How to remember names


Do you wish you had a better memory for names? You can, if you follow a few simple techniques, explained by psychologist Dr. Cynthia Green, author of Total Memory Workout.

How to remember names

We’ve all been there—that awkward moment when we realize we can’t remember the name of person we have just met. Forgetting names happens to be the number one memory complaint of adults. There are common reasons for why we forget names and a number of simple techniques to help us remember.

Why we forget names:

  • We’re not focused when someone introduces themselves or aren’t paying attention to what the person says. Instead we may be trying to assess whether and how the person is important or admiring (or critiquing) the way they dress.
  • We get the name very quickly and usually only once.
  • We may not have had enough sleep, may be under stress, may have had a few alcoholic drinks in a social setting, or there may be a lot of noise in the room.
Here are five simple ways to remember names:
  1. Get into the habit of repeating the name back to the person once you hear it: “Nice to meet you, Stacey.” Learn it by simple repetition.
  2. Make a connection to the name with someone you may already know, or someone famous. Make it more meaningful to you and you’ll retain it.
  3. Especially if you’re visually-oriented, associate the name with a visual image that’s easy to recall. Or picture it spelled out.
  4. More verbally-oriented people can benefit by making up a short and simple story for the name.
  5. Or, visualize a short video about the person’s name.

STACEY: I'm Stacey Tisdale for We've all been there, that awkward moment where we can't remember somebody's name. Well, you can improve your memory for people's names according to Dr. Cynthia Green, psychologist and author of Total Memory Workout. I have so many questions for you. First of all why is it so difficult to remember someone's name?

DR. GREEN: It's hard to remember names because when we hear a name, first of all we're not always paying attention to it. We often hear a name in a business or social environment where there's a number of distractions. So we might be thinking about whether or not this is someone who is an important contact for us. We might be admiring their tie, so we're not always focused when we hear that name. And let's face it, we get that name very quickly and then we don't have another opportunity often to get the name again. Two different variables can make it harder for us to be focused. So if we haven't had a good night's sleep, if we maybe have had something to drink if it's a social situation, if we are maybe feeling stressed or anxious in a business situation. Or if there's a lot of noise in the room and we have difficulty hearing the information, it's going to be harder for us to get the name. Finally, we don't practice a name once we get it. If you think back to school when you had to learn something, and after all learning is what we need to do when we get that name if we are going to have it later on. You practiced.

STACEY: And I know you have five simple techniques for remembering names.

DR. GREEN: The first is to get into the habit of repeating the name. So, this one really works for me and it's something I do now as an automatic habit. I call it an everyperson technique because there's no reason why every single person out there can't do this. When you meet someone, repeat their name. So when I meet you I might say, well Stacey it's nice to meet you. Doing that alone will get me to pay attention to your name.

STACEY: I notice people doing that now that you say that.

DR. GREEN: Yeah. And it will give me a chance to rehearse your name that I wouldn't have otherwise. Second, you can make a connection to the name. So that you are hooking that name to something that is familiar to you already. Either to the name of someone you know previously or to the name of someone famous.

STACEY: And what's the third technique?

DR. GREEN: If you are someone who is artistically inclined, then you might want to think about whether picturing that name would be effective for you. And you can picture the name by associating it with some, you know, some great visual image in your mind's eye and by simply seeing the name spelled out in your mind's eye.

STACEY: Excellent. Number four?

DR. GREEN:Number four is to make up a story for the name. This is one of my favorite techniques--

STACEY: This sounds like fun.

DR. GREEN:Yes, well if you're a very verbal person, making up stories can be a lot of fun. The story doesn't have to be long or complicated, in fact, it shouldn't be. It should be kind of a short one-liner for the person's name.

STACEY: And what's the final technique?

DR. GREEN:The final technique is a movie-making technique. In movie-making you would see a little short video for the person's name. And again, these are short and simple techniques. It's just a matter of finding the one that works for them and then making it a habit.

STACEY: I can't wait to test these out. Dr. Cynthia Green, psychologist and author of Total Memory Workout, thank you so much for sharing your tips.

DR. GREEN: Thank you.

STACEY: I'm Stacey Tisdale for

meet theexpert
  • Dr. Cynthia R. Green

    Dr. Cynthia R. Green Psychologist, Author Cynthia R. Green, Ph.D. is a nationally recognized expert on memory fitness and brain health. She founded The Memory Enhancement Program at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in 1996, and is the author of several self-help books. more about this expert »

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