Tricks to help you remember names

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Are you a name-forgetter? Does this scene sound familiar to you? You’re at a gathering with your spouse or close friend and another person is smiling and approaching the two of you. You immediately smile back and start to wave. You’re also gritting your teeth through your smile and quietly saying to your spouse or friend: “Hurry. What’s her name, again? I forget.” Your spouse or friend whispers the name and you exclaim, “(Name), it’s great to see you ! How have you been since I saw at (place)?” Fraud. That’s what you are. LOL — A big fraud. Just kidding. In reality, you are definitely not alone in your struggle. Lots of people have trouble remembering names, but there are several tricks to help you improve your skills. Fear not!

If you can narrow down the underlying cause of your forgetfulness, that will help you choose the tricks to help you start remembering people’s names. For instance, do you feel like you forget names because you get nervous when someone approaches you to introduce themselves? If so, then the issue isn’t so much your memory skills as it is your social anxiety. Learning how to remain calm and relaxed during introductions would no doubt help you get better at remembering names. You can also use mnemonic (pronounced: nuh-maa-nik) devices to improve your name memory skills. A mnemonic device is a learning aid or technique that helps with retention and retrieval. There are many types of mnemonic devices. Here are just a few:

Create a jingle as one of your tricks to help remember names

Think of TV commercial jingles from your childhood that you can still recite or sing, verbatim. Are you a Baby Boomer? If so, then, if I start singing “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce…” I’m confident that you could jump in and finish the jingle. Various parts of our brain work together to help us remember things. If you’re always forgetting people’s names, the tricks to help that might work best for you are those that include inventing short jingles to go with a name when you first learn it.

Let’s say you’re being introduced to someone for the first time. The person introducing you says, “This is my friend, Jim.” To begin creating a jingle in your mind, you can say, “Hi Jim. Nice to meet you. Where are you from?” Jim might say, “I’m from Chicago, but I’m in town on business.” A good jingle to help you remember that the guy who’s in town on business is named Jim might be: Jumpin’ Jim from Chicago’s in town on business. Repeat it in your mind a few times until you recall it easily.

An hour or two later, if the same guy comes over to talk to you again, as he’s approaching, you’ll think “Jumpin’ Jim from Chicago’s in town on business.” Of course, you’ll also make a fool out of yourself if you say the entire jingle instead of just “Jim.” LOL For some reason, our brains often have an easier time remembering jingles (short songs and phrases) than recalling one name on the spot. As Jim walks over, in your head, you’ll be saying “Jumpin’ Jim from Chicago’s in town on business.” In person, you’ll simply smile and say, “Hi again, Jim. Enjoying the party? Can I get you something to drink?” Jim will be quite impressed at your name-remembering skills!

Make personal connections for more tricks to help

If you’re grasping for tricks to help you remember people’s names, you might try associating the person you’re meeting the first time with someone you know already. Perhaps you’re being introduced to someone who has the same name as your sister-in-law or a coworker who always gets drunk and loud and parties. If you can make a personal connection to a new name when you hear it, you’re more likely to remember the name if you cross paths with the same person in the future.

Listen and repeat to help remember names

Especially if you’re in a crowded room with a lot of background noise, a name can quickly get lost upon introduction. You might be more focused on smiling, making eye contact, shaking hands, etc. Repetition is a valuable tool for memorization. In order to repeat something, though, you have to hear it clearly the first time. If your goal is to improve your name-remembering skills, try to focus less on the experience of an introduction and listen intently to the person’s name. When you hear it, repeat it immediately. Don’t just say, “It’s nice to meet you.” Say, “It’s nice to meet you (name).” The more you hear and use a person’s name, the easier it will be for your brain to recall it in the future.

If you see that same person a few hours later or even a week or month later, make sure you repeat his or her name, even if you use it in the form of a question. You might see the person and say, “Hi, how are you? We met at so-and-so. You’re (name), right?” Also, make it a habit to rehash the new names in your cognitive Rolodex some time after the introductions. Maybe you want to a picnic and met four or five new people. When you get home, actually say their names aloud to help lodge them deeper into your memory. Say, “Today, I met Barbara from Seattle, Paul from the second floor in building B and Joe from Pittsburgh.” If someone at home asks if you had a good time at the picnic, say yes, and then tell them who you met. The more you repeat the names, the easier they’ll be to remember in the future.

A unique feature or characteristic helps make the connection

Among your arsenal of tricks to help remember names, you can choose something interesting about a person when you learn his or her name to help you remember it. Was he or she chewing gum when you met? Log this into your mind, along with the name, as if it were a royal title: So-and-so, the gum chewer. Waitresses use an adapted version of this trick (without the name) when serving a table with a lot of people. They make quick, mental notes as each patron gives his or her order. Baked cod goes to guy with blue tie, Turkey Club, no mayo, to the woman wearing glasses.

The process would be similar for you, except you’d insert the name rather than a menu order. You meet someone. Instead of barely registering the name in your mind, take time to associate it with something personal about the person. It’s easier to remember “George with the jolly laugh” than it is to remember just the name. This is one of the tricks to help overcome that feeling you get when a face looks familiar and the name feels like it’s “stuck on the tip of your tongue.” If you get into a habit of associating a name with a personal feature or characteristic, it becomes a whole package in your brain. You’ll have an easier time getting the name to roll off your tongue when you can connect the name to the person in a specific way.

The first letter is the most important and rhyming helps, too

When teaching children to read, it’s common to help them associate letter sounds with words. A is for apple, B is for ball, etc. This comes in hand for tricks to help you remember names, as well. If you meet someone named “Dave,” log it into your brain under “D is for Dave.” The next time you see him, your brain will quickly send you the message: D is for Dave!

Just as repetition helps improve memory skills, rhyming does, too. Instead of D is for Dave, you can think “Dave from the cave.” In fact, if you need as much help as you can get, you can put these two tricks together: D is for Dave from the cave.

In addition to these ideas, it’s always important to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle to help improve cognitive function and memory. Our daily habits, especially what we choose to eat and drink, has a tremendous effect on our health. This is especially true when it comes to our ability to remember things.

Do you have tricks to help remember names? Share them with us!

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