What's your name again?
October 20, 2009 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Needed: Memory hacks. I have trouble remembering names. How do you do it?

I know that some people are simply born with the ability to remember names. Sadly, I'm not one of these people. In fact, my memory of names is very poor. So poor that it has become a bit of an embarrassment both professionally and socially.

Generally speaking my memory is just fine and I have no issues remembering faces, but when people introduce themselves I just can't retain their name. Sometimes I'll forget their name within 5 minutes of meeting them. More often than not, I need to meet someone multiple times before their name sticks.

Do you have any tips, tricks, or suggestions that have worked well for you in the past?

The following information is not necessary to answer the question, but it's the story that prompted me to ask this in the first place:

A friend's father once told me about meeting President Kennedy at a rally years ago. As the President worked his way down the rope he introduced himself to everyone along the way. My friend's father subsequently met the President and introduced himself.

On his way out, the President's eye caught my friend's father's eye to which the President said "Very nice to meet you, Andrew."

Obviously this could be a romanticized version of what happened, but this question still stands: How. Did. He. Do. That?
posted by ASM to Human Relations (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I used to have the same problem until I started repeating their names during the introduction.

"Hi, I'm sunshinesky, nice to meet you."
"I'm Linda"
*shake hands*
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Linda.
posted by sunshinesky at 1:16 PM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

... editing fail. I'd only remark how nice it was to meet them once, but you get the idea.
posted by sunshinesky at 1:19 PM on October 20, 2009

I used to have the same problem until I started repeating their names during the introduction.

That's the same trick I use. Repsond immediately in the introduction using the person's name. And as the conversation continues repeat their name once or twice more.

I also mentally try to "categorize" the person by their name, such as "Linda" -- (1) that's my sister's-in-law name; (2) if the person has long, blond hair ala Linda McCartney, etc.
posted by ericb at 1:20 PM on October 20, 2009

Associate a physical attribute with the name as a picture in your mind.
posted by xammerboy at 1:25 PM on October 20, 2009

Half the battle is catching it on introduction. Actually, it's kind of funny, ever since I started trying to remember names I've been forgetting to tell people mine because I was concentrating too hard!

Of course, try to make a point of using it again before you part.
posted by gensubuser at 1:28 PM on October 20, 2009

Best answer: I secretly assign superhero names to people I meet based on their most obvious personality feature.

Dull Nick. Sincere Courtney. Bad Amanda, and her nemesis Good Amanda. And so on.
posted by logicpunk at 1:30 PM on October 20, 2009 [6 favorites]

Not the most politically correct strategy, but it works for me...

I try to memorize top names by race, gender, and age. Because of that, I have a list narrowed down to about 10 names assigned to each demographic. I run those names through my mind, odds are that I am able to pick the right name (if they do indeed have a common name).
posted by Eleutherios at 1:32 PM on October 20, 2009

Best answer: The trick is to allow your internal brain* to forget about politeness. You need to think "hey, this is the guy with the big nose! Big nose guy is named Bill." You associate the memory of their face with the memory of their name- make it vivid, (over sized, ridiculous, rude, or all three)

Or, link their name to what they do: "this is Linda from Accounting" and imagine her with an abacus, or what ever is useful. You see her, think "oh, her name, well, she's from accounting, and her name... oh yeah! Linda!"

I teach, occasionally, and it's always the misbehaving kids' names you learn first, because you need to use them! So say "nice to meet you Bill" and "hey, Linda, could you pass me that file, please?"

*these memory tricks are not good to share with people- ie "oh hey, you're bald-patch Ted!" keep them private.
posted by titanium_geek at 1:33 PM on October 20, 2009

This previous question of mine asked pretty much the same thing and there were some usueful suggestions in there.

In regards to the story about JFK, it's possible he had a great memory but I also hasten to note that the President has people hovering near him at all times whose job it is to remember peoples names. That might be another explanation to that.
posted by Effigy2000 at 1:35 PM on October 20, 2009

on non preview- I really really like the superhero names trick, logicpunk.
posted by titanium_geek at 1:35 PM on October 20, 2009

Best answer: This is probably not appropriate for professional situations, but for social situations it's sometimes best to just be upfront about your difficultly in remembering names. "Hi, I'm X, you said your name was Y? Y, okay. Sometimes I have trouble remembering names so I might ask you again later on - I'll remember your face & who you are, but names just slip my mind."

I find that people generally aren't offended by that at all, either at the time or later on if you do ask to be reminded of their name.

In any situation, I am ten times as likely to remember someone's name if I have the chance to write it down. Looking at it later is not necessary - it's the act of writing that helps. Visualizing it written helps a bit, though not as much as actually writing it. The very hardest names for me to remember are names that I don't know how to spell - that actually impedes my memory so severely that I need to make up a spelling and visualize it or I have no hope at all of remembering (if the context allows, I will ask the correct spelling, of course).
posted by insectosaurus at 1:55 PM on October 20, 2009

I think I read someplace that the mental process of writing things down helps you remember them even if you don't look at them later.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:24 PM on October 20, 2009

I heard about this somewhat kooky method from a friend, so this is third-hand advice, but maybe it will suit you: when they meet someone new, they imagine the new person doing an impression of someone they already know well who has the same name.
posted by chrismear at 3:55 PM on October 20, 2009

The trick that works for me is to associate the new person/name with someone I already know who has the same name--either someone I know well, or someone famous. For whatever reason, whenever I see the "new" person, I very rarely recall the wrong "familiar" person.
posted by drlith at 5:32 PM on October 20, 2009

I'm bad at names too, and like insectosaurus, I'll sometimes mention that it's probably unlikely I'll remember a person's name - especially if I'm being introduced to several people at once. (I have an usual name myself, so I usually expect people won't catch my name, either, which alleviates embarrassment for both parties.)

What helps me remember a name long-term is being able to visualize the name. So if someone gives me a business card, I try to take a mental picture of it. Or if we're in a situation with any type of badges or signs with names on them, that's great. If possible, I love using name tags. If I'm in charge of a situation, I'll definitely provide name tags for people to wear. It helps not only while speaking with them, but then I can visualize the tag and remember the names later.
posted by LolaGeek at 6:54 PM on October 20, 2009

The repeating thing. I once had to attend a marketing workshop at my old company. The leader had an astonishing, instantaneous ability to remember the names of everyone who came into our large group of people. So I asked her how she did it. She had me watch her as new people filed in and said their names. She just used the person's name immediately than about 3-4 times in the first couple minutes. "Hello, Anne. Nice to meet you. So, Anne, what brings you here?" "Oh." "Do you know anyone else here, Anne? I'll be happy to introduce you. There's someone you should meet, Anne." It's contrived, but it works. People are very flattered when you remember and use their names.
posted by Elsie at 6:59 PM on October 20, 2009

All of the above suggestions are great. In the end, you just need to figure out what works best for you. I had a lot of problems remembering names as well, but I could always remember a face. My method was to figure out a way to associate their name with their face. This is where it becomes hard to give specific advice because association is a very particular thing. For instance, I met a guy named Ellis the other day. I live in Chicago, so I pictured an El train coming out of his head and thought to myself "the El is here". I know it sounds bizarre, but it works for me.
posted by OccamsRazor at 8:47 PM on October 20, 2009

insectosaurus is onto something--it really helps a lot if you know your learning style here. I'm a visual learner, so I remember things better if I read them or see a drawing. In a class or meeting, just writing the person's name down in my notebook is helpful, but it's even better if I write the names relative to where they sit, or if I draw a tiny face (you don't need to be skilled--just draw the shape of their hair or something). Other times I've done things like remembering that someone named Mandy had eyebrow muscles that formed an M shape across her face, and picturing an M on her face there.

I do suspect, however, that many successful businesspeople and politicians simply have excellent aural and visual memories. I've run into a few people who remembered my name and face having only met me once, briefly and informally, with no expectation of ever meeting me again, so I doubt they resorted to any of these tricks. Must be nice!
posted by wintersweet at 9:11 PM on October 20, 2009

make rhymes and memory aids:

debbie....does dallas
scott scott smokes too much pot.
denim-tailoring dennis

repeating names is good, but that also lets on that you're trying to remember their name.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:53 AM on October 21, 2009

I imagine a big Broadway-style billboard behind the person's head, with their name lit up in big yellow lights.
I also try the method mentioned by Elsie above, but find the visual method works better.
posted by sid.tv at 7:47 AM on October 21, 2009

Maybe I'm too big of a sports fan, but I give people "jersey numbers" if I think I'm going to have a problem remembering their names, especially if I think that forgetting a particular name would be a Bad Thing.

Some people have an easier time mentally indexing by number than by variable-length text.
posted by Citrus at 9:12 AM on October 21, 2009

Take a lesson from this weeks Curb Your Enthusiasm. Give a description to the persons entry in your cell phone (or brain) if you can. Just avoid names like Wendy Wheelchair.
posted by robofunk at 9:19 AM on October 21, 2009

« Older Who owns the button patent?   |   Veni Vidi Vicious Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.