Learning names kick-starts friendships

By Thomas Block, Columnist

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare so eloquently queried in “Romeo and Juliet.”

I’m no English major, but I think he was trying to say names shouldn’t tear us apart. I’ll do him one better: names should bring us closer together.

You may wave politely to that one person in the hallway every day. A friend of a friend might join your study group and sit across from you at your table. A familiar face may repeatedly end up on your team in pickup basketball down at the ARC, week after week.

We all have that nameless “acquaintance” who keeps popping up in our lives. With just one small step, we might gain a friend. All we have to do is ask what their name is.

You’d be surprised what it can do. In my freshman year of high school, I was trying on a tuxedo for my band concert in the school dressing room when another student walked in on me with only my boxers on.

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It could’ve been worse — much worse — but the incident seemed bad enough to doom any chance of a friendship with that guy. After about a year of awkward-eye-contact limbo, we ran into each other during cross country practice, decided to suck it up and introduce ourselves. We are still close to this day, and funnily enough, he doesn’t seem to recall how we met … lucky me.

You don’t have to dive into a pit of embarrassment for this to work. In fact, I’d recommend you don’t. We probably already feel vulnerable enough when you’re meeting someone new. The good news is the other person probably feels the same way.

Consider the act of asking for a person’s name as a sort of initiation, the thing you need to do to get the social ball rolling. It sends a message that you want to communicate with this person in more than one context and that you’re no longer willing to settle for generic names like “buddy” or “pal.” Your relationships, after all, can only be as good as the names you know them by.

I know, I know. What if you’ve gone a week without asking for that name? A month? Heavens, a year?

If you ask me, it’s never too late. Call attention to your discomfort if you have to; they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. Heck, it might just be the conversation topic that kicks off a new friendship.

Thomas is a sophomore in Engineering.

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