Almost everyone seems to have a problem remembering names. This is something that I’ve become much better at over the last year. As I’ve said to people who have asked me why I’m so good at remembering names, I’m good at it because I used to be so bad at it. I made a decision that I would get much better at remembering people’s names. What follows are some of my tricks and tips to improving your name memory.
That’s the first step, making remembering of names very important for you. I was just coming out of a relationship and I was meeting a lot of new people in a context where I’d see a lot of them again. Remembering their names was a key part of integrating into that social context. I made sure to ask people’s names, to re-ask if I forgot and to use their names as much as possible. If I were to see them again I would attempt to use their name, even when I wasn’t sure.
You can always pre-frame an attempted remembering by making it a half question. For example, “I’m really bad with names, was your name Sandy?” If you are right they’ll be happy, if you are wrong they’re usually happy you tried and will correct you. Almost everyone has had the experience of having trouble with other people’s names so people tend to be very understanding and helpful when things are framed this way.
The next thing I do is visualize the person’s name just above their head. I see it a bit like an old computer game with the characters name in a box above their head. Other people visualize a hello-my-name-is name tag on their forehead. I’ll visualize their name above their head and take a mental snapshot of the now labeled face. We remember faces easier than names in part because most people have an easier time with visual recall than auditory.
To enrich this visual cue, you can also say their name again and this time, feel how your mouth moves when saying it. Try to connect the sight, the sound, and the feeling together. This might be weird the first few times you do it but it can become second nature after a while. By connecting all three senses together the neurological representation of the person and their name is very rich and you have much greater odds of recalling it.
Then I work on creating vivid associations with this person and their name. The more things you remember that the person and name are associated with, the more tied into your memory they become. I aim to connect their name to six things as a target. You could connect them to the context where you met them, mutual acquaintances, shared interests, what they do for a living, the meaning of their name, etc. The richer and more varied each of those associated bits are, the better. I like to visualize an image of each of those associations connected to their name a bit like a mind map.
After meeting someone a brief review of what you know about them, or what you associate with them, can vastly improve your later recall of their name. After I got back from something where I meet a lot of new people I like to run through who I met and what was interesting about each of them just to solidify them in my head. Reviewing twice, once after meeting and once after leaving helps.
The last little trick I do is the circle of names. Basically when you are meeting with a group of people I go through and say, out loud or in my head depending on appropriateness, the name of everyone in order of where they are positioned in space. I usually go around clockwise. This connects spatial organization and ordering to the memories. Everyone is linked to the people on either side of them and by their position in the whole group.
With those four tactics, making names important to you, visualizing their name, building rich associations and the circle of names, I vastly improved my ability to remember people’s names. And you can too. Try them out and let me know how it works for you. Feel free, also, to share your best trick for remembering names in the comments.
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