The One Clever Trick To Help You Always Remember the Names of Everyone You Meet

What's in a name? It's a question you may not think much about. But it's a loaded one with a deep answer.

"In theory, a person’s name is the word any person will hear the most in their lifetime," says Erisa M. Preston, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and regional psychotherapy director for Mindpath in Southern California. Preston works with patients with cognitive decline and dementia.

It makes remembering a person's name an important part of socialization and general etiquette. But if it leaves you wondering how to remember names, know that it's not just you.

"Remembering someone’s name demonstrates basic respect and is also an investment in communicating and creating a connection," Dr. Preston says. "Calling someone by the correct name and pronouncing it correctly demonstrates that commitment to the connection."

Forgetting a person's name doesn't necessarily make you rude or mean you don't want a connection. It can feel uncomfortable when you see someone you've already met and cannot remember their name for the life of you—even when it feels like it's on the tip of your tongue. First things first: give yourself a break.

"If you have difficulty remembering names, you can take some comfort in the fact that you are not alone," says Christopher Christodoulou, Ph.D., a clinical and research neuropsychologist with Stony Brook Center of Excellence for Alzheimer's Disease.

"It is a common problem even for young adults, and if you are an older adult, you should know that it does tend to decline as part of normal aging."

But there are some clever tricks you can use to supercharge your memory. Experts shared their best tips for how to remember people's names.

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Why Is It Hard To Remember People's Names?

Dr. Preston notes there are several reasons why people struggle to remember names, including:

  • Aging 

  • Brain injury

  • Inattention

  • Too few associations with a person

  • Too many associations with the person's name (For example, Dr. Preston says that if you know five Charlottes and one doesn't stand out, you may have less of a memory link and forget the less memorable Charlotte's name.)

  • Stress

Related: 16 Things People With High Emotional Intelligence Often Say, According to Psychologists

The #1 Trick To Remember People's Names

Create associations.

"If you only meet someone and hear their name once, that name is as fleeting as a Snapple fact that you read before tossing it into the trash," says Ben Spielberg, a neuroscientist and CEO of Bespoke Treatment. "If you practice the names and associations of the people you meet, you’re able to make a very strong connection and often remember their names in the future."

These connections may be someone's job or hair color. Or another item or trait may remind you of the person.

"One way to help us remember someone’s name is to link it to other things we already know," says Dr. Christodoulou. "So, if we meet someone named Rose, we could think of the Shakespeare quote, 'A rose by any other name,' and that might help us to remember Rose’s name the next time we meet."

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How To Use Associations To Remember Someone's Name

1. Verbally acknowledge the person's name

Before creating associations, Spielberg and Dr. Preston suggest repeating the person's name back to them immediately after the introduction. Doing so prevents "inattention," a common culprit of name forgetfulness.

"In repeating their name, you are focusing on their name and being present, both of which are necessary for proper memory encoding at initiating new information," Dr. Preston says. "You are also communicating to the person that they are important enough for you to remember their name—what a gift to give to someone to demonstrate their value."

2. Start creating obvious associations

You don't necessarily need to reinvent the wheel to create associations. Try simply pulling aspects of their story and appearance you find memorable.

"For example, if you meet John, a web developer, at a party, say this after the party, 'John is a web developer who wears glasses and has a golden retriever,'" Spielberg says.

Pro tip: There's strength in numbers.

"If you are with someone, you can do this together, which helps build the association even further," Spielberg says.

3. Get creative

While you may be able to pull a bunch of basic associations, creativity can be clutch when remembering names.

"The more unusual [the association], the better it can work," says Dr. Christodoulou. "Maybe Rose has red hair, or her personality seems a little prickly. Just link the name to something you already know."

4. Break down syllables

Remembering a person's name is important. But our brains may unconsciously consider an individual's name rather random.

"One reason it is difficult is that the name of a new person is an arbitrary string of syllables that doesn’t mean a lot," says Dr. Christodoulou. "A person’s name is a proper noun that applies to just one specific person. That’s in contrast to common nouns that apply to a whole class of things."

But you can consciously flip the script and use syllables to remember names.

"To remember Shakespeare’s name, you might picture him shaking a spear," says Dr. Christodoulou.

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5. Motivate yourself

What do you get out of remembering a person's name? The answer to that question may help you create associations (and help improve your mindset around remembering names).

"Tell yourself why it is important to remember this name/person," Dr. Preston says. "For example, will [the person] be helping with XYZ project?"

6. Get curious

As a person tells you about their job or interests, ask questions about parts of their story that you don't quite understand. These new, interesting facts may help you create associations.

For example, Dr. Preston suggests something like, "Samantha, you mentioned you’re in the marketing department. What does that mean?"

7. Engage in active listening

The best way to ward off inattention? By paying attention.

"Pay attention to details about the person—their tone of voice, their eye color, if they make gestures while they speak and a phrase they use in the conversation," says Dr. Preston. "Do not think about anything else during the conversation. Keep your energy focused on the new person."

8. Follow up with their name

Conversations are a two-way street. When it's your turn to talk, use their name.

"Make a follow-up comment utilizing their name and one of the details you have learned," says Dr. Preston. "For example, 'That’s interesting, Samantha. I’m wondering about how we can do XYZ together.'"

Samantha's response may help you create another association.

9. Use their name in your good-bye

This step punctuates your attempt to associate the person with the name and connect, Dr. Preston says.

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Other Ways To Remember a Person's Name

1. Repetition

This tip from Dr. Preston builds on associations.

"Repeat the person’s name to yourself five times after the conversation with as many associations and pieces of the conversation as you can remember," she says. "This helps reinforce to yourself why it is important to remember the details about this person."

2. Write it down

Sometimes, bringing pen to paper, even in this digital world, can help jog your memory. Preston suggests writing down a few notes about what you discussed, along with the person's name.

"This will help with memory creation and consolidation," Dr. Preston says.

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3. Ask again

Even people with the best memories and intentions forget names. It's OK to ask them to remind you.

"[It’s] better to have potential momentary embarrassment than to go through life saying things like, 'Hey, guy' or...'what’s-her-name," Dr. Preston says.

And needing a reminder doesn't need to be a cause for embarrassment.

"It still demonstrates that you care enough to ask again instead of pretending you remember," Dr. Preston says.

Related: Listen Up! 20 Specific, Expert-Backed Ways To Be a Better Listener and Have More Meaningful Conversations

4. Practice positive self-talk

You may be down on yourself for not remembering names. But Dr. Preston says focusing on affirmations may be more useful.

"The power of positive thinking and believing in yourself cannot be underestimated," says Dr. Preston.

She suggests positive statements like, “I am good at remembering names” or “I value remembering names and making connections.”

And when you forget?

"Be kind to yourself," Dr. Preston says. "It happens to everyone. Berating yourself is not likely to make you remember any better."

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