Standing in a circle, ask everyone to say their name one at a time clockwise around the circle.
Upon returning to you, repeat this process in the other direction.
Ask a volunteer to call the name of another person in the circle to attract their attention, and then pass an imaginary object to them, eg basketball.
Each person who receives this object repeats this process, eg call name, get attention, pass object.
After several minutes, introduce more ‘objects’ to involve more people, as appropriate.
Introduce one or more variations to vary the pace and type of passing.
Finally, stop the passing, and ask one or more volunteers to recall as many names as they can.
Video Transcript for Imaginary Toss-A-Name Game
presented by Mark Collard
Hey folks, I happen to have in my hands an object, I’m going to say it is a cantaloupe. Is that familiar? Is that a fruit that you’re familiar with over here?
Okay, it’s winter back home in Australia. So it’s summer. So it’s a summer fruit, uh we can find it but typically it’s traveled 12,000 miles around from the other side of the world to get to us. So it’s a cantaloupe.
And I’m going to pass it to my left and as you receive it imagine that it is a cantaloupe and then pass it to the person to your left, but say your name to the rest of the group.
Okay, so Mark.
(Eric – Mark – John – Peter – Jack – Sam – Robin – Brent – Donna – Christina)
Fantastic Christina, now you’ve done very well. You’ve remembered all your own names. Fantastic, so I’m going to ask you to repeat that but exactly the opposite. Not that your names going to go backwards, just go the opposite directions.
(Christina – Donna – Brent – Robin – Sam – Jack – Peter – John – Mark – Eric)
Fantastic, Okay. It’s quite possible and I hadn’t actually mentioned this but you might have remembered one of the names as they were yelled out by the rest of the group. So, for example: Jack, I still remembered your name?
(Yes, playing Imaginary Toss-A-Name Game)
Fantastic, that’s always a good start. So Jack, I’m now going to pass this cantaloupe to you and as you receive it imagine it’s a cantaloupe so do whatever you need to do to be sure you don’t drop it. And then when you receive it, in your own time, you’ll call someone else’s name. A name that you’ve remembered and repeat the process.
(Jack – John – Thank you Jack. Robin – Thank you. Brent – Oh thank you Robin. I was going to use Robin, okay. Mark)
(Thanks Brent. Donna – Thanks Mark.)
Okay. Hold on there for a second. Alright? Now it’s now changed its form. It’s become a billiard ball. So now it’s obviously a lot smaller, and it had a different weight about it. So imagining it’s now a billiard ball, continue by using the name of someone first. Once you’ve got their attention pass the item.
(Sam – Kristin? – Christina, close enough. Peter)
(Eric – Mark)
Oh, okay good job. Now at this point I think most people have had the item. If it hasn’t come to you it means one of two things. Either just randomly you’ve been unlucky to receive it. Or two, no one remembers your name. So if you would like to know someone’s name, what do you think you could do? You could ask. Yeah, exactly.
So if you want to know, for example; I don’t remember your name. And your name is?
Sam. Thank you Sam. So Sam, I’m now passing to you a watermelon.
(Be careful – I got it.)
You got, remember be careful with it. Now when you’re ready, call someone’s name and pass on to somebody new.
(That I don’t know or know?)
Anyway, if you don’t know them you could ask them their name.
(Okay, what’s your name again? My name is Brent. Brent.)
(Thank you Sam. Nice catch. Alright, thank you.)
Now hold it there Mark. Now at this point, as we continue to pass, you get to now choose the item that you’re passing. Be sure to tell us in advance before you pass it Mark, but this is important. As we’ve had some fantastic passes to this point; where are your manners folks?
Because as you receive an item and it happens to get to you, I would invite you now to say thank you to the person who passed to you. So for example if John passed it to me. I’d receive it and say “Thank you John,” before calling someone’s new name and passing it to them.
So obviously you have no control over who is passing the item. So if you need to ask their name you know what you need to do. So, when you’re ready Mark. What have you got?
(Does it have to be like…?)
Anything you want it to be. Something you can carry though.
(I’m reading Charlotte’s Web with my daughter right now, so I’m going to say piglet to Pete. Pete)
It’s squiggly and wormy.
(Thank you Mark. Is it Mock or Mark?)
(Here’s a little piglet here Robin. Here you go, a little piglet.)
(Thank you Peter. I’ve got a snake Christina.)
(Thank you Robin. I’m going to toss a little bouncy ball that my son likes to play with to Jack.)
Alright now, hang on to the frisbee Jack. Changing it up again, at this point as we’ve already recognised you’ve perhaps got a few extra names up your sleeve, but don’t have all of them.
Changing the rules, Jack when you pass to someone make sure you have their eye contact first, so it’s quite clear you’re about to pass it, but do not say their name.
So as they receive it, whatever that item is, everyone else in the circle who knows their name is going to call out their name. Okay, so give us an example. Make sure they know it’s coming so you’ve got to have eye contact with them first.
(Cinder block, as part of Imaginary Toss-A-Name Game)
Okay, as he receives it say their name.
(Peter! Still a cinderblock?)
(Okay, paper aeroplane, playing Imaginary Toss-A-Name Game)
Nice catch, by the way Sam. We’re now going to have several items being passed, so it could be whatever it is that you’ve got now Sam. So you’ve got one item and I’ve got an item as well. It’s a golf stick that I’ve got. So, Mark.
A golf stick. A club. Golf stick, golf club hahahahaha. Golf stick.
(It’s a sticky thing.)
It’s a sticky thing.
(We’re still yelling the name?)
Yes, tell them what it is.
(So we have a cinder block and a golf stick, I love it.)
(Donna, it’s an anchor from Sam.)
(Ay caramba Sam. Oops I didn’t… Robin.)
(What is it?)
(I think it’s a…)
(What is it?)
(It was heavy, it was heavy alright?)
(It is a… a basketball.)
John, John a marble.
Oh, thank you Sam. Don’t forget to say thank you.
Very good, now hold your items whatever that might be.
(Oh I got a flower and a ping pong ball.)
So Peter you’ve got a flower and a ping pong ball?
(A flower and a ping pong ball, yes.)
Relatively easy to hold.
Now, at this point in the exercise generally there’s enough name-knowingness, that people are starting to go around to go around the group like this. They’re starting to remember all the names.
So, let me throw down the gauntlet. Is there anyone who would like to have a go at trying to remember all the names in this group? As many as possible. Fantastic, Peter when you’re ready. I meant John.
This works pretty much like the golden oldie Toss-A-Name Game, but without the props of course!
Form a square without sides, and pull out an imaginary ‘ball’ from your pocket. As you demonstrate your sporting prowess with this ball, toss it about, juggle it, and balance it on your nose – you get the idea. The trick is, will your group? It’s all about having fun.
To begin, pass the ‘ball’ around the circle, from left to right, with each person calling out their name clearly when they receive the ball. This may be the first time the group has heard everyone’s names, so be sure all names are clearly called.
Pass the ball back the other way, and repeat the process, but this time ask that people remember at least one other person’s name before it gets back to the start (often you!) Now the fun begins.
Whoever has the ball now, is entitled to toss it (notice I said toss, and not zing!!) to anyone in the circle, but must first call that person’s name. Their attention is attracted, they anxiously await the toss, and voila! It is received. Nice pass. The process continues.
At some point, interrupt the tossing, and suggest that the ‘object’ is no longer a ball – it has turned into something else, a watermelon, perchance. So, from now on, all future passes will reflect the weight and size of a watermelon, or whatever object it is deemed to be.
A little while longer, transform the object again, this time into a shot-put. Soon enough, invite whoever has the item to decide what it is they are tossing.
An exchange could sound like this, for example, “TERRY, IT’S A BALLOON, CATCH!”, then Terry says “HEY BARBARA, IT’S NOW A BASKETBALL, ARE YOU READY…” and so on.
As the general level of name-knowingness develops, introduce more ‘objects’ into the circle, ie there could be four different items being tossed by different people at the same time. Chaos will hold sway, but don’t worry to much. People will be having fun, and learning names in the process.
Eventually, throw down the gauntlet, and challenge one or more folks to name as many people in the group as possible (notice, I didn’t say name everyone.) No matter how big the group is, there is always one person who will give it a go.
Practical Leadership Tips
Clearly, there are no actual objects being tossed, so the level to which your group is inspired to be creative will depend on the level of enthusiasm and humour you introduce to your presentation. For example, I always like to step in to help someone ‘catch’ an item which this person clearly did not understand was about to be dropped to the ground!
Having thrown down the gauntlet a couple of times, and without warning, ask everyone in the group to change their position in the circle just moments before the next volunteer is about to name names. Yes, it will attract a few surprised looks and cheeky banter, but rarely puts the hapless volunteer off their game.
If your group knows each other pretty well, introduce another level of complexity such as a label which reflects some attribute of individual group members. For example, invite each individual to pick a food with the same first letter as their first name’s initial, eg Marshmallow Mark, Chocolate Carol, etc. Be sure the individual chooses the label to ensure that it is something they are happy with, ie in contrast to the group nominating some attribute that could be embarrassing or offensive.
At some point during the exercise, I like to focus the group’s attention on the interaction between two people, one (or both) of whom has forgotten the other person’s name. Re-frame this awkward social phenomenon by saying that it’s OK to ask someone to repeat their name, because this interaction says “I care to know your name” and not that “I’m stupid and forgot.”
Got a really large group? No trouble – start with two or more smaller groups of approx 15 people. Proceed as above, and then after several minutes, invite one half of each group to swap to another group. Do this two or three times, and eventually – if appropriate – form one large circle to continue. I am always amazed that regardless of how big the group is (I had a group of almost 80 people one time,) there is always someone who manages to name everyone in the circle.
You could integrate Imaginary Toss-A-Name Game as part of a well-designed SEL program to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse people.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits of acknowledging and learning the names of other group members and enjoying a good laugh.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus required to successfully remember a set of new names may speak to the benefits of being mindful, not to mention, the benefits of practice (from the context of building resilient strategies.) For example, it is more difficult to remember a new name if you only hear it once, but if it is used frequently in the context of a fun name-game, this name is more likely to be retained.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Imaginary Toss-A-Name Game could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Thankful Passes: Ask the people who receive an ‘object’ to say “THANK YOU” to the person who tossed it to them, but importantly, using that person’s name.
Tossing Twist: An ideal twist for folks who have trouble remembering names – interrupt the game, and revert to one imaginary object again. This time, the tosser will aim to attract eye contact of the person to whom they wish to pass, but does not call his or her name. Instead, as the person receives the pass, everyone in the circle calls out the receiver’s name. That’s right! A player could deliberately pass the item to someone he or she doesn’t know – brilliant. Repeat for a minute or two, then revert back to the original play.
Step Back: Once several imaginary ‘objects’ have been introduced, and with ample space, ask people to take one step back out of the circle when they receive an item. A minute later, ask that they take one step back in.
Take a look at the classic Toss-A-Name Game which actually involves passing objects.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Hands up those of you who think they have a horrible memory for names? Yep, that’s most of you, and this feeling is pretty common. Most people are inclined to suggest that they are not very good at remembering people’s names. I don’t think this is true, but most of us would rather lower people’s expectations than face the embarrassment of getting a name wrong. But, you can remember your own name pretty well, right? That’s exactly how this exercise starts…
How often have you just been introduced to someone new, or that person told you their name, and literally three seconds later, you realise you’ve forgotten their name? It’s as if you never even heard it! Embarrassing, I know! And the truth is, most of us would prefer to avoid that person (for the rest of the party, or work shift, etc) than face the ignominy of fessing up and admitting to have forgotten that person’s name. This exercise says it’s OK to forget someone’s name, and that it’s OK to ask someone to repeat their name to remind you…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this fun imaginary tossing name-game:
Did this exercise help you remember a bunch of names? Why?
What strategies do you use to help you remember names?
Describe your experience of having to think quickly of a new object to pass? Was this stressful? Why?
What moment in this exercise sticks out in your mind? Why?
The inspiration for Imaginary Toss-A-Name Game, and many more fun name-games, was sourced from the following publication: