Remember the days when you knew everyone’s name instantly? And recognized faces without a problem? In those days, you never seemed to have to struggle for clues – you just knew. You were probably about 14!

Actually, until you find yourself searching frantically for a name you really know quite well, you’ve taken the skill of recognition for granted. But recalling a name is a very complex process and it isn’t until your memory has let you down, that you begin to realize this.


Remember Names: Top 4 Tips


Pay attention to the person and try to be genuinely interested in them. Notice any distinctive features of the face.


Focus when you hear the name and process it a little. Ask questions – Is that Graeme with an ‘e’ or an ‘h’? Does McCallum mean you are Scottish?


Connect information you find out about the person with other facts you already know about someone else. these connections are memory traces. e.g. If Bill drives a Lexus, for example, link him to another person you know with a similar car. Imagine/visualize them having the cars cleaned at the same carwash.


Try to take time a few minutes after meeting the person to review what you know about them. The name, visualize the face, say the facts that you know – and review these several times over the next few days.

Bonus tip: (Tried and tested by millions!) As soon as you hear the name, say it back to the person (‘Great to meet you, John’) then again twice more before you leave the occasion.

Read the Science:

What’s happening in your brain when you are recalling a name?

Your brain brings together an amazing range of stored memories quite unconsciously. (If you recall the person, of course!)

Here’s an example:

You see a familiar man coming towards you.

  1. Facts about him are accessed from your semantic memory (same school/married Sally/three daughters/drives a Lexus), and the relationship the person has with you (I know him/played football on the same team)
  2. Episodic memories you have stored are accessed (we visited a bar last time we were in town)
  3. At the same time you may have an emotional response to the person (I don’t get on with him, really).
  4. And then, you connect these up and recall the person’s name.
  5. And say “Hello!”

Once you have activated your neurons by trying to recall that name, the process has begun. Your clever brain will continue to seek the correct connections for you until you have the name you were looking for – even it is in the middle of the night!


Why does your recall fail?

If the name doesn’t come to you immediately, there are a number of possible reasons for the malfunction:

  • The neural pathways to that name haven’t been accessed for a while – the name will come to you eventually.
  • You are distracted by other thoughts
  • You are already stressed by other events
  • If the person is only slightly known to you, you may not have encoded the information well enough into your memory. Remember, it takes seven seconds of processing to establish a memory trace – and you need memory traces to help recall
  • Medication, alcohol, being in pain or uncomfortable through extreme heat or cold all take their toll, also.

For more information on this topic, read Memory Loss Nearly Cost Sam His Job

Do you have tips or stories to share to help others? Do leave a comment for us.