I often face the problem of forgetting the name of a person who I last met a while ago.

This can lead to an awkward situation when asking what their name is.

How can I elicit them to say their name, without letting them know that I've forgotten?

  • With the emphasis on not letting them know, it's not too clear what you mean: do you mean getting the person to say their name somehow without making it obvious that you forgot, or do you mean asking a third party for their name? Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 6:42
  • Just because it's normally impossible to avoid letting someone know something when you ask them directly, and most of the answers are just directly and blatantly asking the person themselves. How to get someone to elicit their name is a good question. A little more clarity would help :) Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 6:50
  • 1
    Related question on The Workplace: workplace.stackexchange.com/q/100956.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 0:22

14 Answers 14


A trick to save you a bit of embarrassment, is the following.

"What was your name again?"
"Sorry, I mean your surname."

That makes it seem you've only forgotten their surname.

Should they reply with their full name right away, be sure to emphasise it was their surname you had forgotten.

"What was your name again?"
"John Smith."
"Ah yes, Smith, of course."

  • 6
    Your answer is all good except the part you've only forgotten. We do have a tendency to tell only first name when introduced among friends/colleagues, so forgot surname isn't the case. Maybe it can be like I wanted to know the surname.
    – A J
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 2:45
  • I think, It could go from awkward to more awkward maybe the person won't talk to you at all. Reason - Oh Smith this guy putting stress on my surname, he could've called me by first name only. Maybe Smiths do not have good reputation here, look he is smirking. I should stay away.
    – paul
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 6:49

I personally am very bad with names, and often come across this issue myself. Firstly, if you have a mutual friend, or someone else who knows the person, it's always best to ask them first, to see if they know (and can tell you).

If you can't think of anyone you know that might know their name, it might be worth trying to contact one of his friends, and asking them if they know his name, or just see if they mention it when in general conversation.

Finally, short of actually asking him himself, you can always try looking through social media or your phone, to see if his details are anywhere on there, even a signed note will let you know his name.

Finally, if you must ask him yourself, then you should address him in an apologetic way, something along the lines of:

"I'm awfully sorry but it's been a long time and I can't quite remember your name, could you remind me?"


You could ask them directly, by saying something like:

I'm sorry, I have a terrible memory. Remind me one more time of your name?

Or, if you actually have a good memory and you're pedantic, maybe something like:

I'm sorry, I know I should remember your name, but it's just escaped me for a moment. Could you remind me once more?

If you really don't want to let them know you forgot, you could try to engineer a situation where they introduce themselves to someone else in front of you, so that you hear their name without having to ask them. (But make sure you're not the one expected to introduce them to each other.)

  • 2
    I don't think this answers the question
    – user20
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 16:37

If you know them well enough, give them your phone and ask for their contact information or Facebook profile.

This saves you the embarrassment of asking, as the person will write out their name for you. As an added bonus, you now have their information saved to your phone as a contact, meaning you can easily look it up without having to ask again.

If possible, I also recommend adding a contact photo to help associate the name with a person.

iPhone new contact


If it is an unusual or hard-to-pronounce name, I would just ask,

How do you say your name again? I want to make sure I've gotten it right.

If it's a common name, I would try to associate with someone or something that I already know. A "common" name makes it easier to make these associations.

If all else fails, use Kaz' suggestion, apologize and say something like, "I'm sorry, I think I've forgotten your name."


A couple suggestions that haven't been mentioned yet, but I've found useful for tricking people into giving me their name again:

  1. Find some reason you have to write out their name, and ask them to remind you how to spell it. Note: this approach works less well on names like Bill, James, etc. :)

  2. Put on a very slightly absent look when talking to them and pull out a random name. The beauty of this one is that when they correct you, you can look a bit embarrassed and say, "Oh, of course, I'm sorry, I wasn't quite with you." The downside is that using this approach twice sounds a bit odd, and if they fail to correct you, you're no closer to the goal.*

  3. Watch everything that goes through their hands: bills, cheques, credit cards, etc., and listen carefully to anyone talking to them: sooner or later, a person has to let on to their name, especially in a group setting. I remember one trucker I worked with whose last name I never heard. It started to get embarrassing, because I knew him too well eventually to ask a silly question like "What's your last name?" - until one day I asked if he minded if I looked at his log book for curiosity's sake.

Hope some or all of this helps someone!

*It also yields humorous results if you happened to guess right on. This has happened to me before. :)


If I do not remember someone's name after the first time that we met then I introduce myself to them the next time that we are in a speaking situation.

After only meeting someone once or a couple times, it is normal to forget someone's name and more often than not the other party will be appreciative that they do not have to ask and then voluntarily give you their name as well.


The way I usually use if I can speak/write to a person I ask something like:

How can I find you on facebook/instagram/twitter/any_popular_website?

It has always worked perfectly well for me.


There is another approach I tried sometimes and I just thought to share it here.

If I want to know the first name of a person, I'd just ask

What's your full name?

In India, we do have a tendency to tell the first name only among colleagues and friends. Therefore, by asking people their full name make them think I just want to know their last name only. In this way, we can get the first name.


Sometimes I just skipped the statement that I forgot their name, and just let them fill the blanks

So, we meet again, Mr./Mrs. ...

And making an expression hinting that I can't remember their name.

Like others say, it is very common to forget names, so usually, people won't object to that.

Here in Indonesia, we might jokingly "introduce" ourselves to a friend with sarcasm (don't know a more appropriate word). This works in a very casual setting, and is more common in teenagers:

Give them a handshake, hold them firmly, and with "naughty" face, say your name

This often repeated again, and again to reinforce the sarcasm. You can expect them "introducing" themselves to you.

Hi, (I'm) John...
Hi, (I'm) Bob.
Hi, (I'm) John.
Hi, (I'm) Bob.


To save yourself embarrassment in the future, whenever you meet someone new: 1) Repeat their name back as soon as you hear (this will help you remember it). 2) Let them know you are terrible with names but will try and remember it.

Many people have similar issues remembering names and so it's totally understandable. Furthermore, if you make a habit of this when you do forget don't be ashamed to ask (especially early in the conversation). When you do ask, use your name in the same sentence, and that way if they've forgotten yours you've saved them the embarrassment of being the one to ask.

"Hi, I'm afraid I'm terrible at remembering names and have forgotten yours. I'm aslum and it's a pleasure to meet you again."


If there is someone else and you know that someone, you can ask him/her if he didn't catch the name (or better if he's not aware of it for a longer time).

Another possibility is to look the person up, for example on social networks, but you need to know something about him. For example, if you met him/her at the wedding, he is probably a friend of at least one of the newly-weds. If it is on working party he probably works in the same company as you. Etc.

Of course, you can ask directly the person whose name you forget, but there is always some risk that he/she will be disappointed or mad at you.


In work/professional situations or on the off chance they use a professional email address, you can ask for their email address. In many offices, corporate email addresses are something along the lines of: [email protected]. Many people will also often use [email protected] or some variation on this for private emails.

The downside to this is that you may need to explain why you want their email address.

  • 1
    I didn't mention the workplace anyway and asking for email address or phone number is not really good idea. They might not give you always.
    – A J
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 17:42
  • I am aware that you didn't mention the workplace, however I find this type of thing comes up often in a workplace situation and thought it may be useful for anyone else reading as you also did not specifically exclude the workplace. I added emphasis to the answer. Regarding phone numbers...I'm not sure why you would ask for someone's phone number in this context... did I accidentally allude to that? Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 20:49

If there is a third person in the area whom you know but doesn't know the person whose name you have forgotten, call them over to introduce them to this other person. With any luck, they will both share their names with each other.

[...talking to Alex whose name I have forgotten...]

"Oh let me introduce you to my friend John. Hey John come over here!"

John comes over and says, "Hi there I'm John what's your name?"

"Hi John my name is Alex."

This can work, but it can also backfire if the two expect you to do the introducing on their behalf! So be prepared to excuse yourself quickly if that happens!


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.