A person’s name is to [them] the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
Dale Carnegie

Do you have an amazing memory for names, dates, and personal details about people. If so, it will have come in handy more than you even recall.

Not everyone has this gift!

If names are a weak spot for you, here are five tips to try …….


1. Stop saying that you’re hopeless at names

This is by far the number one thing that stops people from learning names: they will emphatically tell you that they’re “awful at remembering names.”

Saying you can’t do something sets your mind up to not do that thing. It’s true with remembering names, and it’s true with… literally anything else.

For example, if you have a sweet tooth and want to eat more healthily, keeping telling yourself  “I have zero willpower when it comes to sweets,” then, sure as eggs, you will absolutely inhale sweets the second you see them because you have programmed you WILLPOWER.

Saying that you’re bad at names isn’t only a self-fulfilling prophecy; it also gets your introduction off on the wrong foot—for lots of reasons:

  • It tells the person you’re meeting that they’re not worth a little extra effort on your part to make their name stick.

  • It seems a bit arrogant because, no doubt, the person you’re saying this to would like you to know their name, and they’ll likely be doing their best to know your name.

  • It immediately makes the conversation about you and your goldfish-like memory. Not a great way to start a relationship.

  • It lets you absolve yourself of responsibility for learning other people’s names. You’ve already proclaimed that you “can’t,” which means you don’t see a problem with that (even though there IS a problem with that).


2. Say their name back to them

As soon as you hear someone say their name, shake their hand, smile, and say it back to him or her with thoughtful intention.

This is where you take the time to make this person feel important, heard, and excited to meet you too. It helps to say their name as if it’s the first time you’ve ever heard it. Obviously there’s a limit to this: don’t drag it out artificially, but say it like you mean it.

People often aren’t paying close attention when someone introduces themselves. The person receiving the introduction might feel nervous about meeting someone new, or they’re more concerned about saying their own name for the other person to get right.

Your name can wait. Make it about the other person upfront. This shows people that you’re interested and invested in them as people, not just as a networking opportunity.

Saying a name back to someone is also helpful if the person you’re meeting has a unique name. It’s better to ask about pronunciation right away than to try to muddle your way through it when it’s time to part ways or the next time you see them.


3. Make associations in your head

Make as many associations in your head with this person’s name as you can. Do it quickly and discreetly.

“Hey, my name is Jim.”

“Jim [pause, look them in the eyes, smile], so great to meet you.”

In my head: “My teaching colleague’s name is Jim. [Picture the colleague doing/being something specific.] He teaches Visual Arts, so maybe I’ll think of him in an artist’s smock. [Look at new Jim’s face, picture Artist Jim, look back at new Jim.] Jim has another word that sounds just the same. GYM. New Jim looks as if he exercises. I bet he goes to the gym. Jim at the gym.”

One caveat to this approach: don’t tell the person you’re meeting what’s going on in your head. There is no good way for people to respond to those associations, and the resulting awkwardness rarely leads to an enjoyable conversation. Trust me on this.

They don’t care about how you remember their name; they just care that you do remember their name.


4. Say their name slowly, intentionally one more time before leaving

This one is super simple: once the conversation is wrapping up, say the person’s name again. Look them in the eye while you do it.

“Jim, thanks for chatting. Great to meet you!”

This part often gets rushed for a bunch of reasons, but try to make it slow and intentional. At the end of a conversation, people don’t often remember what was said, but they do remember how they felt while talking to you. Make them feel heard.


5. If you do forget, own up to it and ask

Asking someone to say their name one more time isn’t the end of the world. It shows that you’re willing to admit a mistake. It shows that you’re willing to ask for help. It shows that you’re trying to do better by that person.

The consequence of not asking in the moment is worse than the slight discomfort you might feel asking the person to repeat themselves. In other words, it’s far more embarrassing to get hit with, “Actually, Gillian, we’ve met before,” a few months later than it is to ask during the introduction itself.

An especially effective formula for this is to ask for the person’s name again and apologize, while also pointing out something else you were talking about. This shows that you were paying attention to them and the conversation, but you just forgot a detail.

For example:

“I was so interested to find someone from Greymouth – especially here in New Orleans – that I lost my focus for a moment. Can you please tell me your name again?”  

Then, in my head, “Greymouth Jim playing trumpet in New Orleans.” Keep making those connections until they stick.

There’s no secret memory skill to getting particularly good at names. Like getting good at anything else, it’s about effort and practice over time.

The main takeaway I have for you: by spending more time focusing on the other person, you become more memorable to them. You were the person who took the time to at least learn their name, not to mention everything else.

People will meet so many who don’t take the time to remember a single thing about them. If you’re willing to be present and make the effort, you’ll stand out among the masses.