I started at Slate not too long ago, and in my first weeks in the magazine’s New York office, I was faced with a problem that is familiar to anyone who’s ever started a new office job. I was surrounded by dozens of new faces and struggled to connect them to names. Which man with a scruffy beard was the one in charge of podcasts again? Who was the friendly woman at my desk pod offering me some of her snacks? I found myself wishing, as I often do, that everyone was wearing a nametag. In fact, I realized all adults should wear nametags.
Heading to the office? Wear your nametag. To a bar? Expect to see people with nametags. Sitting on the beach? Wouldn’t hurt to bring a nametag!
With a nametag norm, you’d never have to worry about misidentifying a co-worker or blanking on a neighbor’s moniker. You’d be able to spot Tinder dates more easily. You’d never—for purely hypothetical example—spend many months being part of a local running group, knowing what people sound like when they are exhausted from sprint workouts, but not how to address them. (Now it’s too late to ask!) Starting a new gig, you won’t have to—as I did—hunt through a series of tiny Slack or Twitter avatars to reverse-engineer what to call someone. I cannot tell you how many times in my life I’ve puzzledly stared at someone I absolutely know from online interactions, before apologizing and fessing up to not being able to match their face to their social media profile. And even then, handles that people go by online can often be different from what they’d like to be called in person. (I’m looking at you, beloved colleague “Millicent Somer.”)
Nametags give people lots of space to be called what they’d actually like to be called. If the name that you’ve been given at birth feels like not the best fit, nametags would give you the opportunity to adjust as you please, minimal explanation required. (You can even include your preferred pronouns—there’s room!) If you do or do not change your name after you get married, the nametag is a directive to others on how to proceed. Right now, when someone consistently calls you by the wrong name, it’s a puzzle: Are they a jerk, or are they just forgetful? Nametags will help you identify the jerks.
Think of the accessorizing possibilities: Everyone could have a little nametag drawer, right next to underwear and socks. Flowery script for days when you feel fancy, basic Helvetica for no-nonsense impressions. Etsy is already at the ready for my proposed nametag world, offering options like personalized wood nametags, wedding-themed nametags, and sparkly glitter nametags. Entire new traditions could spring up around nametags; dare I say it would be a cute move to leave one of your tags at a date’s house?
A colleague (hi, Heather!) told me that she thinks remembering someone’s name is a compliment. That is a nice thought—but with nametags taking care of the basics, we’d all have more space to remember actual facts about our co-workers and friends of friends at parties. We’d be left with more space to pay attention to one another in more interesting ways, whether by saving our favorite details about them to mention later or collecting new ones. There are a thousand more interesting things to wonder about a person than “Oh crap, what am I supposed to call them?”
Wouldn’t this just invite an onslaught of unwanted interaction? As a young woman in America, I’m no stranger to having some guy in whom I have zero interest make persistent small talk with me, even as I reduce my engagement to one-word replies. Nametags as a standard could be a clear way to signal to the world that you’re not up for talking. Not up for having someone you don’t know address you? Take off your nametag. No nametag, no conversation. This goes double for people in the service industry who currently wear nametags; lack of one signals a clear unavailability for serving emotional labor along with coffee. Obviously, unwanted attention isn’t only an issue of men misunderstanding your interest, but universal nametags would provide a crystal-clear retort to anyone who tries to claim, gosh, they just had no idea that you and your beer wanted some alone time at the airport bar.
The thing is, in the 21st century, we already use nametags for lots of our interactions. Entire meetings’ worth of discussions take place on Slack, where you can always clearly identify the name of whoever is “talking.” Online dating apps are bars full of people with nametags. Facebook is an endless high school reunion, with nametags. LinkedIn is a networking happy hour, with nametags. Twitter is, at times, like being stuck on a 20-hour flight where everyone is yelling, but at least there are nametags. (Except in October.) If we made wearing nametags in the real world a social norm, we might even reduce the friction of in-person interactions—and make it a tad easier to log off.