• James Purvis

Top 3 Tips for Remembering People's Names

Remembering people's names is one of the most challenging & frustrating things we as humans face on a daily basis. Literally. Research has shown that people's given names are in fact the most difficult of all words to learn (Griffin, 2010). A study conducted by Cohen & Faulkner proved that humans in fact recall someone's occupation, hobbies, and home towns more than double the rate than they do a person's name (69%, 68%, 62% respectively vs. 31%).

Why is this? One study (Fogler et al, 2011) suggests that it's because names are "essentially arbitrary and meaningless." The reason is that names rarely give us any clues about our appearance, our personalities, or anything about us. Think about it, if you met a person named 'Pink Panther’, and they happened to look like a pink panther, you’d almost certainly find it easy to remember their name wouldn't you?

"What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” - William Shakespeare

This leads me to my first tip.

1. Association

Let's be honest, you most likely are not going to meet someone named 'Pink Panther,' who actually is pink, and is a panther. However, you will meet people that have names that sound like a place or object which can in turn be used for memory association. Let me give you a couple of examples. Let's take the name John. Another name for a 'John' is a toilet. Every time I meet someone with the name John, I picture their face as if it were a toilet (sadly, it works). How about Ben. When you meet someone named Ben, picture the clock tower in London, 'Big Ben.' Bill = a dollar bill, Chris = Christmas tree, Ian = iron, Mike = microphone, Madison = Madison Square Garden, Olivia = an olive, Harry = ...ok, you get the point.

  • Bonus: Another form of association is to make connections. The trick here is to associate the person's name to another person you are connected with or that is famous with the same name. Kate = Kate Upton.

Over the last forty years, psychologists have found three methods which consistently improve memory for words:

  • Imagery: recall is aided by creating an image of what you want to remember. Examples of this are listed in my first tip, 'association.'

  • Elaboration: thinking of associations helps anchor words in your mind.

  • Generation: memory is improved when you have to put some work in to generate the target. E.g. guess the name of your favourie blog from this cryptic clue: _s2_sls. (switch2sales.com).

A recent study by MacLeod et al, 2011, provides solid evidence that a fourth method could be added - 'Speak It.' This leads to my second tip for remembering a person's name.

2. Meet and Repeat

MacLeod and the team of psychologists performed 8 experiments around people speaking out certain words while reading them and others who stayed silent throughout. There was a 10% increase in recollection within individuals who spoke out the words. Next time you meet someone, speak out their name. Here is the flow I recommend. Let's say you meet someone named Neil. As you shake Neil's hand, quickly picture a person kneeling down so you can associate Neil with that image. Next, simply say something common and casual such as, "Nice to meet you Neil." You already increased your chances significantly by using memory association and now an extra 10% by speaking Neil's name out loud. To further increase your chances of remembering Neil's name, repeat his name at another point in the conversation (not too often or you will come off super awkward).

"There has never yet been a man in our history who led a life of ease whose name is worth remembering." - Theodore Roosevelt

3. Write it Down