4 Tricks For Remembering Anybody's Name

We've all been there--that panicky moment at a conference or meeting where you go to say someone's name and realize there's nothing there but a big fat blank. Here's how to put names to faces and build better relationships.

"When you fail to remember someone’s name," Darlene Price tells Forbes, "it sends a clear message that you do not deem them important."

Why? The Well Said! author says that since we all take the time to remember important things--birthdays, anniversaries, where the good ice cream is--letting a name slip away suggests that you think theirs is "seemingly irrelevant."

But if you actually remember this new person's name, they'll leave the conversation all aglow.

"Learning another person’s name is the first, most basic step in showing respect and building a meaningful relationship,” Price says. So if relationships are key to doing your best business--which, surprise, they are--we should be intentional about forming them. It just takes a little practice.

Challenge your naming conventions

It's possible to cure relationship-sabotaging forgetfulness, Price says, but first you need to adjust your attitude to the whole thing. Recognize that remembering is a skill to be cultivated--just like charisma--then focus on these techniques:

  • Fully engage: Don't divide your attention. Getting distracted is easy--thoughts like Oh, this person reminds me of this person! or I'm hungry! or Do I seem awkward? I think I'm awkward will probably pop up--so be mindful of that fact that you're trying to get to know this person.
  • Repeat their name: Engrave that name into your frontal lobe with repetition. Price says to say the name aloud twice: first to confirm that you're saying it correctly, second as a conversation starter.
  • Make an association: Associations--mnemonic devices if you're fancy--are tools of the memory building trade. Joshua Foer says that his epic "how to remember everything" book Moonwalking With Einstein got its name because the image of "Albert Einstein sliding backwards across a dance floor wearing penny loafers and a diamond glove" is pretty much unforgettable. Use your natural goofiness to your advantage--it'll anchor your memory.
  • Conclude with their name: Close the conversation by saying their name. It'll be validating for them--aw, they remembered!--and give you another chance to convince your neurons to fire that way again.

And if you're scared of all this small talk, we've got some tools for that, too.

Do you have a personal best practice for remembering names? Share with us in the comments, Joe.

6 Easy Ways To Remember Someone's Name

[Image: Flickr user Benson Kua]

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13 Comments

  • Sebastián Lora

    I think this also requires a mindset shift. It seems that most people aren't fully aware of the power of calling others by their names... And I can tell you it works wonders. One great excercise to prove this is very powerful is to call clerks and cashiers by the name printed on their name tags every time you address them at a store. It's just amazing how this simple gesture paints a huge smile on their faces almost every time. Try it, you'll both get a lot from it, plus you'll have fun...

  • David Hunt, PE

    And don't use nicknames unless they introduce themselves that way.

    Not to be persnickety, but I am a "David", not a "Dave".  A college roommate was "Joe", and he got ticked if someone called him "Joseph".  (Different strokes for different folks.)  But regardless, don't use anything but what they say... and definitely don't assume that a familiarized version of their name is acceptable unless they say it is.

  • Alex Kojfman

    I've been in a position to recall names, and what I do is say the name in your head 3 times, and use their name naturally 2-3 times when talking to them.  Naturally as it not "Shirley, shirley, shirley."  but "Shirley, that's a good point." or "I didn't know that Shirley."  It sounds weird at first for you and might be for them but it helps seep into your memory.  Another technique is to introduce someone new to the conversation and do the introduction for them.  "Hey Adam, did you meet Shirley?" Or if it's someone new "Hey, I'm Alex, this is Shirley and you are?"

  • Gail Monique Mallo

    My problem precisely! I always have trouble associating a name with a new face and it's worse now that I'm in the Mid East and most are Arab names. 

    Echoing the views of other comments, if only I could remember all these steps! 

  • Ahmad Al-Musallami

    Actually, YES
    Names are very tricky to remember because they are pure text, and our minds are built to capture graphic more accurately, so what shall we do? we can use the same weakness as a key to solve the problem since names are not so unique, at least the first name is quite repetitive, so when you meet a new person try to LINK his name to an existing name (person) that you know already, with the same name (or sometimes a closely pronounced name), at least this worked for me along with the other great tools you mentioned here in the article.

    Thank you.
    Ahmad Al-Musallami
    aalmusallami@gmail.com

  • Jed Peterson

    Is it Jizzajones? I think the trick is to make it a habit. Once you do this in ask you interactions, it becomes second nature. It's been great commenting with you, Jizzajones!

  • Terri Belford

    Thank you, Drake, for these great tips. When I am in a situation that I meet a lot of new people at once, I always wish they had their names tattooed on their foreheads. These are helpful. 

  • MyLoudSpeakerDotCa

    Thanks for the article. Remembering names is such an important skill that people overlook on a daily basis.

  • Kausarbilal

    A nice article for remembering names. I think best way is to repeat the name again and again in the first interaction n then note it down into a pocket diary with the reminder of the incident (interation). So, at least we will have a record to consult anytime. Also, we can link their names with their professional designation or company. We should never forget to exchange visiting cards.