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Seven Ways to Remember Any Name

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Our name is one of those hard-wired words in our subconscious (like “free”) that 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 often fall victim to the embarrassment of not remembering names of people who approach me with, “Hi Tina, how are you?” I would panic, thinking, “Oh crap! What’s her name again?”

So in order to help myself remember names, I have developed the following techniques. I’ve used each one extensively and they have proven to be effective in my experience.

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 going to start practicing now.”

2. Seeing Faces
If you know another person with the same name, try the following:

a) See that person’s face in your imagination.
b) Now, see the person’s face bounce up and down.
c) Now, see the new person’s face, bouncing up and down beside the first face.
d) Repeat steps a) and b) several times.

3. Using Sound Tricks
If you do not know another person with this same, try the following mnemonics using sound:

a) Repeat their names several times in your head, while noting the following:

  • Exaggerate the sounds. Prolong the syllables. For example, “Teee-Naaa!” The funnier, funkier, and more disturbing, the better.

  • Try chunking which is breaking the name into several distinguishable parts or words.

b) Associate parts of a name with words you’re already familiar with and can easily pronounce. For example, “Ramesh” equals mesh, mash.

c) For foreign, long, or unusual names, create a story. Make the story highly visual, especially great if the story sounds silly and makes you laugh. For example, “Bengodi” could be “Ben Affleck 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 to ask questions after being introduced. Doing so gives 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 have the correct pronunciation. Again, this technique gives me an excuse to practice his or her name, and also ensures that I’m pronouncing it right.

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. For example, “Tyler” would be “Tee, Y, L, E, R, Tyler!”

Two tips for this technique:
a) Clarify spelling. Ask, “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, he or she will appreciate it.

b) 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
It is 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.

  • 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. For example, “John, the real estate guy from Portland,” or “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 meet again. I use this to record names of people from my building (as I meet them) and for anyone I meet at any gathering. When writing down a name, it is important to associate the name with a memorable fact or story. For example, “Unit 406—Manik, Indian guy, very nice, thirty-years-old, works at Boeing,” or “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.

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