How to Remember Names - Memory Strategies for Social Occasions : Smart Memory Power

How to Remember Names

how to remember names

It seems like one of the many social skills that nobody teaches you in life is how to remember names.

It’s a key skill and the better you are at it, the better you’re likely to be perceived by other people. After all, we all love hearing our own name. Knowing that someone has remembered you makes you feel good.

So, here’s some memory tips on how to remember names…

How to Remember Names More Effectively

There are actually two keys to this skill, not one (as most people think).

Not only do you have to know how to remember the names, you also need to remember the face that goes with the name.

Many people are good with faces and not names, but if you’re not good with either, I’ll tell you how to remember faces later.

1) Pay Attention!

A lot of people stumble at this first hurdle…

If you’re not paying attention to the person you’re meeting for the first time, then you can be pretty sure that you’re not going to remember their name.

When you hear their name, do your best to be present in that moment.

Repeat the name after they’ve said it:

‘Hi, I’m Maria.’

‘Hey Maria, good to meet you. I’m James.’

As you talk to them, use their name occasionally in conversation to help anchor it into your mind. (Obviously, don’t overuse it as that can sound weird.)

Also, say the name to yourself in your mind again in the first few seconds of the conversation. You can do this as you look at the person and start associating the name with the face.

2) Give Their Name Meaning

Like many memory skills, knowing how to remember names actually comes down to your ability to imagine and associate.

I’ll come on to associations later on, but first let’s see how we can give a name more meaning…

If the name is distinctive, then you’re likely to have an easier job remembering it. For example, if someone’s first name is River, you can immediately get a meaning from that. You could even picture them rowing on a river.

It’s harder when the name is something more ‘normal’ like Jeff.

However, it’s still possible to make associations. In the example of Jeff, I personally think of this Star Wars cantine sketch by comedian Eddie Izzard, where he talks about Jeff Vader (instead of Darth Vader).

Here’s a brilliant Lego animation of the sketch:

Now admittedly, you don’t have to go this silly for your meaning (although silly is more memorable).

For example, did you know that it’s usually easier for our brains to remember someone’s occupation than someone’s name?

The reason is because when someone says, ‘I’m a plumber,’ we can immediately see what that is in our mind’s eye. We can also imagine them doing the actions of a plumber, or dressed in the overalls and carrying a wrench.

If they say, ‘My name’s Chris,’ it doesn’t mean anything to us. It’s a little like trying to remember numbers. Numbers, like names, are pretty meaningless unless we can make some associations to remember them.

So, picture the person doing their job, or perhaps observe something about them and relate that to their name.

By giving meaning to their name, you enable your brain to remember it in multiple ways.

3) How to Remember Names by Association

As well as making connections between their occupation and name, you may also be able to make more abstract associations to help you remember.

how to remember namesLet’s say that you meet someone called Christina Fletcher.

At first glance, you may not see any easy way to remember that name, but look at the last name…

A fletcher is actually someone whose job was to add the feathers to arrows to make them fire straighter.

It’s more than likely that with a name like Fletcher, one of her predecessors was an actual fletcher.

And this isn’t the only last name that has a job associated with it. Think of all the Bakers, Butchers, Smiths, Goldsmiths, Weavers, Millers, Brewers, Farmers, Masons, Carpenters, Thatchers, Archers or Potters.

If you can picture the person doing the job that their surname represents, you’re again making associations to help you remember.

Other names or surnames may sound like actions or ideas, so make any connection that makes sense to you.

And remember, the first association that comes into your head is usually the strongest one for you. Don’t overcomplicate it, just go with what makes sense in your brain.

Connecting The Name to the Face

Now you know how to remember names, we need to connect those names to the faces in order to recall both at the same time.

This is easier than you might think, partially because you’re going to use some of the same memory strategies we’ve already looked at in the ‘how to remember names’ section.

Here’s a couple of tips for remembering faces:

  • Look at the person you want to remember and think about what a caricature of them would look like. What facial or physical features do they have that stand out? Exaggerate it in your mind and see if you can associate a personality with it. If they have slightly larger than average ears, imagine them listening in on everyone’s conversations to hear the latest gossip.
  • Observe the body language and demeanour of the person. Are they funny? Shy? Nervous? Are they tactile with people or do they prefer not to enter other people’s private space? Again, tie this to their name if you can, but make sure you get a clear image of them in your mind.

For a great example of remembering lots of names and faces, check out this amazing video featuring memory champion Ron White.

So, there you have it… How to remember names with several parts of your brain (not just one, like you would normally).

How do you remember people’s names? Do you have any tips or memory strategies for social situations? Let us know in the comments below and invite your friends to leave their thoughts by sharing this on Facebook and Twitter.

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Category: Memorization Techniques

About the Author ()

I'm James Gladwell, chief contributor and editor of I'm fascinated by the human mind and I set this site up in order to help people increase their memory power, while I learned how to improve mine. Feel free to leave a comment on the site and let me know how you think I can make the site better.

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  1. How to Remember Names and Faces : Smart Memory Power | 11 October, 2012

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