How to Remember Names and Why it Actually Matters

I have an uncanny ability to remember people’s names. Or so I’ve been told. I definitely remember more names than people typically do, I’d say, but all the comments made me start to wonder about it… wondering whether I really did have this random genetic superpower, or whether I was simply employing hidden half-unconscious tricks and techniques to make it easier. I’m guessing a little bit of both, and also thought it would be cool to make it conscious, think it out, and share what I do with you here. Sweet. If it helps, even better.

The thing is, remembering people’s names seems like such a small thing, but it’s actually a huge deal with huge power to make a positive impact both for them and you.

We each have the power to make people feel the truth that they matter.. that they are important enough and special enough to be remembered.

Ok, so here’s my little brainstorm of what to do to remember names:

1. Ask the person what their name is, and really listen. Meaning, it’s super easy to have an introduction go in one ear and out the other, but if we stop our brains for those 10 seconds and focus on what the person is telling us, we’re way more likely to remember.

2. When addressing the person you just met, use their name. Call them by name every chance you get. For instance, when walking across the drop zone or the conference or the office, make eye contact with the people you are passing, smile, and if you know their name, say it to them as a greeting as you walk by.

3. When people-watching during quieter moments, quiz yourself mentally, essentially looking at people and saying their name to yourself in your head because you know how awesome the moment is going to be for both of you when you remember it later.

4. Chat with people, ask them about them, listen, reply, make some jokes… ie. ENGAGE. Consciously. Enjoy the fun of getting to know someone new, and also potentially learning something unique about them. Interesting details help us remember people more. Ask questions, genuinely curious about what makes them them. As such their name becomes easier to remember when connected in our memory banks to the interesting and authentic chat.

5. When in any conversation that ends up on people, use their names in the story-telling whenever appropriate. Bring up conversation about your new peeps to share a nice story they shared with you if it fits. I’m not talking gossip. Gossip is lame. I’m talking cool mutually beneficial sharing. You know. Every conversation can be an opportunity to share a fun story, and also lock the peeps and association in your brain.

6. When you forget someone’s name, stop them from telling you first, and take a moment to pause and see if you can find it in your brain. I’d say over half the time you’ll be able to pull it out when you’ve also been doing the other things listed above.

7. When you really forget someone’s name and can’t get it from the recesses of your memory bank, simply ask them to tell you again. Almost everyone I’ve ever met has been cool with this. They get it. This time when they tell you, say their name out loud a few times while looking at them. Coupled back with steps 1–5, you’ll be that much closer to having it locked in. You may think this sounds weird, or might make people uncomfortable, but most people totally appreciate it. And of course when you remember them the next time you see them, it instantly becomes clear how worth it it really is for both of you.

8. CARE. This is probably step 1 actually. But yeah, care. Give a sh*t. Make the effort. Appreciate people, and their contribution to your world however they’re contributing. It and everyone has value. On some level, find your desire to do what you can to repay them energetically, if that makes sense. Remembering people’s names also opens the channel where deeper connection can flow. And we all know the infinite benefits of connecting on a human level with others.. making a new true friend.. or even just feeling understood by another person over some small specific feeling or experience. It’s huge. It’s where the greatest moments in life exist. How much can we expect people to open up to us, to feel like they matter to us, if we don’t make any effort to know their name? Ya know?

9. Try it. Do it. The more you do it. The easier it gets.

This type of memory muscle is just like any other muscle… the more we flex it, the stronger we get.

So this week I’ve been in Finland, and I’d say the Finnish language is challenging to say the least, names included. They’re totally different than American names… they sound weird, are spelled weird, and are definitely a new skill in the way of pronunciation. Anyway, I was here for a week last year, and a week this year (original article written 2011)… last year I learned the common sounds by asking people to spell their names for me after they said them, then to say it again slowly so I could match up the way it sounded with the corresponding letter combinations. Then, I would repeat it back to them, doing my best to learn how to actually pronounce it. I must say, that effort went a LONG way… this year, I came into this event already knowing how to pronounce most of the common Finnish sounds… I’d already achieved that layer, so this year, it was back to simple name-remembering like it would be at any American event.

I guess what I’m getting at in talking about the Finns, is that even though there was an additional obstacle of seemingly impossible pronunciation, I made the extra effort, busted through, and now I know so many more people than I ever would have had I not made that effort to really know them. When we don’t know people’s names, we shy away from conversation more, and therefore thwart any opportunity for deeper connections to form. And since deeper connection is where true awesomeness lies… yeah, huge win-win.

We walk around showing people the truth that they matter, and in the process open the door to those deeper mutually appreciative connections.

Win-freakin-win.

(Herkko, Tuomo, Tiina, me, and Harri after making our super-sweet and hilarious film festival film with Repe the Boogie Duck. Don’t ask, just find us on YouTube. Solo belly!)

(PS. Original title was all the lovely Finn ladies names: Outi, Milla, Anne, Eila, Rikka, Tiina, Ellu, Kata, Kaisa, Heini, Maura, Jonna, Jenni, Mirella, Pierre, Inka, Saana… (and those are just the girls) Changed it up so more people would likely read the article. ;))

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