How to Remember Names in 5 Simple Steps

By Timothy Arends

How would you like to know that you could go about improving your memory for people’s names by probably 40 or 50% simply by learning a few simple tips? You can — by using a simple procedure used by Napoleon the third, nephew of the great Napoleon. He boasted that even with all his duties as emperor, he could still remember the names of every person he met.

1. Make sure you hear the person’s name.

It is said that most of us do not actually forget names, we simply do not hear them in the first place! When introducing somebody at a party, the person doing the introducing will often say something like, “George, this is Mumvmdfifd.” “Mumvmdfifd” is the name so mumbled that you can’t make it out. Instead of asking for a clarification, you simply avoid using that person’s name for the rest of the party! From then on, you don’t know the person’s name, and you are afraid to admit it. You see him or her on the street days later and you still can’t admit that you don’t know her name!

Then, of course, there’s always a possibility that you simply weren’t paying attention when the introductions were made. Could that ever happen? Well, suppose that you are so convinced that you are incapable of remembering people’s names that you have given up on even trying. Without putting forth that effort you are unlikely to remember the person’s name, or even to hear it in the first place.

2. Spell the name. That’s right, make your best guess as to how the name is spelled. If it is a first name, this is usually easy.

What is the purpose of spelling out the name? It is twofold: firstly, it allows you to make sure you heard the name in the first place and secondly, it helps to impress the name on your mind.

Most people understand that you are merely trying to make sure that you understood the name in the first place. You are also showing an interest in the other person’s name, and by extension you are showing interest in him or her. Most people see this as flattering. Remember what Dale Carnegie said: “A person’s name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

3. Comment on the name. If the name is the same as that of someone you know, mention it. If it is unusual in any way, you might inquire about the background of it. Perhaps the name is common in another country. If the name is shared by a well-known celebrity, I would not mention it, however, as the other person has probably had this pointed out to him or her a thousand times before. But of course, nothing stops you from making a comment silently to yourself about any name you hear. You won’t be annoying the other person, and you will be helping to impress it upon your memory.

4. Use the name during the conversation. “I see what you’re saying, John …” or “That’s a good point, Sarah …” the longer the conversation, the more you can work the name in. Each time you say it, you’ll be helping to impress it upon your mind. Don’t overdo it, every once in awhile is good enough and won’t seem forced, but do make this a habit. It will really help you to remember people’s names.

5. Use the name once again when you and the person you just met part company. “It was good talking to you, John. “Or goodbye, Mister Blackwell” in more formal situations. Once again, you are impressing the other person’s name upon your mind. This is the final step to “lock it in.” By repeating the name again as you leave, you also create what is called a “Memory echo” for yourself. Now that you have a moment in which you are no longer focused on conversation, you have time to apply any other memory tricks you desire on the name to help you to remember it.

By repeating the name aloud before, during and after the conversation, you will have rehearsed the name several times. Remember, repetition is one of the keys to learning.

Remember, the five rules of remembering names are: Hear the name, spell the name, comment on the name, use the name in conversation, and use the name when you leave.