How To Remember Names

People often remark that I have a great memory for names. I don’t, I just use a couple of key ‘how to remember names’ strategies to help me recall them.

If you’d like to know how to remember names more successfully, here are a few ideas that may work for you, too:

  • If possible, review the list of names of your group before you meet them. This task will simply familiarise you with some of the names in your group, especially the more unusual ones, rather than serve as a memory test.
  • For smaller groups, make an effort to greet each person as they arrive, introducing yourself and asking for their name.
  • During the course of your program, especially in the beginning, frequently ask for the name of a person who makes a contribution, and then repeat it when you thank them for it. Not only will this reinforce the person’s name, but it will also assist you (and the group) to pronounce the name correctly if it happens to be less common.
  • If appropriate, introduce some formal or dedicated name-game exercises, but not too early. Working with names too formally too early can scare people off, and they are not necessary anyway. Most experiences can be enjoyed without the knowledge of someone’s name.
  • Use the names of people as often as you can, and expect to get it wrong sometimes. In fact, you want this to happen for two reasons. First, I ask to be corrected and learn the person’s name. Second, I then speak to the group and suggest that this interaction says that I care enough to want to know someone’s name, and not that I am stupid and forgot it. In effect, this communicates to my group that (a) it’s okay to make mistakes, (b) we all forget names, and (c) it’s okay to ask someone whom you have already met for their name again.
  • On occasions, attaching a mental image of some interaction or experience associated with an individual helps me recall their name. It may take a moment to bring this image back, but it often forms a powerful hook for my memory. For example, I’ll always remember Jack, a teenager I met at camp many years ago because the first time we met, he was wearing a bright red cap – so every time I look at a photograph of him, I am reminded of this initial connection, and somehow his name comes back to me. Bizarre, but true.
  • Listen to your group interacting, and pick up a couple of names in their conversation. There have been many occasions when I have surprised people by using their name, and they are left wondering how I could possibly know it. “Ahhh, I’ve heard about you…”

A quick story to finish with. On a very large residential summer camp I worked at for eight years, many of the kids thought I had the most amazing memory because I always seemed to know their names. This was one of my sneaky strategies. I would approach a camper and say “Hey, is that your t-shirt?” and take a quick look at the name printed on the label (behind their neck) inside their collar. “Ah, yes, it is yours, Daniel. How’s it going?…”


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