Legend: A ruse used to mask a forgotten name backfires in an embarrassing manner.
[Reader's Digest, 1972]
A British army officer returned to London after 12 years in various corners of the world. At a fashionable cocktail party he suddenly found himself with an attractive woman whose face seemed familiar. Feeling that he knew her from somewhere, he asked how her father was. "My father is dead," she replied.
"Oh, terribly sorry," the man said. Then, still groping for a clue, "How's your brother?"
"I don't have a brother," the woman said. "Just my sister."
"Of course, how stupid of me," the officer replied, feeling he was now getting on the track. "How is your sister?"
"Fine," said the attractive woman. "Still Queen."
In the foyer of a Manchester hotel [Sir Thomas] Beecham saw a distinguished-looking woman whom he believed he knew, though he could not remember her name. He paused to talk to her and as he did so vaguely recollected that she had a brother. Hoping for a clue, he asked how her brother was and whether he was still working at the same job. "Oh, he's very well," she answered, "and still king."
[Reader's Digest, 1949]
The first Mrs. Richard Harding Davis was one day riding in a Long Island train when an important-looking woman took a seat across the aisle from her. Mrs. Davis remembered that somewhere she had met the newcomer, but what her name was she could not recall. To make the situation acutely embarrassing, the lady nodded pleasantly and said, "Won't you come sit with me, Mrs. Davis?"
Mrs. Davis changed her seat, and then began a mental struggle to recall the eluding name. Presently what she hoped was a clue disclosed itself. The lady mentioned a brother. "Oh, yes. Your brother." Mrs. Davis grasped at the straw. "What is he doing now?"
Oh, he's still President of the United States," said Mrs. Douglas Robinson, sister of Theodore Roosevelt.
The "still the President" version has been trotted out about Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and William Taft. The Coolidge version is easy to disprove; Coolidge's only sister died in 1890, many years before he became president in 1923. Corinne Roosevelt (Mrs. Douglas Robinson) outlived her celebrated brother.
"Still the Queen" and its variants are told about members of the British royal family or will in some other way involve Britain. When the Royal in question is Queen Elizabeth II, either her sister Margaret or her husband Philip get to deliver the killing line. British composer Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) is reputed to have told this story on himself as an incident which happened when he ran into the sister of the King of England. A more modern version skewers Sir Lawrence Olivier in an encounter with the sister of Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, and the most recent of all features British Prime Minister Tony Blair having a "still the Queen" episode with the ruler of the Netherlands.
Origins: Trying to trace an anecdote back to the incident it supposedly grew out of is a frustrating practice at the best of times and an impossible one when the same tale is told about numerous people, each of whom is now long dead.
As an anecdote, we know this story has been in circulation in "still the President" form since 1946 when it appeared in a collection of jokes, and in "still the king" form from 1943 when it surfaced in a biography of Thomas Beecham. In the case of personal glimpse tales circulated long after supposed events, there's little way to tell if the incident(s) reported took place or if the stories were coined at a later date. We know both versions were passed around as illustrative tales in the 1940s; we don't know if either actually happened in real life.
It's possible all of these tales stem from one true-life incident which has since come to be "remembered" about various U.S. Presidents and British Royals. It's equally possible it was always a fable.
Yet fable or no, it keep popping up. Witness this September 1999 sighting, straight from the lips of British Prime Minister Tony Blair:
Tony Blair revisits his greatest social gaffe in an interview with Woman's Journal.
"I was at a big international conference, when a woman who seemed vaguely familiar asked me where I was from," he says. "'I'm Tony Blair from the British Labour Party,' I replied. 'And you are?'
'My name is Beatrice [sic] and I'm from the Netherlands.'
'What do you do?' I asked.
'I am the Queen.'"
Who hasn't experienced that sinking feeling upon greeting a familiar face and engaging the person in conversation only to realize the name isn't being dredged up out of memory to be matched up with the person who stands before you? Forgetting someone's name is a faux pas; admitting to such a lapse implies one didn't
think the person important enough to remember, a slip teetering on the edge of insult. It's a socially awkward situation, and weathering it comes down to a choice between attempting to gracefully tread conversational water while waiting for enlightenment, or confessing all and risking being thought a boor.
In the realm of legend, those who don't come clean about the lapse are riding for a fall. Urban legends, after all, are often cautionary tales, warning us against various behaviors by illustrating what has happened to others who failed to do the right thing. Even as we laugh at the "still the Queen" line, we picture ourselves smarting on the receiving end of it.
Etiquette maven Judith Martin has this bit of advice for those looking to avoid becoming the object of such a comeback:
It was on the crumbling page of hundred-year-old etiquette book that Miss Manners came across the solution to that enduring problem of what to say when confronted with a person whose name you know you are expected to know but don't. The answer comes to us from an anonymous Victorian, apparently a Hero of Etiquette but described merely as "a good-natured eccentric." Beaming a jovial smile at a vaguely familiar face, he would inquire in a pleasant, oh-by-the-by tone, "You don't happen to remember your name, do you?"