What’s in a Name? I Can’t Remember

The plight of a professor and six girls named Allie

I have always been terrible with names. If every man, woman and pet on the planet came equipped with a permanent name tag, I would still shoot blanks five seconds after being introduced.

This is a common affliction, especially for the middle-aged. For me, it goes further back. Even as kid, I remember (no joke) experiencing that moment of panic when you recognized the face, but the name was playing hide-and-seek. And it was winning.

So imagine what it’s like for me at this time of the year, as I greet 32 Penn students – mostly bright-eyed freshmen – who have signed up for my two critical-writing seminars.

Unnerved. Agitated. Confused. Embarrassed. All of the above.

It gets worse. This semester, I have not one, not two, but four girls named Allie in my morning class. That works out to 25 percent Allies.

Allie B. Allie O. Allie R. Allie S. Not to mention Allie I. and Allie N. in the afternoon. As some character (I forget his name) said in Apocalypse Now: “Oh, the horror.”

Allison/Alison wasn’t even a popular baby name when the Allie Six were born, ranking 41st in ’93 and 34th in ‘94, according to the Social Security Administration website. (FYI: Jessica was No. 1 both years. In ’09 and ’10, Isabella was the hot handle.)

In the past, I’ve survived by creating nicknames. One student looked so much like Law & Order: SVU’s’ Detective Stabler that I christened him Stabler on the first day of class. It stuck. He even turned in his papers as Stabler. When he signed “Abe” on his final portfolio, I had no idea who it was. True story.

He’s in law school now. Not as Stabler, I assume.

As for my current Allie overload, inventing all those nicknames would require too much brain power. I wouldn’t remember them, anyway. Full names would be equally daunting.

Here’s an idea: I could have the four Allies sit together in assigned seats–an Allie Quad, as it were. That way, I could call on them by their seat number (Allie 1, Allie 2, etc.) Too Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase?

As the semester rolls on, I know I’ll come up with something for The A-Team. Until then, I’ll continue to point and to feign recognition when they raise their hands.

Forgive me, Allies. Whoever you are.