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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. I have more than 50 names in my mind since I have more than that who I directly handle, and I am using some of your tips, but glad to know from that there are other ways, thanks again…ti…what’s your name again?

  2. I remember someone telling me a tip before, because this has been my problem for a long long time now; he said in able to remember the name of the person you just met, when being introduced, say its name out loud – like the one you mentioned. But really my problem is, if you don’t catch my attention, I would really keep on forgetting you.
    You are a great person Tina, and you are pinned into my mind.

  3. Hi Tina,
    This is the first article I read from you, and the one that makes me like your site.

    I like the idea you put that a lot of time, our limitation is created by our own belief that it’s our limitation, that’s the same with me when considering that I’m not good with remembering names.

    The first step you mentioned is really necessary, trust yourself that you can remember others’ name. Still fail at few instances, but I do find that now I have the belief, and following your other steps, I manage to remember others’ names better.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Robert

  4. Romnick

    Quote:Many of us ‘believe’ that we are “horrible at names” and we are very ‘proud’ of this fact by telling other people about it.

    Omg lol. This is so true. I keep telling myself I’m bad with birth dates. And yeah, though everyone goes about saying, “It’s ok,” deep down inside, I’m sure they’re a little hurt.

    I know I am when they say that lol.

    Thanks for this wonder article. From now on, I’ll be the best name-rememberer!

  5. Great post. I always try and take the time to remember peoples names. But I find that it’s also sort of a good opening if it’s the second time I see someone. I can go up to them and be like “Hey, I met you here. What was your name again?” It is much more impressive if I remember their name, so now I can use your wonderful techniques to try and do so.
    http://livemeliora.blogspot.com

    Live Ever better and keep it simple :)

  6. Very good ideas, Tina Su.
    Blessings to you and all you hold dear,
    CG

  7. #1 made me laugh ‘coz I even said that in a post once ;) great tips tina.. I can definitely use these…

  8. I just had to revisit this post, because as we all know, I am so good at remembering names, and will start practicing now.
    I met Camaron, a real estate agent who lives in RSM, and reconnected with Walt, a long time friend of PJ’s who flew here from Vermont.
    Now, I cant wait to see these dudes again, and get cocky with my memory!

  9. Tina, great post. Lately, I’ve been using the notes feature in my phone/PDA to jot down the names of people whom I come into contact.

    for example: lily from supercuts.

    I really like the fact that i can scribble it with the PDA stylis. it’s much quicker that way.

  10. I’m such a culprit, I’ve been using the “I’m very bad with names” excuse all my life. I can remember faces and even what people were wearing (I ‘m an artist, designer and pro-am photographer I guess I tend to treat every moment like a picture) … I can even remember whole conversations, laughs, facial expressions and have a bad habit of post processing conversations in my own time (which I need to stop doing because half the time I’m not fully reacting and filtering keywords) but I never remember names ONLY if they are foreign, very unique or hard to pronounce…so the Johns and Bobs of the world – impossible.

    I have to take up these tips. Thanks!

  11. Tress

    To avoid the distress and distraction of worrying about not remembering someone’s name, it is perfectly fine to say something like, “Sorry, I am blanking on your name…” Most people will not be offended and will jump right in to help you.

  12. I thought I was the only one who was bad at names, Oh No! I am fantastics with Names :) from now on… Thanks a ton

    I thought I was hopeless.. But I do have a nice habit of looking at whatever ID they are wearing… if they are, otherwise well, I am bad at names you see :) :)

  13. Hi Tina,

    One other technique I’ve used when meeting someone new is to picture a familiar face of another person who has the same name. This builds the association from the new face to the familiar name.

    I can still see both faces of the people I first tried this with, even though it was 20 years ago. (And yes, I remember the name, too!)

    But the bottom line of all of these strategies is to think about the name, not just let it go in one ear, and out the other.

    And if, like me, you meet dozens of people a week, and see many of them again, it’s important to give yourself permission to ASK AGAIN. If you see someone that you know you met last week, and can’t remember their name, don’t just avoid using their name. Ask again! I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone be offended.

    I did have a few mildly embarrassing moments when I started asking again, after years of saying “How are you”, instead of “How are you, Bob?”, as some people realized I’d been faking for a long time. But they laugh, and you get through it. And now you know their name again!

  14. Hey Tina, I enjoyed this article, thank-you! One trick that I use to remember people’s names, is I associate their name with a characteristic I’ve noticed in them. For example: Karen (caring.. caring Karen) Or Bill (prosperous aka dollar bills) or Shandra (Sharing Shandra). Ruby (shiny like a ruby)… well you get the idea!

  15. i want the technique how to remember the names and dates of birth of some persons within no time.

  16. Most of these methods are time-tested and true, repetition, association, writing it down.

    You can also use exchanging emails, phone numbers, facebook, etc to create a follow-up and it makes it easier for remembering their names in the future.

  17. Hi Tina,

    I confirm you that telling yourself and others that you’re not able to remember names is the cause of don’t remember them.

    I can vividly remember that I used to NOT have problems to remember peoples names, then in my teens one day there was a friend of my sister in our house,. He was very funny and cool and he was saying that he was unable to remember the names of persons. I must have unconsciously adopted his behaviour and started to tell myself too that lie.

    I had the evidence of the fact that it is so last saturday, when I had no difficult to recall exactly name, surname and nickname of o guy i wasn’t seeing since 20 years.

    So now I stop to tell myself that lie and start practicing immediately.

    Thanks T ehh…
    …which was your name ? Tara ?

    ciao
    alexander :D

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