I was terrible with names too. It was always hard for me, so I overcompensate a little and really try hard to remember names. It’s a threshold of effort problem in my opinion. I read this MIT study somewhere that said the chances of remembering the name of a person increase dramatically if you touch the person while saying their name back to them. It works.
But I think what’s important here is that the candidate pays attention to the human beings that are buzzing all around, and that they don’t treat people like shit. Remembering the name is not the primary objective of the question. And I’ve asked this question a lot, and very few people can remember the persons name, and it’s not a deal breaker for me that they can’t. But how they tell me that they cannot remember the persons name is a really good indicator of the candidate’s empathy for strangers.
Some people say what you said Frappa, “Oh my goodness, I’m sorry I can’t remember their name, but I can describe them and everything we said to each other.” And some people respond with “Who? The receptionist? I was meant to remember their name? Why?”
I’m sure if you offered to draw me a picture of them, it would be equally impressive ;)