How To Remember People’s Names

If you want to be a leader, a nice guy, or just make new acquaintances feel valued, without a doubt you need to know how to remember people’s names.

If you desire to be liked, feared, and a good salesman, Michael Scott would teach you how to memorize people’s names by using a mnemonic device.

How To Really Remember People’s Names

When I was 19 I worked for a non-profit that took people around the world. A very busy, well-traveled, smart director met me momentarily one of my first days. The next day, I ran by her in passing, and she addressed me by name. I felt noticed, acknowledged and appreciated—and she really hadn’t done much. She didn’t give me a gift, celebrate me in front of an audience, or give me a certificate. She just told me she valued me as a new person in a very large department by remembering my name.

Often, when someone’s name is not remembered they’re absolutely insulted. I hope that I’m rarely offended when someone doesn’t remember my name. There’s so many people we meet in daily life that I don’t want to hold that against people.

If you want to make a second impression that will last forever, know how to remember people’s names. They’ll remember that moment and tell legends of your name memorizing prowess.

When I was in my early 20’s I was terrible at memorizing people’s names, and I knew I had a problem. Here’s what I did to turn myself around:

1. Don’t worry about what you’re going to say next.

When I was young a new person would say their name and I wouldn’t hear it at all. I was fixated on thinking about what I was going to say next (rather than remembering their name). That’s not important. The key to great conversation is asking questions that people like and helping them trust you and enjoy a connection with you.

What better way to do so than valuing them enough to listen to and know their name?

When meeting someone for the first time, take a moment, show you’re engaged and focused, look them square in the eye, and focus on just their name. Repeat it back to them and nod your head before you move on.

2. People’s favorite word is THEIR NAME

Everyone has a favorite word in this world, and it’s their name. I promise, it will not be awkward to hold back diving into a conversation to pause and absorb their name.

3. Repeater

People will appreciate your assertiveness when you ask their name and state it back to them—do that more than once.

4. If it’s appropriate, ask for a last name.

This double’s your chances of remembering a name. If you can’t remember the first name, you can always address them as Mr. or Ms. _______ and they’ll feel a bit regal to boot.

If it’s a cute girl you’re introducing yourself to, yeah, doing this would be weird. She probably won’t share that, her Facebook profile, or her Social Security Number either.

5. Firmly state their full name back to them.

In the course of just the beginning of this conversation, you should have already said aloud their first name 3 times and their last name twice.

How To Memorize Names-An Example Conversation

Here’s how this simple introduction could flow:

You: Hi, I’m Sawyer. Nice to meet you. What’s your name?

Them: Thanks! Hi, I’m Kate.

You: Wow, nice to meet you Kate. Glad you’re a part of the team! What’s your last name Kate?

Them: Oh, I’m Kate Austen.

You: Wonderful. Well I’m honored to meet you Kate Austen. I’m Sawyer. Anyways, what brought you to this island?

What if I meet a lot of new people every day or week?

Write now I’m a spokesperson for a series of 8 private schools in Southern California. I meet new people each and every day. It’s hard to memorize everyone’s name that I meet at events, chambers of commerce, or schools. What’s nice in this realm is I can take a person’s card, and as soon as I get back to my car I note something significant about them on the back.

What if I lead a large group of people?

You’ll look like a complete jerk if you don’t remember someone’s name that works with you if you’re the leader. You go from being a champ to a chump real quick.

I managed 140+ people in a call center environment for years. Turnover was really high, and incoming new agents came inbound in large groups. This took remembering groups of new names immediately and all at once.

I did nothing different when meeting each individual. They typically were college age, and they too had  a favorite word just like me: their name. Asking their name, repeating it to them, along with their last name made them feel focused on. When I saw them again stating their name to them meant the world to them coming from a guy they perceived as the big boss. Valuing people is the name of the game in leadership.

We Make Memorizing Names Harder Than It Needs To Be

After a few years, I managed over 500 different people in a short amount of time. This presented a name challenge: new people reminded me of old ones so often I would call people the wrong name in absolute confidence. Once in front of a group of 150 or more people I asked “Tiffany” to come up and say something. I kept repeating her, first and last. Everyone looked at me baffled. Turned out I was calling her by the wrong name looking like a fool.

In order to resolve this, I printed (I was fortunate to have this ability) their work ID photos and names and would carry them with me wherever I went. Each night the first few weeks they were on board I would “study” the names and faces. And if I ran by someone I was confused because they had such a similar looking doppelganger, I would look at my cheat sheet and address them by name.

You might say it’s not fair, but I say all’s well that ends well if your goal is to make people feel valued by remembering their name. If you’re disadvantaged by a bad memory, or an enormous amount of new names to remember all at once, take any advantage your can. You’re new friends, co-workers, and possible future dates will appreciate and praise you for it!

About Todd Mayfield

He's a lover, not a fighter. But he's also a fighter, so don't get any ideas.

He works for a series of private schools to advance innovative education to combat ballooning classroom sizes and challenge the status quo of the current public and private education format.

Comments

  1. I teach several types of fitness classes at several different gyms. I’m able to remember most of the members names if they’re regulars, but if they attend sporadically, it is a lost cause. Some of them are surprised, but delighted that I remembered their name. I feel real bad saying just hey. I almost always repeat their name when first meeting them.

    Love the LOST reference. Currently going through season 2 on netflix.

    • Ha I’m glad someone caught that!

      People you see on a spotty basis are tough, especially if they expect you as a leader to remember their name. Sometimes I’m embarrassed, sometimes I just go ahead and directly put it out there and ask for their name again.

  2. This is perfect because I am the worlds worst at remembering anyones name. I usually forget it immediately after you tell me.

    • Let me know how using the tips goes! I hate it when I forget a name immediately after it’s stated. That’s why I don’t even think about the rest of the convo until I know their name.

  3. I’m horrible with names. Especially with transferring them into long-term memory. First time I meet someone, their name simply isn’t going to be remembered.

  4. Repeating it in conversation, as you point out, is a great habit-forming way to put a face to the name.

    • Absolutely–I know it seems elementary or cumbersome to some, but it is completely necessary. Be a repeater! People do love hearing their name…

  5. I really likethese tips.

    I always try to immediately associate the new person’s name with the name of a famous person, or another person that I know with the same name.

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