Hey, you!  Yeah, you!  I know we’ve met before. 

We have?

Yeah, at that whatchamacallit seminar in boonieville.

Sound like someone you know?  Point them this way and let’s rid them of tip-of-the-tongue syndrome.  Remembering names is simple with a little practice.  Addressing someone by their given name—and not “hey you”—immediately lets others know that you placed an importance on meeting them.  Whether for personal or business purposes, this skill comes with an added bonus: people will remember your name as well.

So what are some tips for remembering names?

  • Make the effort to listen and remember.  Many people react to an introduction automatically, without thinking, and therefore a name gets lost.  Shake the person’s hand firmly (if appropriate), look them in the eyes and listen.
  • Repeat their name when you introduce yourself.  “Hello Jill, I’m Barbara, nice to meet you.” 
  • Repeat their name during the conversation, but not too often.  Once or twice is sufficient.  More than that and it gets annoying and obvious.
  • Associate that name with the person’s appearance or another visual clue.  I personally find alliteration or rhyming devices easiest to remember.  Maybe Linda has long hair, Brent has a beard, or Lee is tall like a tree.  It’s important to keep these silly devices to yourself, however, and try to focus on something positive about the person.
  • Associate that name with a well-known person or place.  When you meet Louis, you can remember the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.  Maybe Steve is funny like Steve Martin.
  • Write down names of the people you’ve met whenever you have an opportunity.

And here are some pitfalls to avoid while remembering names:

  • Don’t think so hard about the person’s name that you lose focus of the conversation. 
  • Don’t assume you can use their first name.  If someone has told you they are “Ms. Franklin” be sure to call her “Ms. Franklin” until she invites you to use “Samantha.”
  • Don’t use a nickname, even if you hear someone else calling them by that shorter name.  Allison may really prefer Allison and not “Allie.”
  • Don’t let others know about your pneumonic devices.  Nothing kills a relationship faster than calling Lee “Mr. Tree.”
  • Don’t rely on the name tag.  It may be misspelled or it may list a formal name when they prefer to be addressed in another manner.  Moreover, people ditch name tags after a while (unless you’re this guy, who has his name tag tattooed on his chest).
  • If someone has a difficult foreign name you don’t recognize, don’t ask them to repeat it several times.  This gets embarassing for everyone.  Repeat the name as best you can the first time and they may correct you.

Finally, don’t assume because someone is younger than you or in a lower business position that you can bestow a clever nickname upon them.  I worked closely with a colleague who called me “Taras Bulba” after the 1962 movie.  I was not familiar with the movie at the time and even though he provided an explanation, the name bothered me, especially when he felt it appropriate to call me this in meetings with my bosses.  Give everyone the same amount of respect that you wish to receive yourself.