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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. Here in remembering chunking is discussed, also try to get bizzary images to associate with name, make them feel out of propertion, bring motion and action in your thought.
    If this techniques are well set in link method of memory thought by us shall make your memory more powerful than what u feel now.

  2. Hi Tina,

    there is one thing that is more attractive than been called by name: it’s that someone remembers your birthday !

    I keep record of the people I’ve worked with and I still care and have stored their birthday on my Palm handheld so it’s easy to remember. You can’t believe how astonished and pleasant surprised they are that I still remember their birthday. So please take note: my birthday is the 9th of february, but… wait !
    That’s today ! :O

    LOL
    ciao
    alexander

  3. ?????????? ????, ??????? ???. ?????????? ?????? – ????? ?? ???????????? :)

  4. ???????? ?????? ???? ??? ?????… ?????? ????????????

  5. Mi

    teena! Nice article, extremely useful! It is said that the more successful a person is, the better they are at remembering names..

    I will work on your techniques and see.. problem here (where I live) is that many people can carry the same name. kinda horrible :(

  6. Hi Tina,
    Excellent article and one idea I’ve never heard before, e.g. the dancing letters. Many memory (mnemonic) experts tell us to visualize a substitute word for a person’s name (sound trick) and then somehow connect it to the person’s face. That’s fine for someone who wants to entertain an audience with their memory prowess but we’re after long-term retention. Your ideas are much better when applying them to long-term memory.
    I also visualize a substitute word but instead of connecting it to a person’s face I try to totally immerse the entire person in the name. So someone named Sherry would be drinking sherry or a big bottle of cherry soda and offering me a glass of the stuff. I find it helps my long-term memory better.
    For people having the same name I group them together in the same visual experience.

  7. It funny how you mentioned ‘trust yourself’… I used to run this story in my head that I was horrible at names and that I could never remember them. And it was a self fulfilling prophecy.

    But I remember deciding one day that I wasn’t actually horrible and I was just making things up and that I was going to stop telling myself this.

    I then actually started listening to peoples names, instead of just writing it off as something I could never do and lo-and-behold, I started remembering them… Who knew?

    Thanks for your article

  8. Leia

    I try to use rhyming, if I can come up with something. I used to get Shawn and Larry confused at work. One of them looked a little intimidating, so I thought that “Shawn” is like a fawn, and “larry” is scary. =) Silly, but I never got them confused after that.

  9. Thanks Ti-, uh, thanks girl!

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