Q: One of your neighbors has greeted you by name for years, and you never got around to asking for a refresher on his name. Is it too late to ask now?
A: This is quite a conundrum. Generally speaking, it’s best to get in that name refresher ask no later than the second or third time you meet someone. It’s very easy to forgive at that point. But with years gone by, I’m not sure there’s any way you would escape offending your neighbor, and I think you would likely feel the same if the situation were reversed.
Your best bet is to ask a mutual neighbor and hope that your error is not found out. Another workaround is to invite a friend to a backyard barbecue and hope the neighbor makes an appearance in their yard. The friend could “casually” drift over and say, “You must be So-and-so’s neighbor,” and then introduce themselves, at which point the neighbor’s likely reaction will be to do the same.
While we’re on the topic of names, everyone appreciates when you not only get the name right, but also say it correctly. If you only know the person’s name on paper, never be afraid to ask how to pronounce it, first or last name.
Courtney Fadler, etiquette expert and founder of CF Etiquette
A: As someone whose name’s pronunciation often gets butchered, I’d much rather have someone be straight up and ask me for my name, even after years of living next to each other, than continue to call me by the wrong name or no name at all.
That being said, if you’re like me, you’ll most likely spend more energy stressing out about the situation instead of just being upfront. What if they get offended, especially after years of watering your plants while you’re on vacation?
There are ways to avoid having to admit your faux pas. Sometimes you can pick up a neighbor’s name from social media. If you live in an apartment building, you could keep an eye out for any packages sent to your neighbor and peek at the label. (Granted, this method is somewhat creepy.)
I’ve also had luck with the phone ploy: I’ll tell someone that I’m updating my contact list and realized that I don’t have their number. Then I’ll hand them the phone and ask them to enter the data.
Phillipe Thao, writer