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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14 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:05 AM

(Somewhat faceblind.)

I've had success with "write it down" and "put that name somewhere". I would have lists for different contexts where I expected to see people multiple times (e.g. pub, dance classes). When I got a name I'd write down the name plus a short description ('long blonde hair', 'brunette, nose ring', 'tall', whatever). Then next time, I'd skim through the list. Crucially, this seemed to help me recognize people as being people I'd met before, not just to remember their names.

Before LWCW Berlin this year, there was an anki deck to match names to photos. I had mixed success with it. I study the deck itself with ~0 errors, but I felt like I was mostly just matching based on features of the photos ('green field') rather than the people. There were several people who were in the deck but who I didn't recognize when I saw them. But there were a few that I did recognize, even ones with the most distinctive photos.

I think it would be interesting to experiment with choosing one of several photos every time a name comes up. So I can't match based on the photo, I have to use features of the person themselves.

When I want to learn a bunch of people's names if we're, say, all part of a class or seminar or meetup, I'll pull out a piece of paper, draw a square/circle/etc to represent the shape of the space we're gathered at, and then subtly write down each person's name as they introduce themselves. This way, I can remind myself of everyone's names based on their physical position.

Additionally, if people are taking turns introducing themselves in long form, I'll go through each previously introduced person's name in my head, looking at them as I think about their name, as the currently speaking person introduces themselves.

Because i have a visual memory, i can easily remember names if i associate them to a special detail of the appearence of the person.

Re: #4, the single most useful association that I have found is associating the name with a song that that name appears in. Obviously, this fails for many names, but when it works surpasses any other method.

This is true for me even though I have a better visual memory than auditory. I believe that part of why it is so effective for me is that my auditory memory works much better for music than for other auditory inputs.

When it comes to teaching your brain that names are important, it's not only about learning names. It's also about using names.

(1) You can use names when you greet people in real life: Hi Alice, how are you doing? instead of How are you doing?

(2) You can use names when you tell a story: My friend John told me that it's useful to take Vitamin D in the morning instead of the evening instead of A friend told me that it's useful to take Vitamin D in the morning instead of the evening

(3) In addition to verbally speaking names it's good to have a voice in your head say the name of a person when you meet a person physically even if you don't greet them.

Those three are useful habits. If they come hard to you, you can practice (1) at home with visualisations.

The thing that worked best for me remembering names is having to memorize my students names when I was teaching. It turns out that after practicing on 250 or so names a year for 3 years, further names became much easier, even without any specific method (although I do try to use repetition in conversation more than I used to).

I suspect any technique will work for remembering names, because it is the practice at remembering names that matters most.

CFAR uses double sided badges and they helped me substantially in memorizing people's names by the end of the workshop.

Double-sided? How does that work?

You put the person's name on both sides of the badge (this is a flat badge on a lanyard) so that if it gets turned around it's still visible.

It may also be useful to look for patterns in the names that are hardest for you to remember. For example, I have a harder time with longer names and names that have odd stresses. The two of these together means that I am almost guaranteed to forget a name, so those are the names that I make certain to write down and rehearse, often associating them with a simpler nickname. However, I could not identify these names as upcoming problems until I recognized the pattern.

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.

Given my experiences with learning names via Anki I don't think that would be an excellent feature. You only want to add cards into Anki that already have decent memory links.

If a name is worth putting into Anki it's worth spending the time to create an Anki card.

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!

This seems like it could be dangerous: some people might find it weird or even take offence. And if you get too much into the habit, what happens when you meet someone whose most salient feature is something you really don't want to be commenting on? "Nice to meet you, Fred with the enormous nose." "Nice to meet you, Alice with the pimples."

or the really pretty eyes! Yes I bet it could get you into trouble. Use your best judgement? Also the way you say it matters a lot too. "you're really tall" can come out as a positive or a negative. But that sort of knowledge belongs in a social-skills lesson, not so much in a name-learning one...