“Where are you living now?” my mother asked the woman who greeted her in front of the grocery store.
“Same place,” the woman replied.
Then my mother asked, “Where’s your husband working?”
“Still at the factory.”
My mother tried again. “And how are the children.”
“Fine,” came the answer. “They’re all married now.”
As we walked away, I said to my mother, laughing, “You don’t know who she is, do you?” She shook her head.
Shakespeare wrote, “I cannot tell what…his name is.” The bard isn’t the only one who had the problem of remembering names. Most of us have had the experience of meeting someone whose face we recognized, but we couldn’t think of their name. “I simply cannot remember names,” we excuse ourselves.
We all like the sound of our own name. It pleases us when people remember it, especially if they’ve only met us once before. By using the following hints, you too can impress others the next time you see them.
1. Pay attention
Someone said, “The true art of memory is the art of retention.” This is especially true in remembering names. Listen closely when people tell you their name.
2. Repeat the name
Ask people to repeat their names if you didn’t understand it clearly the first time. Then use the name during the conversation and when saying good-bye.
3. Use word association
Note some unusual association between the person and her name. For example, Mrs. Pepper may have dark black hair. Or picture Mrs. Green in a green wig or, if she likes gardening, picture her working in a lush green lawn. Someone named Goodrich may have a halo around her head with dollar bills sticking out, while Robert could be pictured robbing a bank. The sillier the association, the easier it is to remember the name. (They don’t have to know the association, however!)
In remembering the names of siblings who are close in age or who look alike, it helps to capitalize on a difference. For example, I knew two sisters named Shirley and Rosemary. Shirley wore glasses. Thus, to me, S stood for Shirley and spectacles. Two of my daughters’ friends were named Evelyn and Elizabeth. Elizabeth had the longest hair and the longest name. With two sisters I knew, one was married and the other single, so M stood for Maxine and married and A for Alice and available. (Later A stood for also married.)
4. Form descriptive words from initials
If a person’s name is Bobby Jones and he works as a chiropractor, think Back Jerker. A veterinarian named Kenny Smith can be Kitty Saver. A gynecologist named Peter Gibson might be remembered by the appropriate initials of “PG”.
5. Spell the name
Upon an introduction, ask people to spell their names, if necessary. In your mind, picture the letters as though appearing on a blackboard or marquee. Often names more difficult to pronounce are easier to remember, perhaps because you asked these folks to repeat and spell their names the first time you met them. One lady asked a person whose name she couldn’t remember, “Tell me your name again. I never can pronounce it.” The acquaintance replied, “Smith.”
Ross Foley tells of a pastor who had great difficulty with names. One Sunday morning a woman came through the line at the door and asked, “You remember me, don’t you?” He didn’t, but thought he’d fake it. So he said, “Oh, yes I do. But tell me, do you spell your name with an ‘e’ or an ‘i’? She replied, “With an ‘i’ and it’s Hill.”
- Develop a mental image
After leaving a person you just met, say the name over to yourself, each time visualizing that person in your mind.
7. Use photographs
If you know you will be meeting someone, try to get a photograph ahead of time. Study the picture for an identifying mark to connect with the name. Several months before attending a convention, I studied pictures of association officers I knew would be there. I studied their hair color, facial features, glasses, and so on, and tried to connect these features in some way with their name. For example, a man named “Rust” had reddish hair. They were pleasantly surprised when I greeted each one by name as they came into the press room to register.
8. Write down a description
After you’ve met someone, pretend you’ve been robbed and you have to give the officers a description of the person. What details can you remember about the height, weight, color of hair, eyes, and so on. Did he have a scar? Wear glasses?
- Put her into a story
Make this new acquaintance a character in a story or a novel. Describe her personality traits—exuberant, charismatic, pessimistic; how she talked—with an accent, a deep voice, squeaky, and so on. Use her name often in this story.
- Write a poem
Use this person’s name in a rhyme describing them: “I think Kathy is a little bit daffy”; “Emma Jean looks like a string bean”; “Jane uses a cane.” Feel free to use a little poetic license to help you associate the person with the rhyme.
Do these methods work for me? They do when I use them. And they can help you too.
What methods do you use to remember names?