How good are you at remembering names?

OMG, I am not good at this.  I have always hated to admit but i have a weakness for retaining names when first introduced to people.  Its kind of sad, and i think i am not alone.  I can remember many a time when someone else leans over and quietly says “What is that person’s name?” and i shrug my shoulders, look blankly, with an odd sense of inadequacy.

And yes, we have seen those people that get the name, and hold on to it like a pitbull, never going to forget.  Years ago Steve and I met a guy that was the president of a large organization.  He travels 300 of his 365 days per year, and travels all over the world.  So you could imagine he has a constant parade of new faces, new names, and new places to remember.  Yet he does.  We had the occassion to take him out for breakfast once, and perhaps an hour to chat. It was delightful to hear his stories, and listen to his adventurous life.  And yes, it was easy for us to remember his name.  But about 10 years later we ran into him again, and he remembered our names, our conversation, and that i liked oatmeal because i was the only one at breakfast to eat oatmeal.  How on earth do people develop such amazing memory for these details.

Names are very personal, and very important.  I agree.  I like when someone remembers mine, and calls me by it.  And then there are those funny and ackward moments when someone calls you by a different name.  “Hi Bethany, how are you?”  (Um, there is nobody else around, and are you calling me Bethany? is what i wanted to say, but i quietly said, “Barb, my name is Barb”)

One of my old bosses was obsessed with perfection on the memory of names, and in written communication the spot on accuracy of spelling those odd names.  I get it.  Names are our identity, they are personal, they are the core of who we are.  Yes, i get it.  But why cant i remember your name?

Off to do more research, i hit google, and typed in tips for remembering names… that’s a popular search, returning thousands of entries.  thousands.  yes.  Its apparently a common problem in most cultures and languages.  So are there secrets that can help make the name game easier? Here is a brief summary of the whit and wisdom of the internet:

  1. Repeat their name when you hear it, as in “Oh, Barbara,  that is a lovely name.  Did you know that each name has a meaning, and I wonder what Barbara means”  or “Barbara, how nice to meet you.  Yes, so are you in town for the conference, Barbara?” – the more you repeat the name, the more your memory will develop for it.  (So the experts say)
  2. Have them spell it out – yes “My name is B O B”.  When someone breaks down the name into letters its an exercise in visualizing what they are saying, like an invisible chalk board where you are writing out the letters.  I’ve seen some people move their hand on a sleeve, or on their hip.. now i know what they are doing.  This one seems ackward, especially on simple names like Bob or Sue.  I can understand if their name is exotic, or sounds different than it is spelled.
  3. Develop a mental picture for the name.  With an example of the name being Shirley Temple – visualize a little girl in locks, tap shoes, etc;  or visualize the gingerale with cherries  and associate it with the person.  This can be good if you a re a visual learner, taking the opportunity to visualize some feature of the person associated with their name.  For example, a very anorexic thin man named Bob might be “Bony Bob”.
  4. Make connections – Try to associate names with things people tell you about themselves (careers, hobbies) that will trigger the sound or association of the name in your mind. Fred likes to fish, Margarita runs a bar, you get the idea.
  5. Employ Mnemonic devices – that is to say think of rhyming or linked ideas  “Dale is in sales”,  “Jeff is a professional ref”
  6. Write down the name.  Some people suggest keeping blank business cards in your pocket, and as quick as possible write down the name, and details you remember.  There are also apps for smart phones that allow for quick collection of this information.  Keep a file.  Experts indicate that a key to learning is involving more than just the mind…. allowing the information pass through the eyes, off the lips, and through our hands in written form improves the memory retention.  Many of us will remember that from school and taking notes.
  7. Ask – Don’t be afraid to ask someone to repeat his or her name. Start out with a compliment, such as “I’ve had so much fun talking with you, and I’ve completely forgotten your name.” If you realize you’ve blanked on a name a few seconds after introduction, just say “I’m sorry, I missed your name.”
  8. If your name is unusual take the opportunity to share the phonetic pronunciation, spelling ,and repeat the name.  The more exotic or unusual the name, the more this is a good habit to get into.
  9. Fess up – when you run into someone who shared their name once before be honest ” I know we met each other before, but your name is escaping my memory right now”.  Most people will be corgial, and share again.
  10. Forgot their name, and you are in a group – Take the opportunity to introduce someone you just met to that person…. experts believe that person will then reciprocate and introduce themself to the new face.

Are there any magic bullets to make this process easier? No.  Its a matter of practice, developing a habit of remembering, and keeping information.  And its also a willingness to know your limitations, and honestly share your shortcomings.  We all have weaknesses and strengths.


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