Never Forget a Name Again: 7 Tips to Remember Names

by Emily Worden 

Recently I wrote about 10 steps to effective communication and the #3 tip was “Use names.” People enjoyed the article so I thought we’d explore the topic more.

Two Businesswomen Shaking Hands In Modern OfficeWhy is it important to remember names? First, people value the sound of their own name. They love to hear it in everyday conversation. Not only are names attention-grabbing, they also build trust between people.

It’s especially important to use names in business situations. If you want to get promoted, you must work well with others – and that includes using names. I’ve heard loads of stories about people passed over for promotions because they lack interpersonal skills and “don’t know anyone’s name.”

Not only that, but it’s embarrassing when we don’t remember someone else’s name. How many times have you cringed when someone calls your name and you can only respond with “Hey there,” or “What’s up buddy?”

Finally, memory is like a muscle – it gets stronger the more you use it. The more we try to remember names, the faster and more responsive our memory becomes.

“But Emily,” you’re thinking, “I’m terrible at remembering names. I always forget them.” Well, that’s not true. You can’t forget names because you never remembered them. Most people don’t have a memory problem, they have an attention problem. If you forgot someone’s name 10 seconds after meeting them, you didn’t really forget, you weren’t paying attention.

7 Steps to Remembering Names (and Improving Memory to Boot):

1) Be present and focused. Meeting people for the first time can be stressful. We’re often anxious about our appearance and how others perceive us. Thus, when we meet someone new we’re too nervous thinking about ourselves and not properly focused on the other person.

How can you overcome this? First, make yourself comfortable. Wear clothing that makes you feel confident. Second, research the situation ahead of time – find out where you’re going, what it looks like, and who will be there. Research attendees to get a jump start on names and faces.

Next, eliminate all distractions when you’re meeting someone new. Forget about yourself – you’re wonderful. Instead focus on the person’s name, their face, and their general appearance. Make a genuine attempt to remember their name using the rest of the tips listed below.

2) Get the name and associate it. It’s common to associate names with people you already know or well-known personalities. For example, when I meet people named Barbara I think of my mom Barbara or anyone named Brad makes me think of Brad Pitt. You could also associate names with animals (Catherine = cat), locations (Jordan = river), colors (Ted Brown), cities (Jessica Houston), and companies (Rebecca Staples).

Alternatively, associate names with similar-sounding words. Examples include Joan = phone, James = chains, Dave = shave, and Jerry = cherry.

Get creative and dramatic with your associations. The more outlandish your association, the easier it will be to remember it. For example, the last name Sevigny is pronounced seven-YAYS = imagine the number seven jumping up and down saying, “Yay!”

What if the name is a bit more difficult, like Mrzkowicz? Then you really need to get creative with associations. For example, Mrzkowicz = “Ms. cow wicks” = imagine a female cow wicking away water.

3) Study the person’s face and pick a feature: Is there anything about the person’s head or appearance that stands out? Do they have big, curly hair or thick eyebrows? Find a noticeable feature and animate it. Picture the big hair growing sky-high or the thick eyebrows wriggling across the face. Why? Same reason you make name associations dramatic – it’s easier to remember faces associated with really crazy images.

4) Link the name association and facial feature: Create a clear visual in your head of the two linked together. For example, if I meet Paul and he has big ears, I’ll picture a pole (pole = Paul) with big ears. If Karen has a long nose I’ll picture a really long carrot (carrot = Karen). Linking name associations with facial features is like having someone’s name tattooed across their face.

5) Use the name often in conversation: “Nice to meet you, Jack.” “Where do you like to travel, Jack?” End the conversation with it too: “It was so good to meet you, Jack.” Not only will Jack appreciate the use of his name, it will give you an opportunity to concentrate on the name association and facial feature you created for Jack.

6) Go home and take notes. Write down the person’s name, name association, and outstanding facial feature. Include any topics you discussed. If you got their business card, write this info on the back. I have a section in my phone for these kind of notes, but I’ve heard of people using small pocket notebooks too.

7) Practice, practice, practice. This is going to feel weird at first, you’ll probably have a hard time coming up with name associations or creative images. It gets easier with practice. Memorize names and study facial features while watching TV or reading magazines. Try to remember at least five names the day after a networking event.

Practice improves your ability to create images quickly. Plus, you’ll quickly develop a list of common names and associations like Scott = scotch, Brian = fryin’, Lisa = lease a (car), and  Sarah = Sahara (desert) that will make it much easier next time you’re learning new names.




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3 Replies to “Never Forget a Name Again: 7 Tips to Remember Names”

  1. Luis Angel | Memory Training Coach

    Thank you for sharing, Emily! My favorite image association to use is, “John.” I picture a toilet for that. It’s pretty nasty but I always remember a John the next time that I see him!

  2. CASUDI aka Caroline Di Diego

    Funny story: Years ago when consulting for a company, the CEO took a special course to remember names. One thing they advised was to make an excuse to write down the name (valid of course) then say ” I don’t recall how to spell your name”… maybe it was only a reservation for lunch..but one time the response came back ” S M I T H” !

    1. Emily Worden

      Caroline that is hilarious! I actually used to use that trick all the time … when I didn’t remember a name I’d ask, “How do you spell it?” Occasionally I got answers like “Smith” too and I’d play it off like, “Well, sometimes people spell it with a “y” or “e” at the end.”
      Not every convincing but hey – you get the name!

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