I’ve never been too good with names


“I’ve never been too good with names but I remember faces” – It’s a shame about Ray – The Lemonheads

I went to a pub quiz last night. We started out as a team of three which became six by the time various waifs and strays arrived. I like pub quizzes. I’m one of those people that is able to keep hold of what, on the surface of things, appears to be useless information. I don’t know why this is, but I’ve been this way all my life. It’s both a blessing and a curse.

Let me give you an example. A few years ago I moved to Germany and had to learn the language in order to do my then job. It was very hard work, not helped by my age or the complexities of German grammar (I mean, is it really necessary to have 12 variations of the word ‘the’?). But there were certain phrases that stuck in my mind straight away. It started when a German friend ordered a shandy (beer with lemonade) on a night out. I explained to him that in England, a shandy drinker was another term for somebody who wasn’t manly and asked if they had the equivalent in German. Yes her replied, and then told me about:

  • Weicheier – a soft egg (the traditional term)
  • Beckenrandschwimmer – the type of person who only swims in the shallow end
  • Warmduscher – The kind of person who has warm showers
  • Schattenparker – the kind of person who parks their car in the shade
  • Handyamguerteltraeger – the kind of person who wears their mobile phone on their belt
  • Charterflug Landungsklatscher – the kind of person who claps when the plane lands

It was these phrases, rather than terms that would have been more useful, that threatened to emerge during my German lessons from then on in. All from one conversation.

So, back at the quiz, I was in a positive mood. With my ability to regurgitate useless facts I would be in my element. The first round was film and television, another area of knowledge that I take pride in. This was going to be easy. We were going to win. Or so I thought.

Can you give the first name and surname (half a point for each) for the main characters in Big Bang Theory?

I could feel the blood drain from my face and the first flutter of panic. I love Big Bang Theory. It is one of my favourite TV shows. It consistently rides that fine line of both loving and taking the mickey out of it’s subject matter – science geeks – without denigrating them. Each of the main characters has their own distinct personality and is given time to grow in your affections. It is brilliant. Yet as soon as the question was read out my brain froze. Why? Because I have a terrible memory for names.

Not all names. I can recite the 2005 Ashes winning side to you, I could probably give you the names of the majority of the 1978 FA Cup winning Ipswich Town side, but most of the time I have real trouble remembering people’s names. It’s not like I walk around oblivious to people I know. I rarely forget a face, I just happen to have a lot of friends called ‘mate’.

I sat there, mouth open, desperately trying to dredge a name, any name, out from my mind, but only one came out.


This probably also says a lot about me. I could see the characters, tell you jokes they had cracked, let you know who was the engineer, who the physicist, who the biologist who loves dissecting brains, and the number of belt buckles another of them owns, but not a single name came to mind. We had lost before the first round was even halfway through.

When it came time to mark the answers, it all came flooding back.  Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter, the two physicists; Penny, a waitress and aspiring actress; Howard Wolowitz the engineer and Rajesh Koothrappali, the astrophysicist who becomes mute in front of beautiful women.

How could I have forgotten their names, especially Sheldon? Why was it that these names, like so many others, escaped me? Yes, we did manage to claw some pride back in getting the highest score in matching the fast food slogans to the company (have it your way – Burger King) but even that came with a loss of dignity as our poor dietary habits were exposed.

I’ve been told that forgetting somebody’s name is a sign of lack of interest, but in my case this isn’t true (at least, not for Big Bang Theory). It’s a weakness, one of my a chillies’ heels (although given the number I have, a chillies should have been a millipede). Still, it could have been worse. I could have been friend who turned up late, halfway through the quiz. By this point we were close to the lead, but enough points back that the leading team needed to fail badly for us to have had a chance (they didn’t). When my friend was asked if he knew the names of the characters in the Big Bang Theory he reeled them off, one after another.

So he got the blame.

16 thoughts on “I’ve never been too good with names

  1. Oh I love a good quiz, Dylan. How infuriating to forget those names at a crucial moment, though. Hope your friend turns up on time for the next one. The last quiz night I took part in was a fund raiser at school. Staff that took part split up into teams and we all tried to beat the Headmaster’s table. He had chosen his team wisely and had all areas covered (he’s used to watching his back, so I guess it was second nature) and they won. My team, called the Bird Brians (not a typo) came third, behind the geographers. We were moderately pleased.

  2. I shall henceforth be using “Schattenparker” for *everything*. Coincidentally I was thinking about the retention of useless information just the other day. If you said simply “RGD, IVA, PBH” or even “JWHT” I’d be able to give you those cricketer’s surnames in an instant. But can I remember the name of Archie’s best friend from nursery’s Mum? Can I buggery.

    • Don’t get me started on remembering the names of parents at school / pre-school…
      Another one I think you’ll like – a bagpipe player in german is a dudelsackspieler.

  3. Schattenparker gets my vote too. Although I confess I am one – but then I’m a girl, so I guess that’s ok. And I find I can still remember the lists of German prepositions which take the accusative/dative/genetive, and the first 20 elements of the Periodic Table, but ask me who I just got introduced to, who’s expecting me to introduce them to someone else… gone. As for quizzes, I do a regular charity quiz with some friends and I’m embarrassed to say, our team did rather well with the ‘identify the selective portions of fast food logos’ round last time. Although we all missed Harry Ramsden’s, being far more into our noodles, sandwiches and burgers than chip fat.

  4. Given The Big Bang Theory is one of my favorite shows, I had to test my own recollection. I could get everyone but Penny. Can’t remember her last name. Then again, I’m not under any pressure. Ask me the same question on Jeopardy, and I’ll freeze right up, too.

    Congrats again on your book. That’s wonderful!

    • Don’t punish yourself, Penny’s surname is not known (I looked it up afterwards, being the very sad individual I am.)
      Thanks for the congrats. I know you have a good idea of what I’m currently going through. It’s a bit of a roller coaster, that’s for sure!

  5. Love this post for so many reasons Dylan. Firstly, I adore Big Bang Theory, often watching it with my daughter (she introduced me to it actually!) and secondly because I remember the day Ipswich won the FA Cup. We had moved there by then from Hintlesham. My friends and I went on a massive pub crawl and the atmosphere was electric. I used to work at Eastern Electricity when I first left school (in 1976, there, that’s dating me!) and we used to watch the players practicing from our office upstairs as we overlooked the football ground. Ahh, those were the days…
    As for remembering names, I am terrible. Once I’ve repeated them about three times I have them but I’m terrible at quizzes, I never remember anything. Weird that… 😉

    • I do think this is the first time that Big Bang Theory, the England 2005 Ashes team and the 1978 FA Cup winning Ipswich Town side have been mentioned in the same place on the internet, but I could be wrong.
      I won’t tell you how old I was when you left school, but I would have been. Very jealous of your view back then, that’s for sure.

      • Ha Ha!!! Funnily enough I just read another blog mentioning these very same three things…just kidding 🙂
        Yes, you would have loved that view, but, and I hate to say it, I am just not that big into football…typical isn’t it 🙂 That didn’t stop me enjoying the FA Cup celebrations though!

  6. Hmmm…makes me wonder if Penny even has a last name? Don’t know if I’ve ever heard it – have you? I think many of us have a talent for retaining useless information. For me it’s birthdays. I can recall the birthdays of people I haven’t seen since elementary school. Too bad it’s not a life skill.

    The German language is amazing, isn’t it? A word for everything. Where did you live in Germany? I lived in Dusseldorf from 2000-05. Another thing you made me wonder about…are there 12 variations on “the” or 16? The 4 cases + the plurals? Or are the plurals redundant?

    • I love the German language, just hate the grammar. Even as I read your wonderfully reasoned questioning of my statement about the 12 “the’ variants I could feel my mind going “no, no, not again…”
      I lived in Dusseldorf too (2007 – 2011). I love the city, large enough to have everything at hand yet small enough that you don’t feel completely anonymous. Our apartment overlooked the Hofgarten, which we thought of as our front garden. Where a bouts did you live?

      • A Dusseldorf brother, how cool! We lived on a small quiet street just south of the Altstadt, a stone’s throw from the Rheinkniebruke and the Stadtmuseum, and a short walk from the Carlsplatz, which I frequented every day. Our apartment overlooked a small pond, but we could see the Rhine, too. My kids were both born in D’dorf, a fact that makes them feel unique back here in the States. We visited the Hofgarten often. Sadly, I haven’t been back since we left in 2005, but we’ve always planned to take the kids back when they’re old enough to appreciate it. My youngest is nearly 11, so we will likely venture back soon.

    • I’m getting worse as I get older. I got told off by my wife the other day for remembering the names of the four fast bowlers in the great West Indian cricket side of the 1970’s & 80’s but forgetting the name of our neighbour…

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