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7 Hacks to Remember Any Name

Photo by Hamed Saber

Our name is one of those hard wired words in our subconscious (like “Free” and “Sex”), which has the intrinsic trigger to get our attention. You are more likely to react and respond to the sound of your name than say the word “apple”.

The ability to remember people’s names is an incredibly useful skill, in business and social interactions. Do you remember how impressed or surprised you were the last time someone remembered your name? I still get impressed, and I tend to remember these people in an especially warm and friendly light.

I have a distinct, short and easy to remember name (“Tina Su”). I often fall victim to the embarrassment of not remembering names of people who approach me with “Hi Tina, how are you?” My mind would go into panic, thinking “Oh crap! What’s her name again?”

I have developed the following techniques to help myself remember names. I’ve used each one extensively and they have proven to be effective in my experience. I want to share these with you, and hope that you will find them as valuable as I have.

Similar to keeping your inbox uncluttered, the trick is to take immediate (mental) action upon a new introduction.

1. Trust Yourself

Many of us ‘believe’ that we are “horrible at names” and we are very ‘proud’ of this fact by telling other people about it. By relying on this story we’ve created, we instantly forget people’s names the moment we hear it, without even trying, because we are “horrible at names”. I have been guilty of this. So, STOP telling people that you are “Bad at names”. You are not bad at names, you just have not implemented a system that worked for you yet. Tell yourself, “I am fantastic at remembering names! And I’m gonna practicing start now.”

2. Seeing Faces

If you know another person with the same name, try the following:

  1. See that person’s face in your imagination.
  2. Now, see the person’s face bounce up-and-down (perhaps smiling at you).
  3. Now, see the new person’s face, bouncing up-and-down beside the first face.
  4. Repeat steps A to C several times

3. Using Sound Tricks

If you do not know another person with this same, try the following mnemonics using sound:

  1. Repeat their names several times in your head, while noting the following:
    1. Exaggerate the sounds. Prolong the syllables. Ie. “Teeeeeeeee-Naaaaa!” The funnier, the funkier and disturbing, the better for remembering.
    2. Chunking‘ – Break the name into several distinguishable parts/words.
  2. Associate parts of name with words you’re already familiar with and can easily pronounce. Ie. “Ramesh” = Mesh, Mash
  3. Create a story – Especially great for foreign, long or unusual names. I sometimes find it helpful to create a little story containing familiar words from step b to serve as memorable cues. Make the story highly visual, especially great if the story sounds silly and makes you laugh.
    Example, “Bengodi” -> Ben Afflect is going to become a deejay.”

4. Hear the Sounds Repeated

Look into their eyes while being introduced and repeat their name several times out aloud.
I like asking the following questions after being introduced. The reason I ask is to give me additional time and opportunity to practice their names on the spot:

  • “Did I pronounce it correctly?”
  • “How do you pronounce that?”
  • “Could you repeat it?”

I would repeat it several times after they answer the question, and check with them that I’ve got the correct pronunciation. Again, this technique gives me an excuse to practice their names, also ensures that I’m pronouncing it right. People typically do not mind to help you learn their names.

 

5. See the Spelling Visually

Practice seeing each letter clearly in your mind. Sound out each letter as you see them. Repeat the process of seeing and hearing each letter in sequence.
Example. “Tyler” – “Tee, Y, L, E, R, Tyler!”

Two tips
for this technique:

  1. Clarify SpellingAsk “How do you spell that?” This gives extra time and chance to practice the technique. Make sure to repeat the letters back to the person (and see the letters as you say it). Don’t worry about sounding or looking silly. If you are genuine about learning someone’s name, they will actually appreciate it.
  2. “Dancing Letters” – As you pass through each letter, see it move a little. It could be shaking, bouncing, wobbling in its place. This will help your mind to remain the memory.

6. Writing it Down

Always useful to have some scrap paper and pen with you. Better yet, use your notebook if you carry one. When the person is not looking or when you are in the bathroom, quickly jot down the names or sounds of names.

  • (Optionally) write a one-liner description beside the name
  • At conferences, I will have a page in my notebook dedicated to names. After meeting someone new, I would write it down in this page along with a quick distinct reminder about that person.

Examples:

i. “John, the real estate guy from Portland.”
ii. “Zoe, the myspace programmer.”

I like dumping names on paper or in a record (Item 6 below). Using this technique, I don’t need to carry it around in my mind and be constantly reminding myself of it.

7. Keeping Records

Keep a file on your computer, or even better yet, use google docs (virtual WORD documents). Call it “The Name Record” or TNR.

I use this to record names of people who I may come in contact with again. I use this to record names of people from my building (as I meet them), and for anyone I meet at any gathering I attend. When writing down a name, it is important to associate the name with a memorable fact or story.

Example entries:

  • “Unit 406 – Manik, Indian guy, very nice, 30 years old, works at Boeing.”
  • “Derek – friend of Josh. music director, they went to same college, big eyes, sarcastic.”

Try using these techniques one at a time. Practice, and when you feel comfortable, try another. Believe in yourself; the more you want to remember a name, the easier it will come.

Do you have any techniques that you use to remember names? What has worked for you in the past? Please share in the comments!

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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95 thoughts on 7 Hacks to Remember Any Name

  1. Thanks Tina, another great article. I’m one of those who always have problem remembering names. But it’s so important; coz when you address people by their name in conversations, it really impress them that you respect them. It’s just so important. Thanks again for these tips, Tina :)

  2. Hey Lawrence, thanks for commenting. I agree.. I can always sense the settle joy in people’s voices when I address someone I met recently by their name. :)

  3. Raj

    How sweet it is while somebody calls me by name, it’s like honey flowing thru ears. Won’t it be the same feeling that others too have? Though I easily forget names, (at times even my close relatives, lol) I too follow such gimmicks but you have neatly charted them out. Great! Keep up the good work.

  4. RE: at times even my close relatives, lol

    hahaha.. that’s funny Raj. Thank you for commenting. I’ve never thought about it the way you have put it “How sweet it is while somebody calls me by name, it’s like honey flowing thru ears.” … but it’s so true. It really is like honey flowing through our ears. :) Have a great day Raj!

  5. My problem is my surname is also a christian name. If I had a £/$1 for every time I’m called Roger I’d be a millionaire by now!

  6. hahaha.. that’s funny! Thanks for sharing David! :) My friend Andy Howard has the same problem. People call him Howard.

  7. deb

    Thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. I love it when that happens because I get to surf to new places, and yours is a rare find! And the added bonus today is that I am becoming great a remembering names!

  8. Hey Tina, You know what? You’ve got an excellent blog. Great writing..

    Cheers,
    Ellesse

  9. Hi Tina I like Your ideas.
    Tommy
    HomeSpectorInc.com

  10. Gil

    Hi Tina! Great article as always. I can vouch for your techniques as I personally practice all of these and more. The problem I had is that, after a while people think I was just plain nuts for seeing funny and wacky images in my head all the time. I don’t care… I’m a millionaire.

    As I’ve noted in my book, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Being Happy”, sometimes it’s just easier to say: “I’m sorry, I’m so famous, I don’t know what your face is.” : )

  11. hahaha… Gil, thanks for the laugh…always. :) I’m gonna go check out your blog now.

  12. Hey Tina!
    What a coincidence: the latest post in my blog is also about remembering people’s names! :)
    How to Always Remember People’s Names

  13. Hi Luciano, Thanks for the link. Great article!

  14. Neumonics can also help. Some people remember visuals better than sounds. Alan & Barbara Pease wrote a great book which covers this called “Easy Peasy: People skills of life”

  15. The content on this blog warrants another visit of mine… You have got a new subscriber. Keep up the great work!

  16. great ideas, tina! thanks for reminding me of the sound tricks. i used to use that in school, and it always worked well (and was fun!)

    a friend of mine swears that if he repeats someone’s name three times within five minutes, he’ll never forget that person’s name.

  17. Liara, I’ve not heard of Neumonics. I’ll check that out. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Gyanish, Thank you so much for your support. I appreciate your readership and comment. It encourages me to work harder at driving quality content. :)

  18. Hi Isabella,

    You’re very welcome.
    For me, the sound alone doesn’t always work. I’ve tried repeating it really quickly. Personally, I found it most helpful to both repeating the sound and seeing the spelling. :)

    Thanks for your comment!

  19. Associate all first names with a concrete object, i.e. Bill with the bill of a duck, Patty with a hamburger patty, then “hang” that concrete object on the most distinguished feature of the person.
    If that person has frizzy hair, picture duck bills fallin out of his hair.
    And so on..

  20. These are great tips which I can surely use!

  21. Hi Todd,

    That’s a great technique, I will try to use that sometimes. I like the association between the object reminder and linking that with person’s distinct feature. It sounds very clever. :) Thanks for sharing.

    The other thing I use is linking the person with a famous person. Similar to linking it with a friend of the same name. For example, If I met a “Tina”, I could see Tina Turner dancing with her distinct face and overlay that image with the person I’m being introduced to.

    Thanks for the comment Todd! It made me smile.

    ———–

    Hi Gerri, Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it. :)

  22. Hey Tina,

    Thanks for that! We just cannot afford to not impress others after having this skill!

    Cheers!

  23. I put Edith and David on “bobble” today, and I couldnt really see them bouncing in my mind’s eye.
    I pictured them on bobble head dolls, and that worked perfectly.
    By the way, since I dont know any other Edith’s, I had to link her to Edith (Archie Bunker’s wife) from “All in the Family.”

  24. Todd, hahaha.. that’s funny. Thanks for making me laugh. I don’t know an Edith either… so the first thing that pop’d in my head was “Thomas Edison”.. I found myself repeating the Edissssssson to remember this.

  25. Now. I’m good at names. :)

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