How to Remember Names

Have you ever heard the idea that we don’t ever forget anything once it is committed to long-term memory, that everything you ever knew is stored in your head somewhere and all you need to do is figure out how to recall the information?

Recently, I told the story of a visiting pastor who had, in turn, told the story of his son competing in a cross-country race. The story is something that I remember very well and can pretty much recount all of the important details despite the fact that I only ever heard it once. However, when I was writing that post, I really had to rack my brains to remember the name of the pastor who had originally told the story.

When I was writing that post, I actually had written the line, “there was a visiting pastor who’s name I cannot remember but …” and then I realised that by writing in that way, I had just given my brain permission to forget. So I went back and changed that line to “there was a visiting pastor who’s name I know.” I had every intention of going back and editing the text if I was subsequently unable to remember his name.

But what happened what that I started writing about the race, just using the words ‘pastor’ and ‘son’ where necessary and somewhere along the line, I remembered that his son’s name was Nathan. A little later, I started thinking that the pastor’s name was probably Paul and those were the names I used in my post at the time. Later still, the pastor’s real name came to me – it was not Paul, but Phil and then finally, days later, his surname came too.

That’s interesting don’t you think? It’s something we all know from experience too. When you meet a group of people for the first time, perhaps going into a business meeting, you think it will be easy to remember those four new names. But about half way through the meeting you are sitting there wondering if the guy opposite had said that his name was Tim or Tom. Despite that, if he tells you a joke, you’ll be able to recount it virtually word perfect when you go home that evening.

It says something about the way we store information, by association, and it also says why we apparently forget: it is because we have made no association with something else that we can easily recall. So the simple trick to remembering names is to get into the habit of making mental associations immediately you meet someone new.

So, for example, when you meet the guy who says his name is Tom, find something about his appearance that reminds you of the word. It can be as creative or as silly as you like, but it must be an association that makes sense to you. So looking at Tom’s car, you might decide it needs an MOT or you might decide that he looks like the Tom Tom player who sits in the marketplace or you might think that he is a bit of an ass (Tom ass).

It doesn’t matter what the association is because you are not going to tell anyone. But that little technique will work for you every time. When someone asks, “what was the name of that guy we met last week?” you will remember that he was the person who was driving the car you thought needed an MOT and you will be able to confidently reply, “Tom”.

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