What Is Your Name?

I’ve been going to a therapist to learn some social skills, and I’ll probably communicate to my readers what I am learning over the next several months. To many of you, what I’ll be discussing is basic common sense. But maybe you can use my posts to help other people who struggle socially, or perhaps you yourself are a reader who can benefit. Moreover, as is often the case, my writing is intended to help myself as well as others. As K.W. Leslie says about his blog, The Evening of Kent, blogging is a form of free therapy.

Yesterday, my therapist emphasized the importance of using people’s names when one is speaking with them. He asked me if I did that, and I thought back. Sometimes I did, and sometimes I didn’t. My therapist gave me an assignment: at a meeting that I attend, I am to say “hello” and/or “good bye” to people while using their names, and then see how they respond. I didn’t have to engage them in small talk (I’m taking baby steps, here!)–I just had to say “hello” and/or “good bye” to them while using their names.

Well, this is a habit that I will have to work on! When I spoke with my sister last night on the telephone, I did not address her by name. I hit myself after I realized that! But Rome wasn’t built in a day.

As my therapist told me, we like to hear our own names. When someone uses our names in a conversation, that conveys that he or she regards us as individuals with worth. The conversation is being personalized. And, interestingly, we tend to key in on people who address us by name. We most likely forget about those who do not.

My therapist also stressed that two people knowing each others’ names is the foundation of a relationship. Sure, there is more, but knowing names is the bedrock. I often ask myself, “How do I know if I have a relationship with certain people?” Well, do I know their names? Do they know mine? These are reliable indicators.

That being said, the question that immediately enters my mind is, “But does it work?” Can I win friends and influence people by learning people’s names and telling them mine? Allow me to respond to my question by preaching to myself. I have two answers:

1. There have been times when greeting people by name has not resulted in a friendship, so it is not necessarily an “open sesame” for creating relationships. But, whether it always works or not, it is still the polite thing to do. I should treat others with dignity and respect, even if they don’t do so in return. As I’ve often heard in various self-help settings, my job is to work on myself. I’m not totally responsible for what other people do.

2. There have been many times when greeting people by name has worked, in the sense that they have responded positively. There have been times when it hasn’t worked as well as I hoped, but, looking back, the experience was probably a little better than I remember it. I tend to focus on the negative when it comes to the past and the present! And there were times when it did not work. But, if there is a chance that it will work, why not try it? There is a greater likelihood that people will respond negatively (or not respond positively) if I do not do so. So why do I often opt for the latter option?

Somehow along the way, I had convinced myself that I should not address people by name if they didn’t know me too well, or if I didn’t know them. “Who’s this freak, and how’s he know my name?” I could imagine them thinking. Some examples go through my mind. When I was in high school, these girls were talking about a young man who had greeted them by name. They thought that he was a dweeb (he wasn’t me, at least not that time!), so they said, “It knows my name!” They wondered how he knew them. Was he a stalker?

When I was at Jewish Theological Seminary, there was a woman who attended a lot of lectures. She wasn’t a student, but she enjoyed learning. Well, she greeted a doctoral student by name, and the doctoral student later asked me, “Who is this woman, and how does she know my name?”

Then there was an episode of the Andy Griffith Show, in which a stranger came to Mayberry and greeted everyone by name. He knew them because he was a subscriber to the Mayberry newspaper, even though he did not live in the town (or even the state). Well, he kind of freaked everyone out! “How’s this person know me? Who is he?”

But perhaps I should see these situations as opportunities. Hopefully, they’d ask me, “How do you know my name?” Then, I could respond, “Because you’re in my class,” or “I was just thumbing through the yearbook and noticed your picture” (though, in the latter case, I’d be careful not to look like a stalker, which I’m not). Then, I’d say, “And my name is James.” I’m not sure if my therapist would endorse what I said in this paragraph (since these are my ideas), but he did say that it’s important for others to know my name as well. And if they don’t know it or remember it, then I should tell them. For parity to exist in a relationship, both parties should know each others’ names.

One thing that I will try to do in these social skills posts is to tie what I learn to my religious tradition, particularly the Bible. There have been many times when I’ve said, “The Bible does not tell me how to behave socially. It tells me to love, but it doesn’t specify how! The Bible can’t guide me on how to lead my day-to-day life!” Well, maybe it can, and I’m just missing something. The rabbis have a saying: “Turn it and turn it again, for you do not know what it contains.” They meant that the Bible has a lot more information than we may initially think, but we need to keep on reading it. We should never assume that we are complete experts on the Bible, for the Bible can surprise us. There may be more depth there than we assume!

Interestingly, when I look back, I can identify ways that people have tied the use of names to Jewish or Christian traditions. When I was at Harvard Divinity School, I had to participate in a small group that focused on field education. M.Div. students had to do a form of field education, and they would write about their experiences as they sought guidance from their religious tradition (which, at Harvard, could encompass a lot!). Well, there was this one young woman who was working at a soup kitchen, and she told us about a mentally ill person who was becoming disruptive. She asked him what his name was, and he started to calm down. Her inspiration was the New Testament story of the Gerasene demoniac in Mark 5, in which Jesus asked him his name. Jesus chose to humanize someone by asking him for his name, as did that young woman at the soup kitchen. And the result was powerful!

During the Christmas season, I was reading some of Madeleine L’Engle’s books. In A Wind in the Door, L’Engle talks about the practice of naming someone, which means regarding a person as an individual with value. And she has biblical support for the concept. After all, God calls the stars by name (Psalm 147:4; Isaiah 40:26), takes notice of every sparrow that falls, and numbers the hairs on our heads (Matthew 10:29-31). And here is my own Bible verse to support Madeleine L’Engle’s thesis: God told Israel in exile, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1 NRSV). God assured Israel of his love when he called her by name. And that is how we can show people that we value them personally.

As I said above, before I attended my counseling session yesterday, sometimes I addressed people by name, and sometimes I did not. I really didn’t think about it, to tell you the truth. Now, I consciously know the importance of using people’s names in conversations. I no longer have to stumble around in the darkness as badly, for I know of this important rule. The truth has set me free.

But I still have a lot to learn. What do I say after I greet people by name? That’s where I get tongue-tied! But, as I said, Rome wasn’t built in a day!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Asperger's, Autism, Bible, Psychology, Religion, Social Skills. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to What Is Your Name?

  1. Bryan L says:

    How come you are able to talk so freely and openly on blogs? Does your social issues not affect (sp?) that?

    Truthfully I would never guess you have so much trouble relating socially from your blog and your comments.

    Also I noticed you mentioned wanting people to be your friend and hoping saying their name when you talk to them would help you with that.

    What do you mean by friend? Do you mean you want to be friendly with them, sort of like a friendly acquaintance or do you want to become real friends with them and go deeper than just small talk?

    Bryan L


  2. James Pate says:

    Hi Bryan!

    1. I find writing to be easier than speaking. And, if you click on some of the web sites on the right under “Asperger’s Syndrome,” you’ll find that many with AS are good writers. In writing, I am able to think about what I’m saying and put it down. I can revise it later if I feel it came out wrong. But, in live social situations, it’s a different story. I have to think faster. I have to come up with a question or comment or fade into oblivion. In group settings, conversations can rapidly go from one topic to another. By the time that I’ve figured out what to say, the topic is onto something else.

    2. Your second question is a good one, and I’m sorting that out. I suppose what I seek is to be liked. And I’m open to learning about other people’s thoughts and experiences. On a selfish note, I also want to make business contacts. But, on the other hand, I have a fear of having lots of friends. I do value my solitude. A lot of times, I don’t want to go out with people. So, as you can see, I’m a mixed bag on this.


  3. Pascalian Awakenings says:


    Thank you for your honesty, and your willingness to share what you learn. I struggle with social skills, and I have a friend who helps me and my sister gives me tips. I look forward to reading what you have to share.

    You might be interested to know that introverts tend to prefer to write and extroverts tend prefer to talk.


  4. James Pate says:

    Hi Pascalian Awakenings!

    Yeah, it’s not a surprise to me–what introverts and extroverts prefer, that is.

    Do you know of any good social skills resources? Right now, I’m reading Debra Fine’s Fine Art of Small Talk, but I see that it is a book that I will have to study, not just read.

    I want to add one more thing to my comments to Bryan:

    I just want to clarify what I think learning people’s name will accomplish. I’m not sure if it’s an “open sesame” to relationships and friendships, since more is required. I kind of get the impression that this is what you were trying to communicate in your second question, but I could be wrong. But I do hope that saying people’s names can at least influence them to warm up to me a little bit, which is at least a start.


  5. Pascalian Awakenings says:


    One book that I have found helpful is called “The Introvert Advantage, How to Thrive in an Extroverted World.” It has a lot of stuff you can just kind of scan.

    Here is the author’s web page.


    I know very little of the relationship of introversion and AS. I would hate to steer you in a wrong direction, so please ask your therapist about this.

    It has taken me a long time to not go out to eat with friends and take a book. When I go to parties, I struggle not taking a book because I don’t know who I am going to talk to or what I am going to say. Once things get going, I am OK, but the beginning part is really hard for me…especially walking in and looking for people I know. I try not to be rude, but books are my security blanket. Half the time I just want to find a spot to sit and read.

    My friend who helps me with people skills really knows how I work. She told me to look at people like a laboratory experiment or research project and I am trying to figure them out. This has really helped me a lot, and it helps me ask questions about them. This has been one of the most useful tips.

    As I come up with stuff, I’d be happy to share.



  6. James Pate says:

    Thanks, Yvette.

    Actually, don’t worry about steering me in the wrong direction. One thing that I want to do is learn how things are normally done, and so even neurotypical resources can be good at telling me that.


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