It happens all the time to wedding officiants, and it’s the most common and preventable mistake we make. Especially we professional wedding officiants who serve new couples every weekend.
It might be a small slip of the tongue or memory, but it can lead to a disproportionately big embarrassment.
What’s the mistake?
The wedding officiant gets the bride or groom’s name wrong.
If it’s just a slip of the tongue or a brief mispronunciation, no big deal. But if it’s saying the wrong name, or drawing a total blank and hesitating for a second too long, it can spoil just about everything else we’ve done well as officiants on the wedding day.
In case you think I’m immune to this bungle, I’m going to let you in on a secret: take a look at this picture, the anchor splash image for my officiating business, Unboring!Wedding.
I love this picture because it captures the spirit of every wedding ceremony I officiate. Scarlet O’Neill caught it perfectly. But here’s the honest story behind this particular photo.
See how I’m blushing a bit? It’s because seconds before this, the groom leaned in and told me I’d been using the wrong name for him several times up to that point. Thank God he was good-natured about it, and we all had a good laugh. It could have gone… otherwise.
How did I get his name wrong? Well, when I was writing the script, I’d copied and pasted a short section from another wedding I’d written where the groom’s name was Ben. I forgot to immediately change the groom’s name after I pasted it, and I didn’t catch my mistake. So when I was reading along, I read “Ben” several times in their story – and didn’t notice! That’s when Joe (the groom in the picture) stepped in. Yes, we laughed. And I turned red.
Here’s what made it so funny, though: Joe’s brother’s name was Ben, and he was standing right there. So I’d made it sound like this was the story of the bride and her groom’s brother going on a first date. Ouch.
That was the last time I ever messed up a couple’s names. Since then I’ve built in a few habits to make sure that not only do I get the couple’s names right but also that their names roll off my tongue – at every wedding I officiate.
Here are some tricks I use to prevent ever messing up the wedding couple’s names again.
1. Highlight the names of the couple everywhere in the wedding ceremony script
I always create my full wedding script in Google docs and then print it out on paper. Yeah, I know reading off a paper in a binder is pretty old school, but there are a few reasons why I prefer not to read off of a tablet. More on that another time.
Regardless of whether we use paper or a tablet, though, this is something every wedding officiant can do: grab a highlighter (or select your highlighter tool in Google Docs), and highlight every single time the couple’s name appears in the script.
Yes, this is a mundane task, but it does two things.
First, the repetition of finding and highlighting their names over and over again will crystallize the names in your memory. And second, when the names are highlighted, it will become very obvious in your script if there’s a section where there are no highlights. A gap in the script without highlights likely means you’ve made a mistake in the names.
But we’ll probably never get to the gap in our script because we would have already caught the wrong names anyways. How? By meticulously looking for the couple’s names to highlight them.
2. Write the names of the couple on every page of the wedding ceremony script
I’ve discussed before how important it is to make sure the page numbers of our ceremony script are numbered. So at the top or bottom of every page, I recommend having page numbers. Well here’s the other thing I recommend having on every page: the names of the couple. This accomplishes two things.
First, the sheer exercise of writing their names 16 times over and over (my scripts are always 14-16 pages) should emblazon their names in our memory. Second, having their names clearly marked at the top or bottom of every page of the script means that if we have a moment of name-forgetfulness, a simple glance down immediately unsticks our memory.
And sometimes just one second is the difference between making the couple feel like friends and making them feel like customers.
3. Repeat the couple’s names like a mantra before the rehearsal and the ceremony
Between highlighting over and over and writing their names over and over, we’re seeing how there’s no substitute for the pattern of repetition to hammer home those names and prevent us from forgetting.
Well, this third trick is no exception. It’s all about the repetition, baby.
Before the wedding rehearsal, after I’ve parked my car or emerged from the subway and I’m just a couple of minutes away from the venue, I start the mantra.
“Sandra and Steve. Sandra and Steve. Sandra and Steve. Sandra and Steve, Sandra and Steve, Sandra and Steve, Sandra and Steve Sandra and Steve Sandra and Steve….” Get the picture?
I repeat the couple’s name over and over until I’m saying it to myself without thinking.
I do this habit again when I’m pulling up on the wedding day.
When I started practicing this habit, I noticed that the couple’s names were right on the tip of my tongue for the whole event. No hesitation. No stumbling. I’m laser-focused on them. It’s like their names are ready to just jump out of my mouth.
As professional wedding officiants, we love our couples and want to serve them as best we can. We don’t intend to mess up their names, of course. But the mind can be frail. And it can do things we don’t want it to do. And the more weddings we do, the more at-risk we become.
Highlighting our couple’s names in our wedding script, writing their names on every page, and repeating their names before their rehearsal and ceremony. These 3 little habits can help us be the fully-present wedding officiant we want to be.
How about you? I’d love to hear your tricks for how you remember your wedding couple’s names in the comments below!