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  7. How to Remember Names and Faces


One of the most common complaints people have is that they are bad at remembering names. However, if you deal with people (which we all do in one way or another) you can appear more caring as well as more professional if you remember people’s names. When someone remembers our name we feel that our initial interaction with them was somehow important enough for them to remember us. This can have a significant impact.

Studies show that names are remembered better if you hear it after you know about the person you are being introduced to. However, in practice, we are given a persons name before getting to know them. One way to deal with this is to remind yourself of the name at the end of the conversation, or, if you have forgotten it by then, ask them to repeat it. This isn’t a perfect solution because it is also important to use the persons name during the conversation. Also, we don’t always get a chance to ask for names at the end of a conversation.

Remembering names

The system presented here helps you to remember a persons name as you are being introduced. These techniques work if you are being introduced to one person or to a group of people (though remembering many names at once requires a bit of practice and experience).

This system isn’t perfect (a perfect system doesn’t exist). You may not remember names 100% of the time but you will likely remember many more names using this system than you would if you didn’t use this system. I know from personal experience that if I put in the effort described here I generally remember a person’s name.

The system

For this system to work you have to apply it. Even if you don’t manage to follow all the steps you will likely increase your chances of remembering the name for having attempted it. This is because you will have actively processed the name more than if you didn’t try and that alone helps increase your chance of remembering the name in the future.

This system applies many of the techniques discussed in the learning section of this website. You don’t need to be familiar with all the information presented there but it can be helpful.

The system for memorizing a persons name involves the following steps:

  1. Make sure you get the name
  2. make the name meaningful
  3. focus on a distinctive feature of the person’s appearance
  4. associate the name with the distinctive feature
  5. review the association

While this may seem like a lot of work to memorize a name, with practice it becomes easier and even automatic.

Step 1: Make sure you get the name

This is the most important step and sometimes all that is needed to improve your memory of names and faces.

One of the most common reasons for not remembering someone’s name is not getting it in the first place. Often, when being introduced to someone, we are too busy thinking of what to say, feeling self conscious, or distracted with something else and we fail to pay attention to the persons name.

If you don’t hear the name ask them to repeat it, whether it is said by an introducer or the person you are meeting. After hearing it, repeat it back to them both to confirm that you heard it correctly as well as to help you remember it.

If you are introducing someone, or even yourself, it can be useful to say the first name then repeat the first name followed by the last name. This extra repetition helps the other person remember the name better. For example: “This is Jim — Jim Smith”.

Also try and repeat the name in conversation such as:

  • It’s nice to meet you Ms. Smith
  • Tell me Mr. Jones, what do you do for a living?
  • (at the end of the conversation) It was nice meeting you Mrs. Johnson.

Don’t overdo it, though — you can probably get away with saying the name about three times without looking suspicious.

If you have a chance to write down the name, this can be helpful in remembering it in the future.

Step 2: Make the name meaningful

Making information more meaningful greatly increases the chances of remembering it. Many names have associations that already make them meaningful. For example:

  • Smith — this name is derived from a worker such as a blacksmith or goldsmith.
  • Fischer — sounds like someone who fishes
  • Greene — this name is easily associated with the color green

Often a name isn’t inherently meaningful but can be by using word substitution. This is done by finding easy to visualize words that sound similar to the person’s name. For example, the name ‘Stanton’ can be substituted with ‘stand on’ or ‘Meyers’ can be substituted with ‘My ears’.

Another way to add meaning to a name is to associate with someone else you already know who has the same name. I find this is the quickest and easiest approach when it is possible.

You can also practice this step ahead of time for common names or by looking through the phone book. There are also books available that list name associations for common names.

Step 3: Focus on a distinctive feature of the person’s appearance

Note a distinctive feature of the persons face or appearance that will likely attract your attention the next time you meet the person such as their nose, ears, or height. It is not a good idea to choose something that may not be there the next time you meet them such as clothing, jewelry, glasses, etc.

Studies show that studying the persons face and trying to make a personal judgment (such as honesty, kind, etc.) helps in remembering the person. Recognizing distinctive features in a persons face is a skill that improves with practice.

Step 4: Associate the name with the distinctive feature

Form a conscious visual association between the meaningful aspect of the name from the step 2 and the visual feature identified in the previous step. Use the visualization techniques to make the association more effective.

Step 5: Review the association

Review is an important technique for ensuring your remember the name in the long term. Reviewing the name and the association makes it more established in your memory. You can review the name by using it in the conversation as discussed above.

If possible, don’t meet too many people in rapid succession — talking to the person you just met for some time will increase your chances of remembering their name as you will get to know them better. It will also decrease interference with trying to remember other people’s names as there will be more time in between having to remember a new name.

It can be helpful to review the names of all the people you met at a particular occasion after the event is over. You can even make notes at this time to help strengthen your memory as well as have a written record of the people you met. You can review this information at a later time to create a good impression by having remembered important facts about the person.

Final note

Business cards are often exchanged when meeting people. If they are exchanged during the introduction, read the persons name while saying it. This will have the following benefits:

  • seeing the name while saying it helps your brain encode the information in two distinct ways
  • repeating the name helps you to remember it

Try and associate the visuals of the business card with the visualizations described in the above steps. If you are at a convention and collect many business cards it can be difficult to remember what card came from which person.

After the conversation make notes about the person on the back of the card.

Related Pages

How To Memorize Formulas
How to Remember Names and Faces