One of the things we really try to do when you come to stay here at St Cuthbert’s House is to learn your name. Seems simple, I can almost hear you thinking. So you might be surprised at how hard it is to learn the names of twelve guests who are constantly changing, on alternating days… anyway, we think it really matters. We like to remember your name, and to use it when we talk with you. There are some little tricks I’ve learned to help me learn names, but I have no intention of sharing them with you, just in case you don’t approve of them.
I know how I feel when someone remembers my name. I feel like I matter to them, and that they somehow value me as an individual. And that’s how we’d want you to feel.
Two things happened today to make me think about how important using our name is. In another context, outside our work here at St Cuthbert’s House, I’m a member of a small team of professional people, which meets regularly - and exchanges email every week. Today I received a reply to an email I’d sent to one of the members. So let’s picture the scene; the email is in his inbox with my name clearly displayed; he clicks ‘Reply’ and the original message detail is shown; and he types “Dear Geoff”. So by now I don’t really care what he’s writing to tell me because I’m so cross that he can’t take the trouble to spell my name correctly.
Perhaps I’m the victim of some carefully-constructed joke amongst the team, because then the postman arrived. He brought a document from another member of the team. We are the longest-standing members of this team, and have worked together in this context for over 12 years. He must have received more than 500 emails from me, every one of which carries my full name. We countersign documents regularly, which bear both of our names side by side. Like the one he had just signed and sent on to me. So why would he address the envelope to 'Jeff Sutherland'? Did he pause for a moment, uncertainly? Did he wonder, after he’d written it, whether that was entirely accurate? Or did he think ‘that’s near enough’? Well it wasn’t, and to misquote Churchill, this kind of sloppy inaccuracy is something up with which we will not put.
So if you are here for just a night or two, I can promise only to try to remember your name when we chat. But by the time you've sent me hundreds of emails and visited for 12 years or more, I think I can promise I’d have it by then.