How to Remember Names

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Like many visual people, by default I have difficultly remembering someone's name when I first meet them. I can easily recognize faces but for some reason names don't naturally stick in my mind at all. Then I get embarrassed because I don't want the other person to think I didn't care enough to remember their name. While I'm usually able to deftly avoid social embarrassment in these situations, I'd really rather remember names since it's such a handy tool in making someone feel comfortable with you when you are getting to know each other. 

This had come up so frequently in my life that I designed a formal system that makes it relatively easy for me to remember names when I meet new people. I say relatively easy because the system works effectively and with minimal effort, but I still have to make the conscious choice to use my system when I first meet someone new. 

Step 1 - Care

The uncomfortable truth is that you could remember any new person's name if you simply cared enough. That's probably why forgetting someone's name is so socially awkward. If you don't believe me, here's a little thought experiment:

Suppose we are at a grocery store and I instruct you that you have to remember the first name of the clerk working the register for a one hour period. If you succeed in remembering the name, I'm going to give you one million dollars in cash. If you forget the name by the end of the hour, I'm going to non-fatally shoot you.

With near certainty, I would expect you to remember the name.

So that means we all have the capability of remembering names, we just need to care enough to do so and to set systems in place that allow us to easily remember. 

Step 2 - Think of the Face of Someone With the Same Name

When you first meet someone, think of someone else you know with the same name and visualize that other person's face. So, for example, if I meet a "David," I would immediately think of my dad since he is named David. Next time I see new David, my memory flashes a picture of my dad and I know that both people are named David. 

Ok, easy enough so far. But wait... you may think... what if I meet somebody with a really, really uncommon name and I don't know anyone else with the same name? I actually don't find this to be a problem. The stranger the name, the easier it is to simply recall it directly. The names that I find difficult to remember are the common names like "John" and "James" that tend to just slip out of my mind because they don't stand out very much from other names. 

So you think of the face of someone with the same name when you meet them. This gives a strongly visual way to recall their name. As long as I internally take the two seconds to do this when I meet someone, I find it pretty easy to remember their name forever. 

Step 3 - Repeat Their Name Three Times Out Loud

When you meet someone, repeat their name at least three times during that first conversation. Actually, I would say to repeat their name as many times as possible without sounding conversationally strange. 

You can pretty much count on being able to say their name (1) when you initially get introduced "Nice to meet you, Bob!", (2) sometime during the conversation "Interesting point, Bob", and (3) when you exit the conversation "It was nice meeting you, Bob!". 

This creates a solid audio anchor in your mind related to the other person's name. While the audio anchor might not be sufficient by itself to remember the name, the combination with step 2 is a potent combination because you are accessing multiple sub-modalities (visual + auditory) in the memory retention. 


It's really that simple. When you meet someone:

  1. Care enough to mentally take the two seconds to use these tools.
  2. Visualize someone else with the very same name.
  3. Repeat the name at least three times during the initial conversation.

If you do this consistently, it will start to become automatic and you will now be a person who easily remembers other people's names!