I'm looking for a word that describes a person who is unable to remember people's names.
An example would be:

You can't blame her though, she is a [forgetter of names].

In terms of a condition I found aphasia, which the OED defines as the "loss of ability to understand or express speech, caused by brain damage" but this isn't quite what I'm looking for.

Which word would be best suited?

  • 2
    absent-minded— having or showing a habitually forgetful or inattentive disposition. But that doesn't necessarily mean the person hasn't a memory for names. By placing "she is an excellent __", you're making out it to be a virtue. I realize it's meant to be an ironic/sarcastic/teasing remark, but it will throw people off. I presume you're looking for a noun.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 15, 2015 at 9:29
  • Good suggestion. I've edited it for clarity. In terms of absent-minded, I'm after something that would give an impression of someone who might actually try quite hard to remember names but still fails to do so - I'm not entirely sure absent minded does the trick.
    – Gordonium
    Mar 15, 2015 at 9:36
  • @Gordonium I have no idea, but after seeing the "aphasia“ you provided and combining it with my limited knowledge in Latin, I found a word just one step closer: anomia, more appropriately anomic aphasia. However, I might still not be close enough, as the word can refer to trouble remembering the names of anything, not necessarily people.
    – busukxuan
    Mar 15, 2015 at 10:02
  • I have the same thing. I will get a job at a restaurant with maybe twenty employees, and it will take me months before I know everyone's names, though I see them daily. It is an aphasia of sorts, and I like the colloquial 'tortle' - but I'm not brain damaged. I Have been this way my whole life. And have learned to hide it well.
    – William
    Feb 26, 2017 at 21:21

3 Answers 3


"Face blindness" is the non-technical term.

"prosopagnosia" is the technical term.

(I'm not including a quote since Sacks tends to write in a rambling style and there's not really one pithy quote to grab.)

Interestingly, people with face blindness also tend to have difficulty "navigating" -- they easily get lost if they don't have a map.

There are a number of web resources.

(FWIW, I have this disorder, apparently a "gift" from the polio I had at age 2.)

  • 2
    But this is the inability to recognize people's faces, not names. Is this the same thing? I think not, I may recognize a person's face as being familiar but be at a loss for their name—I've forgotten their names. But if the OP's happy...
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 15, 2015 at 15:04
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA - It's the same. The portion of the brain which remembers names and faces (and places) is damaged. The degree of damage varies, from being able to remember 20-100 names and "recognize" (but not name) a few hundred to not being able to remember anyone at all.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 15, 2015 at 17:57
  • 1
    This certainly could explain some instances of (apparent) name-forgetting, but it doesn't sound like the author of the linked article actually had trouble with names; in the anecdote about his psychiatrist, for example, he fails to recognize the man at all until he hears the man's name. I think this is different from the experience @Mari-LouA describes, of knowing you know someone but being unable to access their name. Still a solid answer, though.
    – 1006a
    Sep 27, 2016 at 4:15
  • @1006a - The disorder spans a wide spectrum, from not recognizing your wife to being able to "pass" as "normal" since you only have difficulty remembering names of casual acquaintances.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 27, 2016 at 12:01
  • I agree that pinning names to people, or any ascribing anything else for that matter, is part of the same problem. People with this condition tend to have a very different filing system for information. Whether this is actually related to the condition or just a side effect - I don't know.
    – Phil Sweet
    Feb 20, 2017 at 1:45

There was a segment on today's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me," where they mentioned a Scottish word "tortle" which meant precisely - to blank on someone's name who you knew well. As in:

"I was introducing my boyfriend to my best friend, and I tortled my best friend!"

  • 1
    Do you think you can find some reference, doesn't have to be a dictionary, though that would be good, where the definition is written down? Or maybe you can find the written transcript of the show?
    – Dan Bron
    Feb 18, 2017 at 23:45
  • The word is tartle: dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/tartle_v1_n1
    – Stuart F
    Dec 17, 2021 at 12:27

Anomia is the condition in which someone forgets the names of things, and I'm told by a neurologist that it happens to affect proper nouns more than other nouns.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.