9 Steps to Remembering Names

“A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

– Dale Carnegie

Remembering NamesPeople are so proud of their names that they strive to perpetuate them at any cost. For many centuries, nobles and magnates supported artists, musicians and authors so that their creative works would be dedicated to them.

Libraries and museums owe their richest collections to people who cannot bear to think that their names might perish from the memory of the race. The New York Public Library has its Astor and Lenox collections. The Metropolitan Museum perpetuates the names of Benjamin Altman and J. P. Morgan. And nearly every church is beautified by stained-glass windows commemorating the names of their donors. Many of the buildings on the campus of most universities bear the names of donors who contributed large sums of money for this honor.

But most people don’t remember names. And that is for the simple reason that they don’t take the time and energy necessary to concentrate and repeat and fix names indelibly in their minds. They make excuses for themselves; they are too busy.

But they were probably no busier than Franklin D. Roosevelt, and he took time to remember and recall even the names of mechanics with whom he came into contact. He knew that one of the simplest, most obvious and most important ways of gaining good will was by remembering names and making people feel important – yet how many of us do it?

Half the time we are introduced to a stranger, we chat a few minutes and can’t even remember his or her name by the time we say goodbye.

But did you know that one of the first lessons a politician learns is this: “To recall a voter’s name is statesmanship. To forget it is oblivion.”

And the ability to remember names is almost as important in business and social contacts as it is in politics and everyday life.

Like for an instance, there she is; the woman you had a one-night stand with; she’s coming closer, only you have no idea what her name is. How many times has this happened to you? Or worse yet – you forget her name while you’re in bed with her on a second occasion.

Considering we all meet and greet new faces every day between work and play, it’s no wonder names escape us every now and then. A Palm Pilot may be able to retrieve all your important phone numbers, but it isn’t going to help you remember the names of your casual encounters or your important contacts. That, my friend, is up to you. So here are some little tricks you can use that will help you remember the names of everyone you meet:

1. Commit.

Begin by making a commitment, a conscious decision, to remember people’s names.

An don’t let yourself off easy, blaming a “bad memory.” Forgetting names is due less to a bad memory than to a lack of application. Tell yourself, that you can remember names if you want to and if you work at it. Because it’s true.

Before going to a meeting or a party or anywhere you might meet people, remind yourself of your commitment. And recommit yourself:

“I will make my best effort to remember the names of the people I meet.”

2. Concentrate and be interested.

You can only remember what you observe in the first place. If you are distracted or if you aren’t paying attention, you won’t register the person’s name so you can’t possibly remember it. So concentrate on two things:
– paying attention to the person’s name when you first hear it
– forming an impression of the person

Also listen to the person’s name. If you miss it or find a few seconds later that you’ve already forgotten it, say “I’m sorry I missed your name. Can you give it to me again?” If you still have trouble with it, say, “I’m sorry, but would you spell that out for me?”

Another great trick is to get a clear, detailed impression of the person. The more vividly you observe people’s physical characteristics, the more likely you are to remember them. Use all of your senses to form the most striking impression possible.

Almost all the time we’re too focused on ourselves, so many of us don’t even catch the other person’s name when they’re being introduced. That’s why the first step to remembering a name is to pay attention as you are introduced.

3. Verify it.

Unless the person has introduced himself to you, verify what he or she wishes to be called. At a conference or seminar, for example, the name tag may have been typed incorrectly or it may be a more formal or informal version of the name they like to go by.

Or someone else may have introduced you who doesn’t know the person well. So try asking what they prefer (e.g. “Valery introduced you as Nicky, is that what you prefer to be called?”) will not only cement the name in your mind, but ensure you are using the name that pleases them.

4. Turn that name into a picture.

This converts the name into an image, which is the language of your memory. For instance when you meet Barbara think of a barbed wire fence. Attaching a picture to a name is simple and because you will run into so many people with the same names, you will need fewer images than you think.

5. Glue the name on their forehead.

As I mentioned earlier Franklin D. Roosevelt continually amazed his staff by remembering the names of nearly everyone he met. But what was his secret? He used to imagine seeing the name written across the person’s forehead. This is a particularly powerful technique if you visualize the name written in your favorite color of Magic Marker.

6. Imagine writing the name.

Neural linguistic programming experts suggest getting a feel for what it would be like to write the name by moving your finger in micro-muscle movements as you are seeing the name and saying it to yourself.

7. Associate.

If you remember visual images most easily, try creating an image based on the name and linking it to some physical characteristic of the person. For example imagine a ham that weighs a ton spinning on the end of Mrs. Hamilton’s nose. You can also try to connect a person’s name with a familiar image or famous person. For example, if a man’s name is Arnold, imagine him as the “Terminator” or striking a body-builder pose.

If you are more attuned to sounds, make a rhyme, associating the name with your impression of the person. Or link the person’s name to a song lyric (e.g. “Dave needs a shave”).

If you are more comfortable dealing with sensory feelings and gut instincts, try linking the name to the impression the person makes or to a reaction you have to the person (e.g. “Martin Patterson is a pain in the neck. ” or “Suzanne has sweaty palms.”).

8. Repeat.

When you meet someone new, repeat the person’s name in your head as often as possible. Also, incorporate the name into the conversation; this will improve your chances of remembering the name and makes you seem friendlier at the same time (e.g. “Nice to meet you Lisa … So, Lisa , what have you been up to lately? Have a great day Lisa”).

Repetition is crucial in memorization, so repeating the person’s name to yourself or under your breath will improve your chances of remembering it, especially when you use it in context by incorporating it into the conversation. Also if the person hands you their business card, take a peak at the spelling while talking to them.

9. Record the name in a “New Contacts” file.

Top sales representatives keep a record of new contact names and information, including where and when they met. You can do the same thing. Also be sure to review it now and then, especially when you will be attending a conference or
meeting where you may see these individuals again.

Free BONUS step.

Mnemonics are also used in order to learn concepts (how else would we remember how to use a compass, Never Eat Shredded Wheat = North, East, South, West?), so try to make a clever sentence with the letters in the person’s name or their initials.

Using these simple steps will dramatically increase your ability to recall names, but it is inevitable that at one time or another you may slip up. If you do happen to run into someone whom you previously met and can’t remember his or her name, you have three options:

Ask and you shall receive
Everyone forgets things, it’s completely normal, so if the name of an acquaintance escapes you, don’t be so hard on yourself. If you bump into the person again, just apologize and ask them for their name again. This of course, depends on the relationship you have with that person.

Pleasure to meet you
If you have a run-in with someone whose name you can’t remember, there is something you can do if you’re not alone. Simply introduce the person you’re with to the person whose name you forgot, but start with the person you’re with. Hopefully the rest of the introductions will occur on their own.

Good to see you again
Look delighted to see the person, lock eyes and extend a warm “Good to see you again,” and then find out the name from a friend or guest list later.

All this takes time and energy and that’s the point. It makes people feel important. It wins you their good will. And it opens the door to successful relationships. Dale Carnegie beautifully said:

We should be aware of the magic contained in a name and realize that this single item is wholly and completely owned by the person with whom we are dealing and nobody else. The name sets the individual apart; it makes him or her unique among all others. The information we are imparting or the request we are making takes on a special importance when we approach the situation with the name of the individual. From the waitress to the senior executive, the name will work magic as we deal with others.

So practice these simple steps to help you remember names and improve your memory, and you’ll only forget what you choose to.

P.S. What are the techniques you are using to remember names better? You may share them with us in comments.

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