Column: How to name-drop successfully

(Photo by takomabibelot/Flickr)

There is something gross about name dropping.

You are inside a conversation circle when someone mentions an association with a person who is famous/powerful/cool. It is not necessary for the conversation, but the speaker puts it out there anyway. “Oh, yeah,” they say, “Robert Redford and I have dinner every year at Sundance.” Immediately your brain goes “yuck,” and it has nothing to do with a week of watching gay cowboys eat pudding. The “yuck” is for the name-drop.

Why the yuck?

Let’s break it down.

When people name-drop for the sake of name-dropping, two things happen. Obviously they are trying to impress everyone. Less obvious is that they have run out of interesting things to say in the moment. By dropping a name, the speaker masks the fact that he is boring while simultaneously grabbing high status in the conversation circle. Name-dropping is a clever tactic for boring people who crave attention.

Look at what happens next. Everyone in the conversation circle has three main options. They can 1.) Say “wow” and nod their heads and ask questions of the name dropper 2.) Drop names of their own, igniting a name-dropping frenzy that allows the first name-dropper to keep dropping names 3.) Tell the name-dropper to fuck off.
Most people do not choose the third option, which is a shame, because it would make parties much more interesting.

Why do I care?

I care because name-dropping is a conversation killer. And I hate conversation killers. I have identified two others.

The first is describing dreams. If you are describing a dream to me, I am probably doing long division in my head for fun. The second is crapping on someone’s taste. You don’t have to, for example, like Carl Weathers as much as I do, but don’t say, “Carl Weathers sucks.” When you say, “Carl Weathers sucks,” you are actually saying, “Your taste in art, one of the things that defines you as an individual, puts a wang it is mouth.” There is nowhere constructive to go after that. You have to start over. Same goes for name dropping.

(Above: What’s not to like?) Dangerous Beauty movies

So we all know name dropping is gross. Yet some of us do it anyway. Why? Because we want to be liked. What actually happens? According to researcher Carmen Lebherz, it makes us less likeable The Good Shepherd dvd .

In a study, Lebherz and her team sent introductory e-mails to real Swiss undergrad students from fictional lab partners. The e-mail contained the fake student’s age, hometown, job and either 1.) Name-dropped that the student was friends with or trained with Swiss tennis champion Roger Federer 2.) Mentioned that the student was a Federer fan 3.) Did not mention Federer at all.

The participants rated their future research partners based on that e-mail. The prospective lab partners who called Federer a friend or training partner were rated less likeable and less competent and more manipulative by their prospective partners.

According to the research, name-dropping is almost guaranteed to backfire.

Think about the reverse. If someone is enamored by name-droppers, he prefers having manipulative, unlikeable people around. You can almost picture this sort gathered at a Georgetown or Beverly Hills soiree, comforted by the fact that even though they have nothing to say, and must trade on others’ reputations for conversational currency, no one will ever call them on it. And now I am starting to sound like a paragraph from The Fountainhead. So let’s get out of here.

A certain type of name-dropping can be done successfully. It just requires tact.

In the study, the fictional students who were Federer fans neither benefitted nor suffered. Lebherz notes previous research that suggests that mentioning a distant association with an influential person, like saying you are a fan of a tennis star, can be beneficial when others have just seen you fail, or if you are prompted to reveal the association. In other words, if you have just been knocked down a peg, or if you are asked to reveal the association, and you are humble in your name-dropping, only then will people not think you are a total ass.

Joe Donatelli
Joe Donatelli is a writer in Los Angeles
  • Megan

    Nice article, Donatelli. Funny, in fact, based on a recent chain of events. I was out with a new hottie and mentioned that I knew Joe Donatelli, not from our OU days, but rather from my days in LA. The guy never called me again…

  • Joe Donatelli

    I should have added that name-dropping not only doesn’t work, but is guaranteed to prevent sex when the name being dropped is mine. Just be thanful there was no shoving or heavy yelling.

  • Andrea

    Reggie Jackson hit on me in an elevator when I worked for the Angels…i don’t know if thats name dropping cause it was totally gross!

    I knew Joe Donatelli when he wa the OU baseball announcer –

  • Joe Donatelli

    It is not name-dropping if you shudder at the thought.

    Great move by Reggie, though. Nowhere to run.


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