Remembering to remember names
April 19, 2014 6:36 PM   Subscribe

I have a problem with remembering names, but the biggest aspect is remembering to remember names. When I meet someone, I'll often ask their name, but it'll go in one ear and out the other. I need to specifically think that this is something that I want to remember later. I've been trying to build up this habit for a while, but I'm finding it very hard. How can I get myself into the habit of remembering to remember names? To be clear, I'm not asking for tricks and tips for remembering names per se, but on ways of building up the habit of thinking of names as things that are important.
posted by casebash to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Repeat their name when they introduce themselves and again at the end of the conversation.
posted by aniola at 7:02 PM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm bad at faces more so than names - they don't seem to make the same impression on me that they do on other people, faceblindness or whatever. I can never Name That Celebrity.

I work in health care so it's nice to be able to say "hey yes I remember you and care enough to remember your name!" What I do is make memory of some specific thing - it's a little like internal gossip.

E.B. wears a visor type hat, all the time, held on by a gold telephone cord elastic.
J.S. always wears firetruck red lipstick on her teeth
B.G. has a bad wig, the same bad wig, always

This would be less useful if the people you wish to address ever change their wig or hat or teeth, but it's generally a way to create not only a space for a name in your brain, but a little anchoring point for that name to hang on to.
posted by angerbot at 7:05 PM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have the same problem. If I'm seated with people, I usually make a crib sheet with arrows, or at least position their names on the pad. If I miss one, I leave a blank and listen for their name (or ask someone on the sly). When I can't do that, I throw their name back at them as soon as I hear it -- nice to meet you, casebash. When I get a second to myself, I'll actually review a room-full of people I've met and job my brain on their names, left to right (or what have you). It's not perfect, I still lose names, but it's a big help to just refresh.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:12 PM on April 19, 2014

Can you get into the habit of always farewelling people by name? I.e. instead of "Bye!", say "Bye, Sarah!" If you do that, then you will realise while still in the person's proximity that you haven't remembered to remember their name. It is usually acceptable to ask someone's name again at least once during the first meeting, so if you go to farewell them and realise you forgot to remember their name, you can ask for it then.
posted by lollusc at 7:36 PM on April 19, 2014

Well, how important is your name to you? If the answer is not at all (it's a name you never liked/you're someone's namesake/you've got no real attachment and have always gone by xyz nickname(s)/whatever), try to remember that many if not most people are not like that so it's worth making the effort to know their name. If your name is a very important defining aspect of you (say, you have the personalized jewelry/clothing/license plate/etc. to prove it), try to remember that many if not most people feel the same way so it's worth making the effort to know their name.
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:38 PM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

"To be clear, I'm not asking for tricks and tips for remembering names per se, but on ways of building up the habit of thinking of names as things that are important."

Perhaps think of the hurt feeling you had when someone didn't remember your name - conversely - remember how happy you were when someone remembered your name.

Remembered names aren't so much labels as they are evidence that you registered with someone, or they with you.
posted by vapidave at 10:03 PM on April 19, 2014

Maybe your new response to someone telling you their name could be something that links that name to something/someone you already know. Example: "Oh, xxxxxx! That's my aunt's name." If the name is new to you, maybe you could ask how that's spelled, for extra reinforcement. And yes, what aniola said, about repeating the person's name at least two times.
posted by oxisos at 10:10 PM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Say their name when they introduce themselves. More importantly, commit yourself to saying, "hi, name" to everybody you encounter every day. That appears awkward or bumbling if you keep screwing up so you start to take names more seriously when you hear them than you do now.
posted by michaelh at 10:35 PM on April 19, 2014

It's simple, but repeating someone's name after they tell you it helps a lot. "Dan? Nice to meet you, Dan."
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:52 PM on April 19, 2014

It may be that the rest of conversations are more pressing in your mind at the time. "Oh, I better say something interesting as a response to their comment." "I have to remember to tell them about this important project I am working on." Practicing what you are going to say, and even just practicing small talk might be helpful, so that when you are in a situation where you are meeting new people, your brain has a bit more spare energy/capacity to care about their name.
posted by troytroy at 4:13 AM on April 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Dork solution ahead: I'm a bit of an etymology nut and I sometimes try and work out the origin and meaning of the name after it's been given. I find it rewarding to be able to put a face to some obscure little nugget of knowledge I've picked up.
posted by Jilder at 4:51 AM on April 20, 2014

I agree with the posters that point out not remembering someone's name can be a bit hurtful. So a good way to remind yourself to remember someone's name is not only to think about their feelings, but how many bonus "I like you" points you will score by making the effort.

I have a very easy to pronounce French first name and often people I meet for the first time will call me by the English version of it. I never really found it annoying, as it happens so often I just dismiss it... Though I do cringe when people pronounce it like similar male names because it feels like they are subtly trying to tease me (even though this is irrational and I know they are just trying to be nice by showing they sort of recall my name). It is surprising how often people do not learn your name when it is even faintly "exotic", or learn it but use an incorrect pronunciation or a nickname you don't go by.

Because of that, when someone takes the effort to actually use my name, and do so correctly, it does make me instantly like them even more. Perhaps knowing the power in getting someone's name right for harvesting good will inspire you :).
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 5:50 AM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've found that mentioning that I'm awful at remembering names usually elicits a similar confession from the person I'm being introduced to which lets me say his or her name a bunch of times in the conversation and gives me an out the next time I meet the person.

So basically admitting that this is something you're bad at and being public about it helps to improve your ability to remember names. It is just a ritual to add to the process of introductions and I've found that knowing that other people are bad at remembering names lets me be more free about asking the second time I meet someone.
posted by sciencegeek at 7:50 AM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

A nice lady named April taught me the trick of subvocalizing a person's name ten times while looking at their face - you know, repeating it in your head without saying it out loud?

Guess whose name I'm never going to forget, ever? It's a useful trick.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 8:13 AM on April 20, 2014

I very rarely bother with names, and instead work around it unless it is somehow important to know. In general, though, I remember names based on the vowel-consonant pattern of someone's name, such as if their name is ANNA, I'll remember associate a OXXO pattern to them -- so if I don't get their name right, at least I'll get the right pattern down. KATHERYN and MARGARET, for instance, might be two names I would get confused, or DAVID and JACOB..
posted by Quarter Pincher at 9:05 AM on April 20, 2014

I'm bad at remembering names, too, because I'm bad at listening when people are introducing themselves. That's all about anxiety for me. There's a loop in my head that goes "OK, she's going to say her name, be sure and listen to her name, but smile, she's introducing herself, you have to appear friendly, and don't forget to say your own name, but still listen for her name, because it's really important to remember her name, you don't want to forget her name, SHIT she just said her name and I wasn't listening..."

So, the key for me is to CALM DOWN and try to get all zen about the names. I sometimes use sciencegeek's trick if I'm feeling particularly jacked up because it breaks the loop and gives me a chance to catch my breath. Plus admitting straight up that I'm feeling anxious (in other words) helps me feel less anxious. And knowing that LOTS of people have problems with names helps take some of the pressure off.

I'm also trying to relax about asking people a second time for their names, a little later on in the conversation if I've forgotten, because it's easier to do it earlier than later. If you put it off too long you end up in one of those situations where you know someone casually for years and NEVER know their name.

For me, focussing on how hurtful it is to not remember someone's name makes it WORSE since the root of the problem is anxiety. It's easier for me to relax and remember if I tell myself that not remembering names is a common thing and not a sign that I'm a terrible person. I like it and get a little boost when someone remembers my name and uses it, but I'm also sometimes comforted by someone not remembering so I can commiserate about how hard it can be to remember names. That can be a nice little bonding exercise, too.
posted by looli at 10:02 AM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

So, I'm terrible with names in general (I'll blank out on known names frequently - like, even close family members!), and I guess I don't have much of an attachment to my own name (eh - it's just a label, I could have any name, maybe I should pick a more fitting name, blah blah blah - I'll get to this later).

I have to remember that actually, even though I absolutely can and will forget ANYONES name, actually, I am more likely to remember someones name if I'm interested in them as a person, so it is not irrational for someone to associate my not remembering their name, with my not caring about them. And that is not an impression I want to give someone.

So, like sciencegeek, I'm very upfront about telling someone, "Hey, I'm terrible with names, I'll probably need a few reminders - it's Rachel, right?" Other times, I straight up tell people that I can generally only remember 3 new names a night, and I'll try and squeeze them in.
I'll admit the "I've blanked on my own sister's name", as well.
Admit you are bad with names every time someone gives you a name. This primarily reminds YOU that you are bad at names, and have to try harder, and gives you an excuse to practice their name a few times.
So that's your trigger - you learn a new name, you admit you are bad at names, and then you repeat their name, possibly a couple of times if you can manage it. Once you have said it a few times, it's much more locked in there.

I'm much better at remembering names that are written down btw. If people just did name tags, I'd be semi-ok. As it is, for events where I know I'll be learning a bunch of names, I write them down in my notebook (worst case, I use some logical deduction to figure out which name is which, but it's the writing it down that helps my memory).

I think my own lack of attachment to my name was blinding me to it's purpose, and, it was kind of bullshit - after all, how often have I changed my name? Oh, that's right, I haven't. How many online names have I ever used? Basically, variations on 3 of them. That's it.

Feeling like names are important: Hang out with some 4-5 year olds. Hi, hi, hi! This is *me*! They are totally trying to learn and present themselves as individuals, and it is SO tied up in their names.
The first skill to teach kids in reading, is not reading itself, but that reading & writing are useful and important. With my then 3-4 year old nephew, I showed him how all the cards and ID and many of my belongings all had my NAME on things, and this let people know they were mine. He could see it was the same shape on all my things. How awesome was that? He immediately wanted to know how he could mark things as 'his' with his name (this is the retarded impulse behind tagging, I guess). And c'mon - first thing you learn to write? It's always your name.
I drew him a little fake ID card (because all the adults have them in their wallets, so it was obviously something he wanted too), so he could look at the shapes of his name, and later, practice drawing them.
(As a sidetrack, I then explained I could write down the word for ANYTHING for him, and what would did he want? The Ninja word. Ha!).
So, that was the hook I used to teach my nephew to read and write. His name.
I thought I wasn't that attached to my own name, but it was so obvious how useful this was as a technique.
That, and I worked on a phone tech support helpdesk. I'm pretty convinced that the first 10 seconds with a user on the phone, basically established whether I was one of the obstacles they were frustrated with, or someone who was going to help them over their obstacle. Coworkers would pass grumpy customers over to me, because I was pretty good at establishing the latter. And in that 10 seconds, all you say is your own name, their name, and that I was there to help.
Did I admit that I'm terrible with names, and that if I didn't have it right on the screen on front of me, I wouldn't remember it? Hell no!
Did I keep repeating their name throughout the conversation? Hell yes! (So Mike, could you tap on the little x in the... blah blah blah). Some places actually train you in that kind of stuff, whereas I just fell into it because it WORKED.
It was just a little subconscious sign or signal that I was paying attention to them, their case in particular, and that I was gonna stick with them til we had it sorted. It was literally the only piece of personal information I had about them. I got some glowing feedback, and it was totally down to the manner in which I dealt with it, not necessarily the fix.

Ok, so that was a wall of text, but. Yeah. Names.
Names are not necessarily MORE important than any other personal detail about someone (people are often touched that I've remembered a bunch of other specific stuff about someone, although, that might be more surprise that I do, given I'm blanking on their name), but they are usually the FIRST personal detail you learn about someone, and for many brief interactions, the ONLY detail you'll learn. So, show you give a fuck about them, and work on it.

And tell them that, hey, you're actually pretty failboat at this kind of fact, if you do in fact have some mild specific aphasia. And if it makes you feel better, I can't find a link, but turns out many people with wider vocabularies, often have wider vocabularies because they have trouble remembering the specific word, and so are frequently substituting using a synonym. Looks 'intelligent', actually just 'more forgetful'. Ha!
Absolutely true for me.
posted by Elysum at 7:31 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

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