3 Tips for Remembering Names

I’m so bad at remembering names. I often joke that I married a Jessica just so I could remember her name.  And it’s really unfortunate because I care about people, I love hearing their stories, I love finding out about their lives. I think a lot about all the different people I’ve met, about how they’re doing, about their family, their careers, their struggles. I just really struggle remembering names, so when I see them again, it seems like I could care less.

So over the years, I’ve discovered some techniques that have helped me.

First, when you’re meeting someone for the first time and they give you their name, repeat their name frequently in your conversation with them. I mean, you don’t have to be weird, but let’s say you’ve just been introduced to Andy. You can say something like, “Now, Andy, what kind of work do you do?” and “It’s nice to meet you, Andy, where are you from?” The more you say it, the more likely it is to stick with you.

Second, associate their name with an action or with something visual. In the late 1980’s, some British psychologists conducted a study where they showed two groups of people the same photograph of a man, but told one group that the man’s name was Baker and the other group that the man was a baker. A few days later, they were shown the man’s face again and were asked the recall the accompanying word, and they found the group that was told he was a baker remembered the word far more often than the group that was told his name was baker.

It’s called the Baker/baker paradox, and the point is this: our brain is much better at remembering concrete things like occupations or objects than we are abstract concepts like names or numbers. So, try to associate their name with something visual… maybe Andy’s got a haircut that makes him look like the Andes mountains. It may seem weird, but I’ve honestly found the weirder the association, the more likely I am to remember it. Just don’t make it so weird that you laugh out loud when you see them again. (Bonus points if you can work that association into your conversation!)

Finally, if you’re in a larger gathering, I’ve also found it very helpful to introduce the people that I’ve just met. In other words, if a friend I already know comes up while I’m talking to Andy who I just met, I’ll say, “Hey Ben, have you met Andy? He works in graphic design.” Just don’t tell Ben that you think Andy’s haircut looks like a mountain range.

Anyhow, these are some things that have helped me. If you’ve got other recommendations, let me know. I’m always looking for ways to better remember…


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