Say My Name: 6 Tips to Remember Names of People You've Just Met

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There is something that just happens inside of us when we hear the sound of our own name. It makes us snap to attention unlike anything else and it kind of gives us a subtle feeling of comfort because it’s so familiar. It happens regardless of the circumstances, whether you’re being called for the jury pool or the barista has your coffee ready.

We Like the Sound of Our Own Names

There is real science behind this. Following an extensive study of brain activation patterns, researchers found clear evidence that hearing one's own name has unique brain activation that is not present when hearing others’ names. Hearing the sound of your own name immediately orients you to your surroundings and heightens your awareness.

It’s because of this, that using people’s names is a subtle but powerful way of disrupting the autopilot flow of most conversations. It’s a type of pattern interrupt because it creates a momentary pause and startles people out of their own thought patterns. It reorients them to you as the speaker and what you are saying.

Further, when using someone’s name, it promotes faster bonding and rapport by tapping into something intimate and personal about them. A person’s name is part of his or her identity so using it in the midst of a conversation is a way to deliver a message that feels customized.

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Using Names Creates More Memorable Exchanges

Incorporating the use of others’ names is also an effective way to add distinction to your communication style. It’s so rarely done that when it’s used thoughtfully, it makes the exchange more memorable. Positive association is tied to both you as the speaker and the occasion.

It’s a technique that can be used in any sort of environment or situation. A good place to practice this is in low-risk situations. Try it and then gauge the reaction.

In a meeting: I like your point, Jerry. (pause) Can you tell me how this would impact our timeline?

With your spouse/partner: Jack, I hear you. (pause) I just want to make sure we’ve examined all our options.

In the shop: (Assuming they have a name tag) Vanessa, thanks for your help. I really appreciate it.

Once you’ve run the experiment, assess how it was received. Work on finessing your delivery to be subtle and natural. But note, don’t overdo it. If you employ this technique too much, it will be obvious and you’ll appear disingenuous.

How to Remember New Names

Deliberately using someone’s name can also leave lasting first impressions upon first meeting someone new. But if you’re like most people, the second the person introduces themselves, you’ve forgotten their name. Ugh! This is one of the biggest stresses of networking events and why so many people hate attending them. But if you have a few tricks up your sleeve to remember names, you can instead gamify the meet n’ greet and have a little fun in the process.

Here are 6 suggestions to remember names of people you’ve just met:

1- Say it Out Loud

At the introduction, repeat the name out loud. By doing so, this verbalization generates two benefits. One, they will unconsciously respond well to hearing the sound of their name and, from that, they will associate this feel-good vibe with you. Second, it will help you stimulate the auditory part of your brain (the auditory cortex) which will allow you to learn and retain the information through sound.

Hi, I’m Kevin.

So nice to meet you, Kevin.

2 - Visualize the Name

While some respond best to auditory input, others are visual learners. In addition to saying the person’s name out loud, try to picture the spelling of their name. It can also be a point of further discussion.

Hi, I’m Kathy.

So nice to meet you, Kathy. Do you spell that with a C or a K?

3 - Create Associations or Anchors to the Name

When hearing the name, immediately picture someone else you know with that name. Really focus on visualizing them. If you don’t know anyone with the name, try to think of a celebrity, famous person, or character with that same name.

Hi, I’m Tony.

So nice to meet you, Tony. (Picture Tony Soprano)

You can also observe the person’s physical or behavioral traits and use it to anchor their name. By being deliberately focused on at least one characteristic of them, it helps the brain retain a more complete picture of them including their name.

Let’s say you meet Judy and she’s wearing a bright pink blouse. She becomes Pink Judy. Mark who’s super talkative is Chit Chat Mark. It helps when there’s some alliteration: Tall Tom, Shy Shirley, Hilarious Harry. Try to be creative with this. It will help you remember.

Another association can be with their story. When you anchor the person’s name with the highlights of their story or identity, the name tends to stick better. John becomes John the engineer who went on the sailing trip last year and Lisa is the knitter who rescues greyhounds.

I met a woman at the gym once named Margarita. Upon hearing her name I said, “Well, I won’t forget your name especially on a Friday night!” I’m sure she’s heard all sorts of responses like that before 🙄 but I remembered her name the next time I saw her!

4 - Ask About Unusual Names

If you come across someone with an unusual name, look at it as an opportunity for a nice ice breaker and as a way to better remember their name. If the name is really unusual, this person is probably used to it being butchered and glossed over because people don’t know how to respond. Take the opposite tack and inquire about it more. This shows interest and respect and goes a long way in building rapport.

Hi, my name is Roxelle

Nice to meet you, Roxelle. Did I pronounce that right? Rox-elle. What a unique name! How do you spell it? I’m sure there’s an interesting story behind that name...

5 - Think of People’s Initials

It’s quite common that meeting new people happens in pairs or groups. You meet a couple of colleagues who happen to be standing next to each other or you meet a couple. This becomes a double challenge because now you have to remember two or more names at once! But you can latch onto the first initial of their names and make some associations of the group.

Upon first meeting my neighbors Alan and Dianne, I immediately thought of the initials A&D. A&D was an acronym commonly used in my old industry. Somehow making this association helped the names stick.

Upon meeting a group of colleagues names Patrick, Tonya, and Oliver, you could think of the acronym PTO which many know as Paid Time Off. Marlene and Dan would make me think of the abbreviations of my home state of Maryland.

For some reason, just using a simple hack like this signals the brain to remember this information. I find it’s the intention of remembering and having some association or anchor that gives me the best chance of being successful.

6 - Tag Team Name Learning

If you happen to be with another person when meeting new people, you can count on each other to remember names. For example, you can agree in advance that one person will focus on remembering male names and the other female names. And when the two of you are left alone again, be sure to repeat names back to each other for reinforcement and then inject some fun into your mnemonic tactics.

When introducing your partner or colleague to a new person and you’ve forgotten the new person’s name, have your friend help you out. Agree to a format that you both understand as code for “I don’t remember this person’s name”.

You say to the new person: “I’d like to introduce you to my girlfriend Jan.” (without mentioning the new person’s name)

Jan says: “So, nice to meet you. And your name is?

Lastly, If you forget a name, don’t worry about it. Be lighthearted about it because everyone’s been there. By acknowledging that you don’t remember a name you show some vulnerability that you, too, have the same name recall deficiency that almost everyone one else has. And chances are, they have forgotten your name too. Exchange some grace and push through to get to know the person behind the name.

Angela, right?

No, Ashley.

Oh, so close! At least I had the first letter right.

Angela, right?

No, Stacey.

Oh, sooooo not even close! Yeah, I need to work on that!

Stacey, I’d like to be better at remembering your name so tell me about yourself.

Take Action!

Over a week, try to incorporate a person’s first name in a discussion you’re having. It’s especially powerful when you’re trying to make a firm point but don’t want to come off too aggressive.

If you will be meeting someone new, try to use one or two of the suggestions for remembering their names. See if they work. Experiment with others to settle in on what works best for you.

What tricks do you use to remember new people’s names? We want to hear your ideas below in the comments!