be ashamed to admit it because it's better than ignoring the person," she said. "You can say: 'I'm sorry. I can't believe I've forgotten your name' or 'I remember meeting you last summer but I can't remember your name.' If you can tell the person other details you do remember about them, it helps the situation."
"I tease the parents that when I meet them I will not remember their first names but I will remember their kids' and dogs' names," said Holly Carlson, director of Lutheran Church of the Cross Day School in St. Petersburg. She is known for seeing students years after they graduate and remembering their names, whether they attended just two years for preschool or from kindergarten through eighth grade.
"Some days I'm better than others," Carlson said. "They change so much over the years. If I don't remember their name at first, if I can just talk to them a little while it will usually come to me. It's really important to know children's names because their names are a major part of who they are."
Louis Murphy, pastor at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church at 955 20th St. S, estimated he knows half the names in a congregation of about 4,500.
"I wish I could tell you I know every last name, but I don't," he said. "I hate when I can't remember a name, and my memory is terrible. I have to be very, very intentional about" remembering names. When he meets someone he repeats their name several times in conversation.
"Even out of their presence I might say (to myself) 'Okay, I just met Ian.' As many times as you can repeat their name after you first meet, the greater chance you have of remembering that name," Murphy added.
A few years ago he listened to the Mega Memory tapes by marketing guru Kevin Trudeau. They offered different things to trigger memory. If you meet a Curtis, think of some way he can be tied to the word "curfew" or "current." For Doug, think of "dug a hole," but for Douglas, think of "dug a glass."
Ford, who actually professes to be bad with names, offered one of his tactics for remembering names.
"I see a person and I picture them as a character in a movie or TV show, and that sort of locks them in my memory because I can associate them with who they remind me of," Ford said. "Maybe they have a sense of humor like Jon Stewart and it helps me remember them. Not that their name is Jon, but it still helps me remember them."
Someone who is inquisitive and speaks very fast is a Chris Matthews. Someone who talks slowly, uses few words and is way cool is a Clint Eastwood.
"The Seinfeld show is a great source of analogies," Ford added. "Say I go to dinner with someone and they are very persnickety about the way they order from a menu, I think of them as a Seinfeld character."
So how many Kramers does he have in his name file?
"Other than myself," Ford laughed, "not many."