Ask everyone to say their name as they pass a soft tossable (ball) to their left-hand neighbour.
Once the item returns to the beginning, repeat this process in the other direction.
Next, instruct the person with the tossable to call the name of another person in the circle to attract their attention, and then pass the tossable to them.
Continue this process for a few minutes, and then introduce a second tossable to involve more people.
Introduce three, four or more items as appropriate.
Once this pattern has been reinforced, ask everyone who receives an item to say “THANK YOU” to the person who tossed it to them, using the tosser’s name.
After several minutes, stop the passing, and ask one or more volunteers to identify as many names in the circle as they can.
Video Transcript for Toss-A-Name Game
presented by Mark Collard
Big group here and often at this point as a group of adults, you’ve probably taken it upon yourself to have picked up a couple of names as you go through. I know I certainly take that responsibility pretty seriously with any group I work with.
But there’s no magic to it, except I have actually brought one of my magic fleece-balls with me today. You may not have come across a fleece-ball before, but in this case, it is just like a really big thick pompom.
So just taking a half step in, first of all, what’s going to happen here is we’re going to pass this around the group first of all. All you need to say is your own name.
If you need to practice that you can do that now. It’s simply saying your own name, nice and loud so everyone can hear it. It goes around the group.
You got it right. You’ve obviously been practicing. Fantastic. So…
(people passing ball, saying names as part of Toss-A-Name Game)
Johanna, fantastic. Well done. Okay, we’ll go back the other direction but we’re going to add an extra challenge.
This time as it goes around, again still say your own name, but this time try to remember one new name, that is find someone in the circle right now that you don’t actually know the name of, listen carefully because they’re about to say their name.
Try to remember just that one name, but still saying your own name.
You had to think about that, didn’t you? You did right, your own name.
(You want me to say my own name?)
That’s what I said, you say your own name but just remember somebody else’s name.
(people passing ball, saying names as part of Toss-A-Name Game)
You’ve all gone very quiet, you’ve become very serious now. Alright, so we’ll break it up a little bit. So hopefully you remember one new name. You probably know others, but you’ve actually taken on a challenge to remember someone’s new name.
For example, Camille, I still remember your name. Did I get that right? Always a good start.
So now changing the instructions that when you’ve got the fleece-ball you’re now entitled to pass it across the circle.
Notice I said pass and not zing. This is not a catching game. It just simply needs to get to the other side.
So once I’ve said your name, ordinarily, I’ll attract your attention, and then pass the ball to her. It does not matter if she catches it or not. And then when she’s ready, she’ll call the name of somebody else and the process will repeat.
For example, Camille. Excellent.
(people tossing ball and saying names as part of Toss-A-Name Game)
Great. Now at this point it’s come back to me and that’s okay. It’s possible that some of you haven’t had the ball. That means one or two things, that you’re unlucky to not get it, or no one remembers your name.
So I’m going to suggest to you that if you don’t know someone, you can actually ask them. So if you’ve forgotten a name, it might sound like this, what’s your name?
Helen. Fantastic. That exchange says I care enough to want to know the name, not that I’m stupid and forgot it, because clearly I’ve heard the name go around twice now. So, Helen.
(people tossing items, calling names, playing Toss-A-Name Game)
Make sure that you’ve got their attention before you toss it.
(people tossing items, calling names playing Toss-A-Name Game)
Alright. Now hold the ball if you’ve got a ball this time. You’re doing very well. I’m a little bit upset by your manners.
As we’ve had some fantastic passes here, I invite you now to say “Thank you” to the person who tossed it to you.
Now as you’ve got no control over who gives you the ball, you may need to actually ask that person what their name is before you say thank you to them.
So let’s say I got it from Allen, say thank you, Allen, before passing it on to that person and say thank you, Mark, and move on.
So we’re adding to the challenge now, saying thank you to the person to whom you received it from. Okay? For example, what is your name again?
Thank you, Richard. And he gets it and he says…
(Thank you, Mark.)
Beautiful. And then you pass it on. If you’ve got an item, continue the process.
(people tossing items, calling names, saying thank you when they play Toss-A-Name Game)
So if you have an item, just place it at your feet, except hang on to the rubber chook at this point. So if you’ve got an item, just place it at your feet for a second.
Now at this point, it’s highly likely that you’ve picked up a few names but there are some that you still don’t have. So this variation may be useful for you.
So for example, what is your name again?
Carina, you’ve got the rubber chook. You’re now going to pass it to anyone who has eye contact with you, but do not say their name.
You might actually give it to someone you don’t know the name of, because as soon as that person receives it, everyone else in the circle who knows that person’s name will call out that person’s name.
So you might give it to someone you don’t know the name of because you want to learn what it is. Okay, for example… make sure you’ve got their eye contact though and then you pass it to them.
(people tossing items, calling names to engage with Toss-A-Name Game)
Now at this point it’s highly likely, and I do that at least once, as someone received it and you didn’t know what their name was, you just went (mimed a name) and you looked like you knew all the names. but at least one other person helped make it happen.
Let’s go back to all the original balls, continue with the chook. Go back to the original version. You say that person’s name, they collect it, they say thank you to you, for the next sort of thirty seconds.
See how many more names you can gather during that time. So, go.
(people tossing balls, calling names to play Toss-A-Name Game)
Hold it there. Hang on to your items. Very good.
Now with more space, so another variation I will add, you may have seen something of this nature before is that as you receive an item, I’ll ask the person to take a step back, the circle gets bigger. Alternatively every time I collect it, I take a step in, the circle gets smaller.
So all just take half a step in the circle first of all. If you have an item just place it behind you this time. Alright.
At this stage when I start seeing people going like this… it suggests to me that there’s a level of name knowingness that has reached a point where I can actually stop and invite one or more people to have a go and try to remember as many of the names in the circle as possible.
Is there anyone in the group who would like to give that a go?
(few people respond…)
Fantastic. Alright, so Johanna, you go first.
(Johanna saying names)
Everyone who had their hand up before just went like this. Would anyone else like to give it a go? Remember, it’s about getting as many of the names as possible, even though clearly Johanna has set the standard very high for you. Does anyone else like to give that a go? Fantastic.
So before you start though, Jill, can I ask everyone to swap spots in the circle?
(That’s just mean!)
Alright now, Jill if you could just tell us where we were all standing before that’ll be fine. Where we are right now is good, so when you’re ready.
(Jill saying names)
How To Play Narrative
This is one of the all-time classic name-games, and today is still successfully used in many settings.
To start, ask your group to form a square without sides, and pull a soft tossable from your pocket, such as a fleece-ball, koosh-ball or beanie baby. Explain that this tossable has been known to possess special name-remembering qualities, and you would like to pass this magic around.
Begin by passing it from left to right around the circle, asking that each person simply say their name (loudly enough for everyone to hear) as they receive it. This may be the first time the group has heard everyone’s names.
Upon returning to you, pass the tossable back the other way, and repeat the process, but this time ask that everyone remembers at least one other person’s name before it gets back you.
Now the fun begins.
Whoever has the tossable is now entitled to pass it (notice I said “pass,” 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’s received. Nice pass. The process continues.
At some point, as the general level of name-knowingness increases, secretly introduce a second tossable into the mix. Notice the discernible groans of anguish as the group acknowledges what has just occurred.
Keep adding extra tossables, each one initiating a new exchange of names. Chaos will hold sway, but don’t worry too much. People will be having fun, and learning names in the process.
To further reinforce names, ask the people who receive an item to say “THANK YOU” to the person who tossed it to them, but most importantly, using that person’s name.
Yes, this is trickier, because the receiver has no control over who passes to them. Ideal for encouraging a helpful “SORRY, WHAT IS YOUR NAME?” exchange.
Eventually, after five, ten or more minutes, 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
My advice if you are working with a group of people who do not know each other – play one or more games which help people learn names. You don’t even have to introduce a formal name-game as such, but the effort it takes to help people pick up a few names is really worth it in terms of the energy it creates and the relationships it forms.
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 enough to want to know your name” and not that “I’m stupid and forgot.”
You could integrate Toss-A-Name Game as part of a well-designed SEL program to promote 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 to one’s wellbeing of learning and knowing people’s names. There is no doubt that people feel more confident to approach others when they know the other person’s names, and we all like it when someone remembers their own.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus and effort required to successfully remember a bunch of names may speak to the benefits of being resilient because, let’s face it, remembering names does not come easily for some of us.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Toss-A-Name Game could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Everyone Calls: An ideal twist for folks who have trouble remembering names – interrupt the game, and revert to one tossable 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.
In & Out: Once several tossables 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.
Large Group Option: 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 (as large as 80 people one time,) there is always someone who manages to name everyone in the circle.
Use Your Imagination 1: Suggest that the tossable is no longer a ball – invite your group to imagine that 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 later, introduce a second tossable, this time a shot-put, then a feather, then a shoe, etc. Take a look at Imaginary Toss-A-Name Game for more information.
Use Your Imagination 2: Adding to the variation above, invite whoever has the tossable to decide what it is they are tossing. An exchange could sound like this, for example, “TERRY, IT’S A BALLOON, CATCH!” Terry responds, “HEY ROSIE, IT’S NOW A BASKETBALL,” and so on.
Series of questions which help identify difference.
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 name-game:
In general, are you good at remembering names? Why do you say this?
What strategies do you ordinarily use to remember names?
What were the most important elements of this game that helped you remember names?
Do you think having fun helped you remember more names?
Fun ‘Get-To-Know-You’ Session
What You Need:
10+ people, 45 mins, ‘Nonsense Numbers’ sheets (Print+Play), bunch of soft tossables
Vortex – interactive, non-threatening, random partner sharing activity