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Tips For Remembering Names
Compiled by Paul T. Barrett, Ph.D.

The key to remembering people and their names (or anything else) is to pay attention and process the information as deeply and in as many different ways as possible. Iíve listed a few steps below that you may find helpful.

Pay attention.

  • Focus on the name you want to remember. If you arenít sure you heard the name correctly, confirm it by saying it back aloud. Donít think about what you are going to say. Too many times we donít pay enough attention to names to even begin processing them.

  • Focus on the person you want to remember. Try to answer some of these questions:

    • What makes the person stand out?

    • How would you describe the person to someone else? Consider personality (warmth, intelligence, confidence, likeability, etc.) and general physical features (height, weight, build, etc.). Donít worry about specific details such as a person nose or lips unless those details are particularly striking. General judgments about a personís dress and grooming (neat, stylish, casual) may be helpful, but these aspects of a personís appearance my change, especially if you meet them in a different situation.

    • Does the person remind you of someone else, such as a friend or someone famous?

Repeat the name.

  • Use the name immediately.

  • Repeat it silently to yourself.

  • Use it occasionally in the conversation.

  • Use it when leaving.

Write it down. This helps in two ways.

  • Simply writing something helps involves additional parts of the brain in processing. In fact, just going through the motion of writing a name without a pen or pencil will help you remember it.

  • A written record makes it easier to review the name later, which will greatly help your memory. Adding some descriptive information about the person and where you met will further help in processing and remembering the name.

Review. Keep a list of people whose names you are trying to remember, along with the descriptive information you wrote down. Review the list occasionally, especially before occasions when you might be seeing some of your new acquaintances again.

Oops. Using these tips will greatly improve your ability to recall names, but nobody is perfect. Here are some options if you canít recall a name:

  • You might be able to jog your memory by running through the alphabet.

  • Introduce the person whose name you donít recall to someone you know and hope the person will volunteer their own name.

  • Look delighted to see the person, extend a warm greeting, and find out the name from a friend or list later.

  • Ask again: "I remember you well, but your name has slipped my mind."

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