Updated December 9, 2014

23 Ways to Remember Names

Best ways and tricks to NOT forget someone's name
Read more about Career Advice

How good does it feel when someone you barely know remembers your name? And how bad do you feel when you forget their name? Never forget again. Learn the 23 tricks to remembering someone's name here.

First, realize why there's so much emotion tied into the sound of a name. In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie famously declared that a person’s name is the sweetest and most important sound to that person. When you make a point of remembering names, you're communicating to others that they’re important. In turn, you'll be more memorable to them (everyone wins!). Choose among these 23 ways to improve your name game.

1. Repeat the name

The most tried and true method of remembering another person’s name is simple — repetition. You might recall the Name Game from summer camp, where everybody sits in a circle, introduces themselves, and then repeats the names of all the people who made introductions before them. A study by Catherine O. Fritz and Peter E. Morris tested students’ recall of their classmates’ names after participating in the Name Game and found that they could remember 75% of the names after just 30 minutes. You can be one of the 75%: Just make a point of saying the name after you first hear it and then say it again as the conversation progresses.

2. Write it down

where we grew up
where we grew up © rick (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Just as writing things down when you were in grade school helped you remember it later, it works just as well for remembering names. In a way, it’s like learning — you are learning a name and face that are new to you. Researchers Margaret H. Thomas and John N. Dieter found that writing helped their subjects remember foreign words with more accuracy in comparison to those who didn’t write at all. Hey, if it’s good enough for school, it must be good enough for your social life. When it’s too awkward to pull out a pen and paper at a cocktail party, type out the names on your phone when you get a chance.

3. Look, snap, connect

Most people can agree that it’s much easier to remember a person’s face compared to a name. The brain has a whole region that’s dedicated to recognizing faces, called the fusiform face area, but none dedicated to remembering the name of Jane Doe from the bus stop last week. That’s why it may help if you create a mental photo of the person you just met and associate it with their name. Gary Small, Psychiatry Professor and director of the Memory and Aging Research Center at the UCLA Center of Aging, suggests what he calls the “Look, Snap, Connect” technique in his book, The Memory Bible. He recommends that people “snap” a photo in their mind of the person’s distinguishing features and note any visual images that come to mind based on their name. Then connect the two into one image for future recollection. For example, if you’re making small talk with Harry Smith, who happens to have a big nose, you can remember his name by imagining a hairy nose. The next time you see him, you’ll subconsciously conjure up an image of a hairy nose and remember his first name (but don’t let him know that!).

4. Introduce the person to others

One of the best tactics for remembering someone’s name is to hold yourself accountable. If remembering people’s names is a sincere goal of yours, take it upon yourself to introduce new acquaintances to other friends when you’re in a group setting. Say you’re mingling at a cocktail party and you’ve made a new friend at the bar. Introduce that person as soon as possible to one of your friends. Not only will it give you the chance to repeat the person’s name and test your knowledge, but it’s the polite thing to do!

5. Keep a name log

This is a nerdy tip, but you’ll thank us later. Make a point of keeping a running list of all the people you meet each day. You can do this on an Excel spreadsheet or Google Doc with the name, date, and other identifying information that will jog your memory at a later time. For work-related events, networking experts suggest writing the notes on the back of the business card for the people you meet, and you can record the notes when you get home. Other times, you’re going to have to rely on your memory for a few hours, until you get home. Ideally, this list will ensure that the next time you run into an acquaintance, you won’t just remember their name but also where you met them and what you discussed.

6. Connect the name to prior knowledge

In psychologist-speak, schemas are how your brain organizes and interprets information. Researchers have found that a person’s ability to connect new information to a schema helps them encode information in their long-term memory. Putting this concept into action is easier said than done, especially if you’re making rounds at a friend’s wedding after a couple of cocktails. The key lies in connecting people’s names to prior knowledge, no matter how random. Your new acquaintance may have the same name as the lead singer of your favorite band in high school, or a similar name to your mother-in-law, or a name that rhymes with your sister’s. While it may not seem like much, making the conscious connection helps your brain store the person’s name in your long-term memory, rather than letting it languish in your short-term memory bank.

7. Sleep

Sleeping Meow ~ !
Sleeping Meow ~ ! © Jonathan Leung (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

You can try all the tricks on our list to remember someone’s name, but if you’re not well rested, you probably won’t remember the cute girl’s name from the coffee shop, much less what you ate for breakfast. Sleep has been proven time and time again to be essential for memory consolidation. Sleep is the brain’s opportunity to make new connections between synapses. During slow-wave sleep, the brain replays events during the day and processes declarative memories, which includes facts like a person’s name. If you need an excuse to crash after a friend’s housewarming party, simply say you need to process the names of the new people you just met.

Related: Sleep Statistics

8. Use the chunking technique for groups of people

Chunking is the practice of organizing new information into a “chunk,” or pattern, so that it’s more memorable. This technique, attributed to neuroscientist Daniel Bor, is used to memorize anything from grocery lists to number sequences. Let’s say it’s your first day in the dorm at your university and you’re meeting your floor mates for the first time. You can help yourself remember their names by creating an acronym from their first initials. You’re essentially chunking together disparate information into a pattern that makes sense. If the guys across the hall are named Thomas, Evan, Anthony, Stephen, and Chris, the word SCATE would be your cue word for remembering all their names the next time you see them.

9. Associate the name with a famous person and anchor it

This technique is quite similar to the Look, Snap, Connect technique, but it has a slight caveat. Instead of taking a mental picture of the person in question, think of a famous person with the same name and then anchor that name onto a physical characteristic of the other person. For example, if it’s your first day on the job and you meet a woman named Angelina who has an overbite, you can associate her name with Angelina Jolie. You can then anchor that visual onto her overbite by imagining the actress punching her in the jaw. The next time you see Angelina, the image of Jolie giving her an uppercut will serve as an instant reminder of her name.

10. Drink caffeine

© Susanne Nilsson (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

Caffeine doesn’t just help you stay alert, it’s also been proven to help in long-term memory consolidation. A study out of John Hopkins University found that when subjects were administered caffeine after performing a recognition task, they displayed a deeper level of memory retention than the control group. Caffeine made them less prone to forgetting their memories within a 24-hour period. So the next time you come home after meeting new people, pour yourself a cup of joe to keep your memories fresh.

Related: Why Drink Coffee

11. Pair the name with a bizarre image

Another popular way to remember a person’s name is the bizarre imagery technique, which isn’t just useful, but fun too! It was first coined by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas, memory-training experts and authors of The Memory Book. The technique is based on the premise that if something isn’t memorable (like the IT guy’s name at work), you can make it memorable by attaching an absurd image to their name. The bizarre image can be based on anything — an anecdote they told you, their occupation, the way they dress, etc. If Sal the IT guy has a fat iguana, the bizarre image you can attach to him is a fat iguana on his head with a salt shaker (because his name is Sal, get it?). Is it clever? Not really. But is it memorable? Yes.

12. Eat brain-healthy foods

Organic Fruit
Organic Fruit © Michael Coghlan (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

If you think you’re going to be at the top of your name game by eating Cheetos and ramen every day, you’re wrong. Just like a fine-tuned car, your brain needs quality fuel in order to function at its highest ability. Certain foods have been scientifically proven to aid in brain function and memory, such as foods that contain flavonoids, magnesium, or acetylcholine. In fact, eating junk food has been shown to decrease memory and cognitive ability in as a little as a week, according to a study conducted at the University of New South Wales. Our advice? If you know you have a big meeting coming up, skip the junk food and feed your brain foods like blueberries, apples, and spinach.

Related: Farmers Market Statistics

13. Make a game of it

If you’re hitting up a networking event with likeminded colleagues who are just as concerned about their memory as you, consider initiating a friendly competition to see how many names each of you can remember. A study out of the University of Michigan revealed that incentivizing the task of remembering names using a point system improved subjects’ recall after the fact. If you make a game of your networking endeavors, you might find that your memory isn’t as bad as you thought.

14. Meditate

time to meditate
time to meditate © Betty Nudler (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Meditation isn’t just good for the soul, it’s good for your memory too. A study from the Harvard Medical School tested meditation newbies after they participated in mindfulness meditation for eight weeks. They found structural differences in their brain, not just during meditation but afterwards as well. The subjects displayed more control over alpha rhythms, a brain wave that screens out distractions, which can help in rapid memory recall. It’s safe to say that those who practice meditation are more likely to remember their new coworkers’ names.

Related: Stress Statistics

15. Focus and practice retrieving the name

The next tip is just basic common sense, and you’ll wonder why you haven’t tried it before. It’s not as fun as imagining iguanas or Angelina Jolie, but it’s simple to do: focus and practice. Researchers have found that practicing memory retrieval helps in solidifying information into one’s long-term memory. In other words, the more you focus on the new information and try to recall it, the more likely you are to remember it at a later time. Say you’re meeting your significant others’ family for the first time and you’re feeling overwhelmed. Turn your attention away from your insecurities by regularly looking around the room and trying to recall each person’s name until you can name them without hesitation. You’ll remember their names at the next family get-together, and maybe score brownie points with Aunt Susie too!

16. Exercise

jog the dog
jog the dog © Magdalena Roeseler (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Just like nutrition, regular exercise benefits both the body and brain. Researchers at Semmelweis University in Hungary found that rats who endured a nine-week exercise regimen had markedly better short- and long-term memory than rats that weren’t exercised at all. If you’re having trouble remembering other people’s names, your physical fitness may have something to do with it.

Related: Money Lessons from Running

17. Spell it

Scrabble Letter Pillows
Scrabble Letter Pillows © Wicker Paradise (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

If you think writing down names or keeping lists is too much work, another trick that memory experts commonly use is the spelling mnemonic. When someone tells you their name for the first time, ask them to spell it for you. It shows a genuine interest in their name and gives you time to focus on the letters and sounds that make up their name. Of course, if their name is Tim, it might come off as a little disingenuous if you act like you don’t know how to spell it, so use this technique at your own discretion. Others suggest visualizing the word spelled over the person’s face, which combines the spelling technique with visual imagery.

18. Be a poet

You might not have the poetry skills of Shakespeare or Wordsworth, but it doesn’t mean that your poetry skills are useless. Alliteration and rhyme are both effective tools in making words and names memorable. Cognitive scientist David Rubin conducted an experiment with college students and found that they remembered rhyming words in a ballad more than non-rhyming words. Try a silly nickname for the person you just met. For example, if their name is Macey and they have a lot of energy, you could call them Crazy Macey. If you’d rather use alliteration, you could also call her Manic Macey. Just remember to keep the less than flattering nickname to yourself.

19. Don’t stress

If you’re the type of person who can’t relax and has unfinished to-do lists every day, your stress might be the reason why you can’t remember anyone’s name. Stress doesn’t just affect your health, but it also affects how your brain functions and stores short-term memories. A study conducted at the University of Iowa demonstrated that rats with high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, had fewer connections between neurons in the part of the brain responsible for short-term memory. Imagine what happens when you’re attending a mixer after a high-stress workday — it’s no wonder that you can’t remember anybody’s name! Managing your stress and taking the time to unwind can help your brain function at its optimum ability, which means you’ll have more control over what you remember and what you forget.

20. Chew gum

Smacking gum might be considered a rude habit, but it’s been scientifically proven to help in concentration and recall. A study from the University of Northumbria in Newcastle tested 75 subjects and found that those who chewed gum throughout the experiment showed significantly better recall abilities in a word memorization activity. The study suggests that chewing gum is helpful while being exposed to new information and while recalling the information. Of course, chewing gum might not be appropriate for all contexts. In class or in a business meeting, you should probably leave the gum at home or chew discreetly. But if you’re hitting up a friendly get-together, chewing gum will keep your breath fresh and help your memory, too.

21. Engage all 5 senses

Most of the tricks thus far have involved visual memory, but experts also suggest that engaging all five senses is especially effective for remembering names. In fact, researchers from the University of Iowa believe our auditory memory is worse than our visual and tactile memory. They tested 100 subjects in visual, tactile, and auditory tasks, who turned out to be less likely to remember things they had heard, in contrast to the things they touched or saw. Some subjects’ memory declined as early as 4-8 seconds after hearing the subject matter. Sound familiar? Engaging sight, touch, and other senses when meeting a person for the first time may significantly help you remember them later. Memory experts suggest looking the person in the eye, paying attention to their physical features, as well as shaking their hand and focusing on your sense of touch.

22. Don’t have TOO much fun

It goes without saying that if you’re trying to make new friends, you want to have a good time and project a positive mood. Our advice to you is to have fun, but not TOO much fun. A study by Elizabeth Martin from the University of Missouri suggests that a good mood might decrease one’s working memory capacity. “Working memory” is the short-term memory that you’re able to conjure up in the moment, like in the midst of a conversation. Her study suggests that if you have too good of a time, your new friend’s name might be difficult to recall.

23. Care about the new name, and pay attention

Have you ever considered that maybe you’re not “bad with names?” Maybe you just don’t care. Richard Harris, a professor of psychology at Kansas State University, believes that people’s ability to remember another person’s name lies in their motivation and level of interest. Simply put, people have an infinite amount of memory for things they care about, like baseball stats or movie scripts, but can’t remember a person’s name minutes after meeting them. According to Harris, the more a person is genuinely interested in another person, the more likely the name will be imprinted in memory.


© Sebastiaan ter Burg (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

Changing your habits and practicing mnemonics are all helpful for remembering a new acquaintance’s name, but the first step should be to care to remember in the first place.

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Comments about 23 Ways to Remember Names

  • moneystepper
    on December 2, 2014 1:32 AM said:

    Awesome list - I find the most effective method for me is #4. As soon as possible, I try to introduce new contacts to someone else where possible as not only does this open up the conversation, it also really helps me cement the new contact's name.

    Also, if you've forgotten the person's name immediately (you may have missed it), then introducing them to someone you know, you can say "meet John, he's xxx". Then, the new contact will almost always introduce themselves and you get a second bite at the cherry!! :)

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