Tips for Remembering Names

Forgot a Name

How do you feel when you forget someone's name?  You may berate yourself with internal scolding, "Oh no, here I am again - so bad with names!"  You may feel mortified and make comments like, "I feel so rude; I have forgotten your name," making much to do about the moment.  On the far end of the spectrum, you may shudder with worry that you are losing your memory when you can't recall a name.    

Relax!  Don’t be so hard on yourself.  It happens to all of us at one point or another.

Whether you have trouble remembering names at all, call someone by the wrong name, or pronounce it incorrectly, it's important to face the fact that no one is perfect and mistakes will happen.  The etiquette-ful thing to do is extend an attitude of understanding toward yourself and others.

Commit to Remember

The ability to remember names is an asset to strive for.  Calling someone by their name demonstrates on a very basic level an act of recognition of another human being.

To remember the name of someone you're just meeting:

  • Look at the person as he speaks his name.
  • Say his name as you say hello.
  • Use his name during your conversation, without over-doing it.  
  • If the person’s name is hard to pronounce, ask her to spell it out. 
  • A conversation starter can sometimes be about a name itself. 
  • State his name when you say goodbye (and tell yourself as you say it that “John” will be remembered).

Recalling information is easier for some people than others. This may also vary depending on the type of information needed to be recalled.  When it comes to names, mindful association is key - a name with a face, occasion, situation, or conversation.  In other words, paying attention to details when you meet someone. 

The mindfulness you show during introductions that will help you remember names is determined by these core factors:

Are you interested in meeting this person in the first place?

Have you developed a practice around meeting and remembering people?

Is there a lot of activity or noise surrounding you?  Are you distracted?

Remaining Aware
Focus on the person and the conversation you are having.

Enjoyment of the Process
Do you enjoy meeting new people?  Are you happy to be at the event/situation/occasion where you are meeting new people?

Practice! Practice! Practice!
Remain aware of the above core factors and continually practice recalling who you've met. 

Preparation and Follow-through

I don’t remember anybody’s name.  How do you think the "dahling” thing got started?

~ Zsa Zsa Gabor

Acknowledging what you know about your ability to recall names is the first step in being prepared to remember people. This helps you determine to what degree of preparation and note-taking is necessary for you.

Consider the occasion that will require you to learn the names of those you meet.  Is it a casual social gathering that you feel indifferent about?  Is it a business event that could help or hurt your career?  Is it a holiday gathering in which you will meet your significant other's family members?

The occasion and the people you can expect to meet there will largely determine the amount of attention you give to the preparation and follow-through that will help you remember names.  Strategy and/or note cards are a great way to provide yourself with a written reference that may help with recall.

Before an event:

  • Research to learn about the people who will likely be present.  Refer to pictures if this is an available option.
  • Write down your strategy for remembering on a notecard.  Keeping a collection of cards from event to event keeps you active in your quest.
  • Forgive yourself ahead of time for names you might forget.  It's the kind thing to do.


  • Make notes of the event, the people you met, and any associations you make that will help you remember them.  Refering to images is very helpful.
  • If you make notes on the person's business card, do it after, not at the time you are meeting.  It may happen that when you see the person again, her name escapes you, but you can use the association to hlep you both.  “Hi, we met at the Association of Insurers meeting in Atlanta last year, and I’m trying to recall your name.”  The other person will be pleased that you remembered meeting her.  Names will follow.  
  • Keep your contact list updated.

A sense of humor is also very helpful when it comes to name-remembering.  However, it should be used sparingly.  Though humor and forgiveness around imperfections is important, striving to make remembering names is one of those “I can get better at this” attitudes that make for joyful living.

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