Good With Names - Bad With Faces

I'm just wondering if other name enthusiasts maybe became name enthusiasts because they have this problem.

I know most of the population has at some point described themselves as "good with faces, bad with names" and often recognize people but are unable to remember their name.

I am the complete opposite of this.  I can have someone I have met before recognize me and I will not recognize them/remember them until they tell me their name - then I can instantly place them.  My boyfriend and I have had this exact conversation so many times: "Oh, I know her." "I don't" "Yes you do, that's Jack's wife... what's her name?" "Jack's wife's name is Mary"

Basically as long as there's context, I will never forget a name - but if I have to rely on the face alone, I sometimes have trouble placing people.

Anyone else have this problem?


August 28, 2015 10:19 AM

My best friend has sort of learned to have this problem. She's not blind, but her eyesight is bad enough that her facial recognition skills are seriously lacking. She grew up around here back when it was still more rural than suburban, so she's constantly encountering people who recognize her, but whom she can't recognize until she acquires enough context to place them. She doesn't quite have your natural memory for names, though, so she has had to concentrate a bit on learning and remembering names and relationships. (I don't know which came first, her need to remember families, or her interest in genealogy.)

August 28, 2015 10:28 AM

I'm not as good at names as you are, but I am better than with faces. I'll never forget running into my first high school boyfriend in the airport at Christmas time and being unable to place him (about five years after graduation). It was horrifying. Of course I hadn't forgotten *him*...just apparently his face. There are many other past acquaintances whose names and life histories I could tell you, but who I would never be able to pick out of a lineup. Probably more whose stories I remember, without a face or name.

August 29, 2015 5:04 PM

I just read about a condition called face blindness, in which a person who suffers from it is incapable of recognizing faces. I wonder if you might have a very mild form of it. Of course I'm not trying to diagnose anyone with anything- it is probably just a personality trait. Here is an article about it. It's an interesting read.

By mk
August 31, 2015 1:17 PM

Side note: Oliver Sacks had prosopagnosia. Here is an excellent article by him:


August 30, 2015 8:37 AM

I think I'm only average at recognizing faces, but I have a superior memory for names. Most people seem to be the opposite. I have a hard time every semester learning my students' faces--I've usually got the names down by the second class. I manage to call them by the right name by where they sit in the classroom and crude measures such as race, hair color, height, etc. Heaven help me if I run into them outside the classroom! For some reason I have the hardest time telling apart my young blonde female students. Last year I had two lovely such young women in my class named Addyson and Courtney. It took me until the end of the semester to be able to identify them in isolation. About half way through the semester one was absent and I couldn't call on the other because I wasn't sure which one she was. So yes, I think I suffer from the same affliction!

August 30, 2015 11:59 AM

Reminds me of the term when I had students named R0landa and Y0landa.  One had the surname Smith and one Jones, although which surname went with which given name I couldn't tell you, then or now.  They looked nothing alike--one was tall, one was short, one was lean, one was curvy, but which name went with which person was beyond me completely.

September 1, 2015 12:02 AM

I have the same problem, too, right down to being particularly flummoxed by the young blonde female students. (The classes I am teaching now are large, about 75% female, and many women with diverse hair color genetically are obtaining very similar shades of blonde via Lady Clairol, so this problem occurs rather a lot.)