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Even after I have asked a person's name a number of times, I still have trouble remembering it. How can I improve my ability with recalling names?

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This is a great question - I have the same problem, but is it on topic here? – Dmitry Selitskiy Jul 18 '11 at 6:34
Sometimes with names I invert phonetic mnemonics. Luis is number 5ui0 and Ben is number 9e2. I think it works for me because A) it's a challenge, B) I'm interested in mnemonics, and C) I really want to get the numbers right to hone my skills. It think it's also fun to add, subtract, and multiply friends. Isn't that nerdy? – Wolfpack'08 Oct 21 '11 at 16:57
@Wolfpack'08 Subtracting your enemies... Divide and conquer... I like it. :) – Mateen Ulhaq Dec 10 '11 at 0:50
I remember my art challenge/math challenge teacher used to mispronounce my name, until one day, years later, he realized what it really was. He asked, "Why didn't you correct me earlier?!" Troll. :) – Mateen Ulhaq Dec 10 '11 at 0:55

13 Answers 13

up vote 12 down vote accepted

There are many techniques publicised, but many of them seem to come back to connecting the name with some physical representation of the person.

For example I might link the surname Smith with someone's very dark eyebrows and in my head link this as Blacksmith.

This might sound a little silly, but in fact the sillier aspect you can use the better the brain seems to remember it.

It takes a bit of practice but really makes a difference to the effectiveness of remembering names.

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If anyone remembers the MegaMind infomercials that used to run in the 90s, this was essentially the technique it suggested for remembering names. – Adam Wuerl Jul 16 '11 at 22:38
I use to think of "Rory Alsop" as "Dr Mayhem"... – awe Jun 15 '12 at 11:20
Heh - me too! :-) – Rory Alsop Jun 15 '12 at 12:23

Alberto Dell'Isola describes a few tricks to memorize names in Super Memória - você também pode ter uma - portuguese (no official translation to English).

  • Listen. Everyone likes when others show interest in their names so it's alright to ask him to repeat it or comment how unusual it sounds.
  • Repeat. Add his name a few times in the conversation, in the Good Bye, and challenge yourself to greet your next Good Afternoon followed by his name.
  • Judge the book by it's cover. What does his face remind you? The first impression is probably going to be the second, so prejudgemental feelings are helpful and should be encouraged. Take some time to make assumptions about their personality based purelly on their appearence.
  • Do I know anyone else with that name? Picture the faces of people with the same or similar names. People you know or famous people.

Mr. Dell'Isola also describes a complex technique requiring one to picture the associations interacting with each other in a given place. This is most likely focused on his students aiming for competitions so I won't get into details here.

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Not everyone likes it. Especially when they mispronounce your name. ;) – Mateen Ulhaq Dec 10 '11 at 0:53

Another way is to send people invites on LinkedIn. Then you have a place where you can see peoples faces and names.

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Provided they 1) have a LinkedIn profile (not always) 2) have a photo on LinkedIn (again, not a always) - narrow but useful suggestion imo. – Dmitry Selitskiy Jul 19 '11 at 11:11

After your meeting, try to find a picture of them on the internet. Facebook, linkedIn, their website or simply their business card.

Put picture and name into Anki and after a while you can trust that you know the name.

I add a minimum of two cards:

  • One card where I have to spell out the full name.

  • The other card shows the name and general information about the person like their job or how I meet them.

  • Optional: If the there are multiple pictures of the person that look different I add them in the mode where I have to type out the whole name.

  • Optional: I add card where I have to type out their birthday.

  • Optional: I add card where I have to type out their phonenumber.

Just just have to make daily Anki usage into a habit and you will have a great memory. I have to invest some time but I think it's worth the investment. With practice it can become easier. Learning a bit mnemonics can also cut down the time.

If you do your homework, you become the guy who knows the name of everybody.

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Thanks for the Anki link @Christian. I came to know about this site from this answer and it looks promising for study. – Tushar Joshi Jul 21 '11 at 8:00

Here's some advice on the issue by Philip Guo.

According to Philip, "Accurately remembering names is one of the simplest yet most important components of interacting with people, no matter in what capacity."

He goes on to provide eight tips on HOW we can better remember people's names and WHY we should not call others by wrong names or nick-names (unless they sanction it), and stresses on the fact that we must make an effort to make sure we remember (and not falter with) names that seem unconventional to us. He then ends it with a few tips from some readers.

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Please do not just provide a link but give a summary of what you are linking too. – Dmitry Selitskiy Jul 18 '11 at 6:36
@Dmitry Selitskiy..... its a good thing you pointed out. While not relaying any part from the page, I have made an edit to my answer to include a basic summary. – KK. Jul 18 '11 at 16:04
Thank you. edit However, your answer here still does not provide substance. To make it a truly great answer you could summarize the points raised in the linked resource in your own words so a user here could get the idea of what you are suggesting just by reading your answer and then following the link if further reading is desired. – Dmitry Selitskiy Jul 19 '11 at 3:18

Here's a simple tip I am using: use his/her name in your conversation at least three times.

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Here's what works for me. Write their name down, several times. Also, say their name when you shake their hand.. like "NIce to meet you John Smith".

You need to engage several different sectors of the brain with the name.

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My suggestion is to study how you remember things well. Is it better if something is in numbers versus letters,e.g. instead of remembering Bob, you remember this person is 2.15.2 which you can translate back as Bob? Do you do better with colors where you could imagine each person as a color? Daniel Tammet: Different ways of knowing would be a TED talk where the speaker discusses how he combines colors, shapes and numbers together in how he understands the world. If you write the name out a dozen times, does that help? There may be a lot of trial and error to find the tools that work for you.

For myself, written things tend to be recalled better than others though I do tend to collect bits of trivia.

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There isn't one answer. It depends on what works for you and what you have trouble with. My favorite techniques are saying the person's name immediately/in conversation and then writing it down for next time. It still takes me a few tries though.

For names I've never heard before, I've been learning initials and then putting learn "xyz abc's name" on my to do list. That way I see it enough times that i learn it.

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Admittedly, this does not directly answer your question, but may be useful to know.

In my experience, the best tool is actually being unafraid to ask for a person's name multiple times, and sometimes being accepting that names are not your forte. Typically when I have to re-ask a name, I find it makes other people feel more comfortable and at ease around you. When you are comfortable showing that you are not perfect others have a tendency to reciprocate that attitude. This tends to generate a more socially safe atmosphere in which people will feel more comfortable asking you questions, sharing their problems, and openly stating their opinions.

That being said, the two most common methods I've heard for memorizing names are either repetition of looking at a face and stating the name in your mind, or creating a very, strange vivid visualization of their name that doubles as a mnemonic.

An example of an mnemonic with my name, Brandon, would be to imagine my face and you take a "Brand" with the letter "B" and put it "on" my forehead. Or for the name Jeanne, I'll think of the words "G" and "ant", and imagine the person walking around with G shaped ants on their body. Typically the more absurd you make the imagery the more it has a tendency to strongly stick in your mind.

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Admitting you forgot somebodies name may be considered very rude in some cultures. – M.K. Jan 12 '12 at 23:46

I am often confronted with many new names at the workplace. What I do is, I simply write the names down in a very small (paper) notebook together with a short info. Like this" "Susan - blonde girl in tech support, responsible for the cluster". Simple.

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That works for me... Write their name on a piece of paper and post the paper on a wall or something close to your workplace. Also, write down the names in an (online) computer file.

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I know this sounds weird but I've heard that when the person says their name, you proceed to imagine their name written in big red letters over their head and that's supposed to help you remember the name.

I suppose it makes sense if only because it forces you to think about the name for more than the moment it took them to say it to you. Otherwise, you may not even hear them when they say their name to begin with.

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