Do You Have A Hard Time Remembering Where You Know People From?

This happens to me *all *the time, and I find it excrutiatingly embarrassing. This morning I rolled into a Starbucks, and while standing in line, the inevitable tap on the shoulder, and a “Hi!” Familiar face… where do I know her from? I know I know her, her name is Cora… where do I know her from?? Have I worked with her? No. Was she a neighbor at one point? No. Does she work at my hairdresser’s? No. Then she said something that could have solved the whole thing- “So are you still at… uh…” :frowning: Dammit, lady, come out with it, before I have to admit that I don’t know where I know you from! She doesn’t come out with it, so I have to give her a face that says, “Where?!” So then she says it and instantly I’m like :smack: Of course! Of course that’s where I know her from! How could I have forgotten that- I saw her every day for several years!

Is there a name for this phenomenon? Does this happen to you? Is it just me?

Happens to me all the time and is a big reason why I don’t plan to go any farther in politics for the time being.

I can say, “Yes, it’s been forever! When was the last time we saw each other?”, but I think a lot of people are wise to that one.

It’s happened to me countless times. I don’t knowif there’s a word for it, but I think a lot of it has to do with seeing people outside of the normal context you associate them with. People who you have a very specific mental context for – say teachers, for instance, or people who you see at work, but dont know well (especially if you have a particularly narrow context for that person – a security guard or receptionist you walk by every day, a delivery person, etc.). I think this effect is especially strong if you normally see the person in some kind of uniform, or hat or particular mode of dress. You see the warehouse guy out of uniform, without his hat and outside the warehouse, and it takes a while for your brain to figure out who he is because he is so strongly associated with that specific setting and those clothes that’s it’s disorienting to see him outside it.

Yes. In several distinct variations.

  1. Actors. Recognizing a minor player in a previous role and being unable to place which movie or show that was. Just the other night we watched “Persuasion” on PBS and there was a guy I knew I had seen before, and after pausing to examine the face it finally hit me that he had been Brutus in HBO’s “Rome.” I was then able to return to the story relieved that that was no longer a bigger mystery than the show itself. This happens often.

  2. People who work in places I frequent when I see them on the street or in some other environment. I will quite often go up to them and ask if I look familiar to them. Usually they are as puzzled as I about where or when we had seen each other before. This is a now-and-then occurrence.

  3. People I used to know years ago whose aging process has made the resemblance a bit shaky. The best example of this I can think of is when I was in my 20’s and was visiting the small town I had left at age 12, and saw a guy on the street I had been in third grade with. I said his name and he gave me the weirdest look and continued not to recognize me after I told him my name. We weren’t “friends” but just classmates. Not as frequent as the other cases, but weird when it happens.

Never happens to me in person, but plenty on the phone, particularly if it’s not someone I talk to often.

“Hi! It’s Dave. How’ve you been?”

Dave. Dave? Which Dave? The Dave from the video store? (We’re late returning a movie again). Dave from the gym?

“So I’m just calling to lock in our schedule.”

Schedule? Is it Dave from the vet? The dog is supposed to have a follow-up appointment… For some reason, I’m always afraid of offending by asking “Dave who?”

It was worse back when I had two roommates and people would call and just start talking to you. “Hi, it’s Dave. What time are you gong to be arriving?” Me: :confused:

I don’t remember names very well, and occasionally won’t be able to even place people either. I don’t ask questions like in the OP, though. Just “Oh, hi, how have you been?” and if they ask if I’m still doing X, all the better.

I think this is fairly common. What makes it even worse for me is that I am horrible with faces. I mean embarrassingly horrible. I cannot tell you how many times someone has come up to me, said hi, commented that it was nice seeing me again, and the whole time I was wondering who on Earth that person was. Most recently I was talking to someone, saw him again the very next day and failed to recognize him. It didn’t occur to me who he was until he brought up what happened the previous day. It’s pretty bad. I don’t even know how I function in the world.

I’m glad to hear that it is common. I always hear about people not remembering people’s names, and I’ve even heard of people that don’t recognize even well-known-to-them faces, but I don’t hear much about people not remembering where they know someone from. It also happens with bit characters on tv and in movies- that really drives me nuts.

It’s weird as well, as soon as you do remember where they’re from, suddenly you can think of a dozen anecdotes involving that person.

I’m sure if you listened closely you’d hear the clicking of my brain’s hard drive as it loaded the necessary files into memory…

Me too. Happens a lot. For me, this is just a subset of a much larger phenomenon - knowing that I know something, but not having the faintest idea where or when or how I acquired that information.

This happened to me yesterday. I mean, I knew that he was in one of my classes, but I thought he was in my writing seminar (the class splits up into smaller groups for these).

Him: “So, how did your paper go?”
Me: “Good, I think. I wrote about language learning - but you remember that, right? And yours?”
Him: “Good…”
Me: “You wrote about superorganisms, right?”
Him: “…You know I’m not in your writing seminar, right?”
Me: “Wow, I must be confused…were you in it last trimester?”
Him: “Nope, I guess you’ve just got me on the brain.” he walks away looking strangely


It happens to me all the time. I went to high school 5 blocks away and I have always worked with the public (barista, server, sales) so everywhere I go there is someone I know from somewhere… Also I’m awful with names. I rarely say hello to people I recongnize because if it’s a former customer, I’m afraid they would not know who I am or be weirded out.

When I have seen famous people I did not realize I knew them because they were famous until some time afterwards. :wink:

Dave? DAVE? Dave’s not here!!!

I’m terrible with names, and not so great with faces, either. The fact that I work with several Marias, and ALL of them are 30’ish with long, straight dark hair does NOT help. I have tried to guess, and been wrong, so many times that I now very rarely use anyone’s name at all, ever. I think it’s a game at work, now, to see if I’ll respond to a ‘Morning, Tao, how’s it going?’ with a name in response, because even if I THINK I know the right name, I won’t use it unless I know it’s the right one. And when it comes to split-timing decisions like that, I follow the KISS principle and just skip the name.

I see about 30 counselors every day, twice a day. 4 of them are related and have the same last name, 3 of them with the same first initial, and as I typically get paperwork with last name only, I have no clue who is who. THAT, I almost have an excuse for.

I do worse. I have people come up to me and greet me by name and I have no idea who they are at all. As the conversation unfolds I try to work out who they are, where I know them from and whether I have had sex with them without looking like I am interrogating them. Sometimes I don’t work it out.

Once, while walking, I was accosted by a good looking woman who started chatting away as though we were old friends. Assuming, because of my faulty memory, that we were I tried to bluff my way through. Eventually she said something that showed that she thought I was someone else. I explained that I wasn’t the guy she had mistaken me for and she was horrified. I told her not to worry about it, we were just two strangers having a pleasant lunchtime talk.

It happens to everyone. Usually I immediately admit that while I know them, I cannot remember why and ask for their help. Asking people for help is usually well received in my experience. I am very small and have a big mouth so I am often recognized by people who, for instance, sat behind me in a class or were at a presentation I also appeared at.

Happily I have not yet forgotten anyone actually related to me, when that happens I expect they will bundle me up and lead me gently to a home. But I am famed for my obliviousness and tendency to walk around in a dream world so I sometimes wonder just how far into the world of dementia I will be able to get before anybody notices. Probably pretty far.

Yeah, I’m usually pretty good at remembering faces, but not so much remembering where I know them from. But it happens most often with people I’m not very well acquainted with. I may think I recognize someone and it turns out to be someone I barely know that I occasionally pass in the hall at work, or the bagger boy at the grocery store, or something like that.

It happens all the time to me. One reason is that I spend a lot of time at the gym, and people look really different when they’re wearing “regular” clothes. Another is that I’ve taught about 4,000 students over the last several years, so some of the people I’m seeing and don’t recognize were probably in my class at one point or another. Also, I’ve lived in this town for a long time and attend many arts events, and after a while you start seeing the same people over and over.

Yes! And when you’re living in a bilingual situation, it sometimes becomes painfully obvious. I know her. I know I know her. But do I know her from an English part of my life or a Norwegian part? Do I ask ‘how’s it going?’ or ‘står til?’ :eek:

Yeah, it happens to me all the time. It’s especially bad lately, because my kids are in three different schools right now, so that’s three different groups of parents that I vaguely know. I’m also bad with names, particularly other kids’ names, so typically when I see these people, it’s like, “Oh, hi! How’s…uh…your kid? Who’s at…uh…the school? You know the one I mean.”