5 Simple Tips for Remembering People’s Names

Old-school game showing names and faces

Remembering people’s names is pretty important. Calling someone by their name, especially if you’ve only met them once, is a sign of a sharp mind and a good memory. Remembering someone’s name also makes that person feel important and can put him or her immediately at ease.

Meetings, conventions, and even meeting friends of friends are all vitally important situations where remembering names is important. Yet actually remembering everyone’s name can be tricky.

By using a few tricks and tips, though, learning how to remember a name every time isn’t all that difficult. Before we get into those, let’s look briefly at why it’s so easy to forget.

Why Is Remembering Names So Hard?

The short answer to this question is that the human brain is a funny thing. The slightly longer answer is that our brains have two types of memory: long-term and short-term. Long-term memory is where you store all the things that are important for your life, like your address, what car you drive, and your mother’s name. Short-term memory is where you keep fleeting things that aren’t that important, like where you laid your keys, where you parked, or the name of the person you just met.

Since this information goes into the short-term filing cabinet, it’s easily forgotten and written over with more short-term information. The trick to remembering a name is to transfer that information from the short-term file into long-term storage. By doing this, you’re almost guaranteed to remember it the next time you meet.

1. Create a Visual “Hook”

The thing about remembering people’s names is that you have to remember not only the name but the face that goes along with it. It’s this pairing that can be tricky. A great way to remember faces and names together is to create a visual hook for the person. This can be an odd haircut, special eyebrows, a scar, perfect teeth… you get the idea.

Black-and-white photo of Friar Tuck from Robin Hood movie

Once you have the visual, think of something to pair with it. For example, a balding man could look like a Robin Hood monk. If the man’s name is, say, Jim, then you could link his name with the visual by saying “Jim the Monk.” Now you have the anchor between the name and the face, which will help you keep the name over the long term.

2. Ask a Question

It’s easy to move on from an introduction to some other information that can quickly cloud your memory. To counter this, ask the person a question about himself or herself. By doing this, you get some information to anchor to, as well as a few moments to repeat the name to yourself while looking at the person.

The question can vary for each person, but ones that are directly about that person are best. Questions about a piece of clothing, a building, or a family are all great options. The info paired with the repetition of the name in your head should link name to face.

3. Write It Down

Writing information down is by far one of the best ways to remember anything. While typing is great, the act of writing seems to link information into long-term memory better than just about anything else.

Doodle of the name Kurt in a spiral notebook

For example, this study found people showed marked improvement in remembering foreign words just by writing them down. In other words, the act itself helps move the information directly into long-term memory, bypassing short-term memory altogether. This is also why it pays to take notes in meetings, even if you never review them.

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4. Associate Someone With a Famous Person

Another form of name anchoring comes in the form of famous people. Everyone resembles a famous person to some extent. Even if it’s just a haircut or a favorite phrase, you can find a resemblance if you try hard enough.

Associating a name and face with a famous person can anchor both together so that when you see the person you met, you think of the famous face and thereby remember their actual name. Anchor whatever reminds you of the famous person to the name, and now when you see the famous face as well as the person you’re talking to, you’ll think of both.

5. Pair With a Crazy Picture

This is the most fun tip on our list. By associating a crazy picture with a name and face, the shock value is enough to make the name stick. The image is best drawn from something about the person, but it can even be something in the room where you’re meeting him or her.

Image of Family Guy characters on a stained-glass window

If the person is standing under a stained-glass window, imagine them as they would look in the stained glass with their name engraved underneath. It’s even better if the person’s name rhymes or aligns with the image. Going back to the stained glass idea, if the man’s name is Stan, then think of “Stanned Glass.”

Come up with ideas on the fly for the most effect. Now when you see the person, you’ll think of the crazy image and probably laugh a little. Nothing’s better for remembering than a happy thought.

Have a favorite tip for remembering people’s names that we didn’t mention? Leave it in the comments, because we can all use as much help as we can get, right?

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