This is Why You Forget People’s Names When You Meet Them – and 10 Ways Not To

Forgetting someone’s name who you’ve just met – a young professional offense as common as the ‘reply all’ email or refusing to report an empty printer ink cartridge.

In fact, if there’s one thing almost everyone in a room full of strangers can bond over, it’s that they all routinely forget people’s names within just minutes of shaking hands.

For many reasons, it’s wise to remember one’s name, not least of which is because it’s embarrassing as hell to let “what’s your name again?” be your parting words for the evening. So, how can you achieve this?

First, let’s understand why it is we’re so goldfish-minded when it comes to names.

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As a video by AsapScience explains, it has a lot less to do with a more measured attendance at the open bar than it does with good old biology. Drawing from the video’s explanation, the Daily Mail writes that “because names are random and hold no specific information in them, the brain struggles to retain them.” Their arbitrariness doesn’t allow the human brain to connect names to anything of significance that would deem them worthy of memory space.

Additionally, a ‘next-in-line’ effect causes our brains to start focusing on its own routine instead of watching and listening to the other person. Especially when what they’re saying is as arbitrary as a name.

These two explanations make a lot of sense. Think of it this way: what use is a business card that has a name on it but no other information, like job title, contact info, or even a photo?

Thankfully, there’s something you can do to help you remember someone’s name who you’ve just met.

We’ve all heard of the repeat method, of course, but an even more effective strategy is to practice methods that connect one’s name to relevant associations. Here are 10 to get started, courtesy of Grand Master of Memory and Memrise app founder Ed Cooke:

1. Say the name out loud, and often: Names exist to be said out loud. By actively using a person’s name you are not only practicing it, you are also getting your mind used to the idea that you are socially interested in the person – and that will boost your memory for them yet further.

2. Spell it out: It’s easy to mishear a name, and many names are similar, such as Katie, Katherine, Kate, Cat, Caitlin, Kathy, Karen. Ask a person how their name is spelled. This gives you time to think about the name, and helps to remember it.

3. If a name is unfamiliar, ask what it means: Names from parts of the world with which you’re not familiar can be confusing. It can really help to add some more colour to the sound, by asking what it means.

4. Pay attention to the face: The first reason we ever forget anything is that we fail to pay attention.

The trick here is to encourage your eyes to do a Z-shaped movement across a person’s face, encompassing both eyes, their nose and the two corners of their mouth.

Look for a distinctive feature, and pay attention to that- it will be a landmark by which you’ll come to recognise the person the next time round.

5. Use visual associations: Recognising someone’s name or face is most of the job of remembering who they are, but of course you have to link the two in your mind.

If Francesca has an amusing nose, say to yourself ‘Francesca, the girl with the amusing nose’.

6. Link the person to a celebrity with the same name:  Try associating people who have such names to the celebrities who share them. Linking a person called George with George Clooney will automatically make their name more distinctive and memorable.

7. Learn more about the person:  When you first meet a person, you know nothing about them, so it can be difficult to find enough ideas to connect with their name and face to make those associations stick. So learn more about the person.

By learning these extra details, the person will begin to occupy more space in your mind.

8. Link the name to an amusing image: Another powerful method for linking names to people is to treat them as little sentences.

If someone is called Terrence Mackie, maybe imagine them walking a Terrier eating a Big Mac. If someone is called James Hood, imagine them with Jam in their Hood.

9. Test yourself: Once you have learned a name, the best way to strengthen that memory is to make sure you actively recall it by reviewing and remembering it. So think back to the person you were introduced to ten minutes ago, and actively recall their name.

10. Don’t be afraid of getting a name wrong: It doesn’t matter if you get a name wrong, people are flattered that you take an interest, so take risks, practice actively recalling.

So, if you thought giving your future baby a name like Chia or Zealand was a bright idea because it’s so unique that everyone will remember it, please reconsider and do not bestow them with such an identification. No one’s brain cares about a name, except when it’s literally the worst one.

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