The Power of a Name
by Patrice Wooldridge
Some years back, research showed there is unique brain activation when a person hears their own name. Hearing one’s own name causes one’s brain to react as if one was engaging in the behaviors and thought patterns that serve as some of our core identity and personality markers. *
After reading that, I have made a habit (as best I can) to address people by name. This includes times in a retail environment when the salesperson, cashier or others have nametags on (making it easy to address them by name).
Recently, I was in a department store and when it was my turn the cashier said, “Hello.” I said, “Hello Carolyn. How are you doing today?” Her reaction was amazing – she looked up, her posture changed, her face lit up, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Well you just made my day!” I was a bit embarrassed but asked, “Oh, how is that?” And she said, “I work at this register a good part of the day and barely get any recognition from customers, much less someone taking the time to see my name and address me by it. So much of the time I feel invisible.”
I empathized and said how happy I was to meet her. She asked me if I am a mom (as Mother’s Day was the following weekend) and I said no. I asked her if she had children and she said yes, three adult children, but that they rarely talk to her because she is an alcoholic and has only been sober for the last three years. I told her that I grew up in a difficult family environment and that sometimes it takes quite a while for kids to make peace with a parent’s struggles. I told her I would be thinking of her this Mother’s Day.
The next morning, I was teaching and made sure to say each person’s name as they walked in. Again, it was wonderful to see how they each brightened up when addressed by name.
Since I originally wrote this reflection, I’ve read an article that talked about how some people who are required to wear a name tag for their work find it intrusive and insulting to be addressed by name. My guess is that what is most important when speaking to someone, particularly in using their name, is that you genuinely are willing to connect and are open to listening to what they have to say.
For tai chi players this can be an exercise that is an extension of our sensing hands. In sensing hands, we must intuitively sense what the other person is offering us, and be in sync with their needs, to know how to respond. As we are more likely to interact with people who are required to wear name tags than we are to be in formal sensing hands sessions, addressing someone you don’t know provides a fabulous opportunity to work your intuition, unity, compassion and caring. Consider this next time you are grocery shopping!
*Brain Res. 2006 Oct 20; 1116(1): 153– 158. Published online 2006 Sep 7. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2006.07.121