A person’s name is the most powerful word you can say to them. Most successful business executives, teachers, sales people, psychologists, and more understand the significance of learning and using someone’s name. Dale Carnegie famously said, “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” A person’s name is a connection to their identity and sense of self. Remembering a person’s name makes that person feel valued. When someone doesn’t remember your name, especially after repeated meetings, you may feel slighted or unimportant.
And yet, difficulty remembering names is one of the most common complaints I hear in my office from people of all ages. Yes, name recall is a common symptom of normal aging (and a busy life!), but that doesn’t mean you can’t get better and improve.
Here are some tips for learning and remembering names. Make a “mid-year’s resolution” to improve a small skill that can make a big difference in how you interact with the people in your life.
- Make a commitment. Change doesn’t happen with good intentions alone. Decide to make this change and increase your awareness and level of effort when meeting someone new.
- Pay attention. Most of the time we don’t remember names of people we meet because we don’t pay attention. When they are saying their name, you are thinking about what you are going to say next. Many problems we perceive as memory problems are actually failures to pay attention in the first place. So, next time you meet a new person, slow down and pay attention to their name.
- Say the name. Say it the minute you hear it. For example, “Hi Deidre, it’s nice to meet you.” Say the name again at the end of the conversation: “David, it was nice talking with you.” Ask a question with their name at the end, “Where did you go to school, Susan?”
- Relate the name. When you hear the name, try to relate it to someone you already know or someone who is famous. If you meet a Jennifer, think of Jennifer Garner. If you meet a Nicole, think, “Nicole, like my cousin Nicole.”
- Spell the name. If the name is unusual, ask how it’s spelled or about its nation of origin. Knowing how the name is spelled will help with visualization.
- Make a Silly Association. Try to link the name to a physical attribute, their job or just a funny expression. Visualization helps a lot. If the person’s name is Anna, imagine her wearing a banana suit, “Anna Banana.” If someone’s name is Noah, imagine Noah’s Ark. Visualization helps a lot! If you meet a man named Paul who happens to be tall…then he becomes Tall Paul. If you meet someone named Jean who is very thin, they become String Bean Jean. Try to make the association as humorous or outrageous as you can. Nobody has to know your process, and it will help the name to stick.
- Finally, if by the end of your first conversation, you have already forgotten the name, ask them for it again! Chances are they have already forgotten your name too!