The Best Way to Remember Names According to Research

Researchers have found that combining two name recalling methods is the best way to remember names.

Ever had that embarrassing moment when you realize you forgot a person’s name you were told a second ago? You’re not alone. Darryl Harris and Janice Kay of Exeter University say the reason we can’t quite match a name to a face is that a person’s name is either not meaningful enough or not unique enough to stand out in memory.

Harris and Kay say it is far easier for us to remember people’s hobbies and occupations because we have richer associated imagery with hobbies and occupations than we do with names.

Research has shown that remembering names is important for making connections with people, so it’s no wonder this is a problem worth researching. While there are several suggested techniques to remember names in business articles, such as “meet and repeat,” “make connections,” and “choose to care,” as given by Kristi Hedges, a leadership coach, speaker and author of The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others, which methods stack up to scientific rigor?

In a 2005 cognitive psychology study “Strategies for learning proper names: expanding retrieval practice, meaning and imagery,” UK researchers decided to find out. The authors of the study tested retrieval practice and creating semantic associations to see which method held up best in real social situations.

Use retrieval practice to recall names

Retrieval practice is similar to the “meet and repeat” method recommended by Hedges. In retrieval practice, people practice retaining information by recalling it over longer periods of time.

In a social situation the method might work like this: after you are introduced to someone, make a point of recalling their name a few minutes later, and then again after a longer period.

Researchers found participants who used retrieval practice remembered 28.5% more names than those who did not.

Make semantic associations with the name

Semantic associations is the same as the “make connections” method suggested by Hedges. When using semantic associations, you create a meaningful connection between a person’s name and more memorable information.

Hedges suggests you might hear someone’s name and then associate that person with a famous person who has a similar look or name. Or you could combine the name with other information you know about that person, such as their occupation or hobby.

In the UK study, researchers found that using semantic associations improved recall of names by about 25%.

Combine two methods to better remember names

The best system for remembering names is combining two methods. The UK researchers found that when participants combined the semantic associations and retrieval practice methods together, they were able to recall 50% more names than people who did not combine methods. The researchers believed that by using more than one method, you create multiple connections to a name in your memory.

So the next time you meet someone, repeat their name and create a meaningful association with it. Whether that meaningful association is a famous person or some personal details like a hobby or profession, you’ll find you’re remembering more names than before.

Kyle Crocco is a Content Consultant in Santa Barbara for BigSpeak Speakers Bureau and Airtime Watertime®.