Adventures in Nametagging

May 13, 2003

[Name tag]I ran around Saturday trying to get a good Mother’s Day present for Kay. She had hinted that she wanted a color printer for her birthday, but I got her something else, so I thought this would be a good time to make it up to her. I first stopped in Office Depot, but they didn’t have the printer I wanted. But they did have something else: nametags.
(Now I’ve told Kay about the nametag thing, and she has made it clear to me that “You’re welcome to wear a nametag… when I’m not with you.”)
So I bought a pack of nametags, and slapped one on right there at the counter.

My next stop was Best Buy, which had a better selection of printers, but still not the one I wanted. Another couple was in the printer aisle, puzzling over what they needed. I began talking with them, trying to be helpful. They were open to talking with me, probably because of my nametag. When I said, “I’m looking for a printer, too,” they said, “Oh, you don’t work here?” (Did they think that because of the nametag, or because I was trying to be helpful, and people don’t help strangers?)

This same couple bumped into me in a different aisle. The woman was saying, “Just ask him,” but the man walked past me. So the woman stopped and said, “I’m sorry, can we ask you a question? Will this paper work in this printer?” (Do men ever ask for help?)

I finally went to where I knew I would end up, the Apple Store, where I found everything I was looking for. Kay had also asked for a book to guide her through Mac OS X because it is quite different from 9, so I explored the book section. There a worker was talking with another customer, recommending a particular book for those who are visual learners. This caught my attention because Kay is very visual, so I jumped into the conversation. (Would I have been so bold without my nametag?)

Finally, I stopped in a grocery store on the way home to pick up flowers (I ended up getting a balloon instead). As I was examining the flowers, a little old lady next to me held up some potted flowers and asked me, “What do you think? Aren’t these nice?” I spent a little time looking at flowers with her. As she walked away, she turned back and whispered, “Do you think it’s all right if I buy myself Mother’s Day flowers?” and I whispered back, “It’s perfectly all right, you’ve earned it.”

It was neat to have people approach me — but the big surprise was that just by wearing a nametag, I felt fewer inhibitions about talking to people. So if I can cultivate this as an inward habit, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to boldly strike up conversations even without a nametag.

This was fun, and I think there’s more to learn, especially about internalizing it. I will continue the experiment.

Nametag series:

  1. “Front porches”
  2. Adventures in Nametagging
  3. Adventures in Nametagging 2
  4. Adventures in Nametagging 3
  5. The Dollar: A Nametag Adventure

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

3 responses to Adventures in Nametagging

  1. ha ha….does your wife sometimes think you’re a dork. I know mine does when I do weird stuff.

  2. I love this! I enjoyed reading about Scott from the link on your previous post. And thanks for the encouragement to be more open and friendly to anyone and everyone. My mother had a friend as I was growing up who could strike up a conversation with just about anyone…I aspire to be more like her!

  3. A friend and i did a similar exercise about 6 or 7 years ago. We were at a large conference and decided to mess around with the nametag idea, except with including “fake” names and countries of residence. Attendees frequently came to us with their questions, thinking our official looking, typed up, stick on nametags meant we were people of stature. what a great exercise…Not on the meaningful side, but it was hilarious watching people struggle to pronounce my nametag—Glubert Finklestink, from Smellayoo Finland.
    seriously though–great exercize. In a time where the perception is that safety exists in isolation–ESPECIALLY in a retail environment–any avenue making us more approachable and less offensive/intimidating is great.