„I’m just really bad at remembering names.“
Everyone knows that person. As a matter of fact, I don’t know anyone who says „oh yeah I’m really good at remembering names“.
Why, people, why? If there’s one thing one should know about a person, it’s their name. How are you going to show that you are interested in someone or care for someone if you can’t even bother to remember their name?
Being able to remember a name isn’t genetic. It’s not a talent. No, remembering a name is all about effort. Therefore, if you don’t remember someone’s name, you signal that you don’t really care about them.
Think about that: when you say you’re bad at remembering names, what you’re really saying is that you’re not willing to make that very simple effort for a person.
So let’s stop the „oh sorry I forgot your name, what was it again?“ and start with „hey Dom, I didn’t like you last time I saw ya, and that hasn’t changed since.“ Here are a few techniques that will make it easier for you to remember names (and other things):
#1: When meeting someone, use their name as often as you can
Usually, when meeting someone you’ll have a short conversation with that person. It’ll be something along the lines of „How are you?“, „What do you do?“ and „What’s your opinion on that incredibly boring, I mean defensively interesting Super Bowl game?“. You can use that conversation to carve that name into your memory.
It’s easy: just use their name in every question that you say. So you say „Jürgen, how are you today?“, „What do you do, Jürgen?“ and „Jürgen, what’s your opinion on …?“. Even after a 2–3 minute chat, chances are you’ll have memorized their name.
#2: When you don’t understand the name for the first time, ask again
Sometimes, we can’t even get to technique #1 because we don’t understand the introduction in the first place. Not everyone is named Max or Sarah, some names are just complicated. In that case, it’s TOTALLY OKAY appreciate the effort. It shows that you actually want to understand the name. It shows respect.
#3: Try to find out one intriguing fact about the person you’re talking to
„What do you do in your free time?“ is a good opener for that. Most people have a distinct hobby that they’re very willing to talk about. When you apply techniques #1 and #2, you’ll now know the name AND something outstanding about the person. From there, you just have to make the connection — and that often comes easier than you’d think.
#4: Use mnemonic devices to remember names
In Germany, we call mnemonic devices “donkey bridges”. Back in the day, when crossing rivers, humans would just wade through the river. However, donkeys wouldn’t do that. So the frustrated humans had to find a way to get the donkey across the river, resulting in bridges for donkeys. They had to find an alternative. And that’s what you have to do, too.
In any mnemonic device, you want to have two elements. The translation of the word you’re trying to remember (in this case, the waiter) as well as words in your own language that sound similar to the word in the target language. You want to give your brain something that it can actively remember. Therefore, feel free to get a little bit crazy with your mnemonic devices. The more absurd, obscene or sexual, the better. I’ll give you one: “klein” in German means “small”. The corresponding device is: Men who wear Calvin Klein shorts have a small penis. And just like that, you’ll never forget what “klein” means.
Now, you can apply this to names too. You can go basic like just matching the name to something about their name that connects the hobby with them (for example, „Hannah plays Hockey“ or „Max from Massachusetts“), or you can go full mnemonic device, like: „Dominik Nitsch has a startup that dominates a niche market.“ There you go. 😉
#5: Write names down, or ask for a business card
I don’t believe in being a „visual“ learner type, but reading a name definitely burns it into your brain deeper than just hearing it — or at least it does for me. You can write the name down, or just ask for a business card … or the name on Facebook or Instagram at a more social gathering.
#6: Care enough to remember the name
Imagine you meet the love of your life at a party. You see her (or him, I won’t judge), and you’re instantly in love. Would you forget this person’s name? Most likely not. And with most others, you can decide to care enough too so you can remember the name.
In return, you can keep it with Fort Minor and offer up 10% luck, 20% skill, 15% concentrated power of will, 5% pleasure, 50% pain and 100% reason to remember the name.
Show people some respect. Show people that you care. It starts with simple actions, and these actions will be reciprocated. After all, isn’t it super embarrassing when someone knows your name but you don’t know theirs? After that, you’ll make damn sure that you remember.
It’ll get you a lot of appreciation. Using someone’s name is a powerful technique, both to persuade and to create strong bonds. Use it.
And if you still forget, I’ve got a crutch for you: „Sorry, what’s your name again?“ — „It’s XXX, don’t you remember?“ — „Oh no sorry, I meant your last name.“ — „Ahhhh I see …“. No hard feelings there, and you got the information that you wanted without looking stupid. 😉
I just hope that after this article, you won’t be in that situation too often. And certainly I hope that you won’t continue to be someone who „just isn’t good at remembering names“.
Hone the skill, and wear it with pride. Maybe, at some point, people will remember you as „the guy that remembers everything“. Flattering, ain’t it?