List of techniques to help you remember names

by Elo3 min read11th Dec 201514 comments


Personal Blog

Name are very important. Everyone has one; everyone likes to know when you know their name. Everyone knows them to be a part of social interaction. You can't avoid names (well you can, but it gets tricky). In becoming more awesome at names, here is a bunch of suggestions that can help you.


The following is an incomplete list of some reasonably good techniques to help you remember names.  Good luck and put them to good use.

0. Everyone can learn to remember names

in a growth mindset sense, stop thinking you can’t.  Stop saying that, everyone is bad at it.  Your 0’th task is to actually try harder than that, if you can’t do that - stop reading.  Face blindness does exist but most of these will help with that.


1. Decide that names are important. 

If you don't think they are important then change your mind. They are. Everyone says they are, everyone responds to their name. It’s a fact of life that being able to be communicated with directly by name will be useful.


2. Make sure you hear the name clearly the first time, and repeat it till you have it. 

I tend to shake people's hands, then not let go until they tell me their name, and share them mine clearly (sometimes twice).  


3. Repeat their name*

Part of 2, but also – if you repeat it (at least once) you have a higher chance of remembering it. Look them in the eye and say their name. "Nice to meet you Bob". Suddenly your brain got a good picture of their face as well as a good cue as to their name.  If you want to supercharge this particular part; “Nice to meet you bob with the hat”, “susan with the glasses”, “john in the dress” works great!

*Repeating a name also has the effect of someone correcting you if you have it wrong.  And if you are in a group - allowing other people to learn or remember a name more easily.


4. Associating that name.

Does that name have a meaning as another thing? Mark, Ivy, Jack.

Does that name rhyme with something? Or sound like something? Victoria, IsaBelle, Dusty, Bill, Norris, Jarrod (Jar + Rod), Leopold.

Does someone you already know have that name? Can you make a mental link between this person and the person who's name you already remember. Worst case about being able to remember their name, "oh I have a cousin also called Alexa"-type statements are harmless.

Is the name famous? Luke, Albert, Jesus, Bill, Simba, Bruce, Clark, Edward, Victoria. Any thing that you can connect to this person to hold their name.


5. Write it down

Do you have a spare piece of paper? Can you write it down?  I literally carry a notebook and write names down as I hear them.  Usually people compliment me on it if they ever find out.


6. Running a script about it

There are naturally lulls in your conversation.  You don’t speak like a wall of text, or if you do you could probably learn to do this over the top. If you take a moment during one of those lulls, while someone else is talking - to look around and take note of if you have forgotten someone's name, do so at 1minute, 5minutes, 10minutes (or where necessary).  Just recite each person’s name in your head.


7. The first letter.

There are 26 English letters. If you can't remember – try to remember the first letter. If you get it and it doesn't jog your memory, try use the statement, "your name started with J right?"


8. Facebook, LinkedIn, Anki

Use the resources available to you. Check Facebook if you forget! Similarly if people are wearing nametags; test yourself (think – her name is Mary – then check) if you don't remember at all then certainly check. Build an anki deck - I am yet to see a script to make an anki deck from a Facebook friends list but this would be an excellent feature. 


9. put that name somewhere.  

It seems to help some people to give the name a box to go in.  “This name goes with the rest of the names of people I am related to”, “this name goes with the box of the rest of my tennis club”, By allocating boxes you can bring back names via the box of names.  (works for some people)


10. Mnemonics

I never bothered because with the above list; I don’t need this yet.  Apparently they work excellently. It’s about creating a sensory object in your head that reminds you of the thing you are after, i.e. a person named Rose – imagine a rose on top of her head, that was bright red, and smelt like a rose. Use all senses and make something vivid. You want to remember? Make it vivid and ridiculous.  Yes this works; And yes it’s more effort.  Names are really valuable and worth remembering.

Disclaimer: All of these things work for some of the people some of the time.  You should try the ones you think will work; if they do - excellent, if they don’t - oh well.  keep trying.

Also see:

and this video on name skill:

Note: This is also recommended from the book "how to win friends and influence people"

Meta: I wrote this post for a dojo in the Sydney Lesswrong group on the name remembering skills following a lightning talk that I gave in the Melbourne Lesswrong group on the same ideas.

time: 3hrs to write.

To see my other posts - check out my Table of contents

Any suggestions, recommendations or updates please advise below.

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