Many of us claim that we are good at remembering facts and information but still can’t seem to remember names. Why would that be a problem? At first, it seems that names would be easy compared to other facts because they are just one or two words. But people seem to have trouble with names. This article will teach you the best ways to memorize names.
Think for a minute what happens when you first meet someone. You introduce yourself; the person introduces him/herself. What do you think about?
It is likely that at that point, you think about anything but the person’s name. You think about how you feel uncomfortable meeting new people. Maybe you think about what you are going to say. Perhaps you have not recovered from shy feelings you may have had as a teenager. Now you feel so nervous meeting someone that it is hard to think or concentrate.
You say that you did not remember their name. Yet to forget something, you need to remember it in the first place. If you did not concentrate when the person introduced him/herself, then you did not forget—you just did not remember.
Remembering names is a four-step process. Step one is to concentrate. Listen to what they say when they say their name. If you don’t catch it, you can ask them to repeat their name. Asking them to repeat is not rude. It actually shows the person that you have enough interest in them to want to get their name right.
Once you have their name in your working memory, which is the memory of what you think about at the moment, you can store it in short-term and long-term memory. You have it where you can remember it. Yet you must use the other three steps to get the name into long-term memory.
As you talk to the person, use their name. This will further reinforce what it is. Often as we talk to someone, we think how we can be interesting and impress them. But it makes a much better impression if we show interest in them. Using their name not only reinforces what it is to you but shows them that you have interest in knowing them.
Step two is to create an image. In the previous exercises, you have created images to remember items on a list, presidents, etc. Now you need to create an image that will trigger their name. This is why many people say that they remember faces better than names.
When you see someone’s face, you create an image. Then when you see them again, you recall their face. It makes sense to create an image that will make you relate to their name. Studies have shown that you need to create an association with their name in 20 seconds, or it will not go into short- and long-term memory.
To create associations, you must use your imagination in the same way that you used it for some of the previous exercises. Create a picture association to remember their name.
Some names easily lend themselves to a picture and even to their occupation. For example, the sanitation engineer (we called it the janitor before the days of political correctness) was Mr. Les Trash. Perfect for his occupation. You could think that when he performed his job, there would be less trash in the school. But most names do not lend themselves to this. So you need to create an association.
Imagine you met someone named Frank Healy. First, for Frank, you may think of a hot dog. Then imagine the hot dog has a foot with a heel on it.
You can use words that rhyme or sound the same and create a picture. Try this with your own name. Make a picture of your first name, then your last name. Now create a picture where you link them together. Try it with the following sample names (I will do two of them, and then you try the others):
Paul Morgan – A pole sticking out of an organ.
Sue Smeltzer – A courtroom where someone is suing someone because he smelled her.
Now that you have the skill of imagining applied to names, we go to step 3: connect to the person. As I explain these methods, keep in mind that you can apply them much more quickly than the explanation.
You need to put the person’s face to the name. First, it is easy to connect someone if they have the same name as you. If you meet someone with your same first name, you will remember their first name, and their last name will follow. Or if you meet someone who shares your last name, you will remember their first name by recitation.
Since most people you meet will not share your first or last name, you need to create the association. Imagine you just met somebody named Donald. You take in their facial features; then imagine they grow another head that is Donald Trump’s. Then compare the two. Does the other Donald have the same hair as Donald Trump, or do they have dark hair? Is their face thinner? Do they have the same blue eyes or a different color? Make as many comparisons as you can.
Noticing the features and making the comparisons forces you to think about the person—their appearance and name together. It forces you to think of their name when you see their face.
This method works if you have someone of the same name to compare to. Yet what happens if you do not have anyone to compare to? You pick a feature of the person’s and connect it to their name.
Let’s return to the example of Frank Healy. You notice that he has thick eyebrows. Imagine the eyebrows become a hot dog with a heel as per the previous example. Or you could meet someone named Peter, and he has big ears. Give him rabbit ears like Peter Rabbit.
You may think that it makes sense not to tell the person that you are doing this. Many people are sensitive to their features that you will select. The whole point of remembering names is to make a good impression. If you tell Peter that you used his big earlobes to help remember his name, that would defeat the purpose. Plus, you would have to see the doctor get your new big nose Peter gave you repaired.
Noticing a particular feature on a person forces you to think about their face in detail. You may ask, “What if I use four or five people’s eyes or ten people’s noses—will I confuse the people?” No, because you will make different associations to each nose, as the people have different names.
If you are not planning on meeting a lot of people this week, go on Facebook or Instagram and do the exercise with some people since many of you have friends that you may have never met besides people you know well. Try it on the friends whom you may not know their name well enough to recognize it.
It is important to use a feature that is unlikely to change—for reasons that are plain. If you use the clothes someone wears, they could wear something different the next time you encounter them; thus, the memory technique will not work. Pick a permanent feature. If you choose their hair, use the color and not the size or style, as that could change.
Some of you may think you are not good at creating pictures, especially bizarre pictures. If you read my previous articles, you probably have had practice. But if you are just not that good with imagination, then imagine their name on the feature you pick. Combine that with using their name in sentences and imagining it written in bold letters in your favorite color. That will be as effective as creating the picture.
Another fact that people tend to remember about people is the location where you met them. You can add that to the imaginative technique. Suppose you met Brenda in a courtroom. If you used a brown dog (sounds like Brenda) and connected it to her protruding lips, add the courtroom to the association. Imagine the brown dog protruding from her lips. Her protruding lips is a stand in the courtroom, and the brown dog stands on it.
You now know many techniques to remember names using these three steps. Step 4 makes it better: continuously think of the name and use it. Make a names folder and put names you want to remember by category. Maybe create a Facebook group of those names.
With continuous practice, you will get good at this, and it will take you less time to process each name. Some people have mastered this to when they can go to a party or a networking event. They remember a hundred names or more of people they met, and the names stick for as long as they need them. And there you have it—the best ways to memorize names!