Business People Talking in a Cafe

One not-so-secret secret to authenticity is building sincere relationships with people.

This journey starts with a single step: learning someone’s name.

Not long ago, I committed a classic party foul. I called my friend’s boyfriend by her ex-boyfriend’s name. The name left my lips and I cringed.

There was no way to fix it. I blushed and stammered and apologized like an idiot, trying to pull my foot out of my mouth.

Name shame can strike at any moment. Nobody is fully immune. But we can do our best to prevent this from happening to you! Here are five tricks to help you remember names better.

  1. Visual associations. When someone tells you their name, create a vivid mental image that will stick with you. The weirder, the better. For example, if you meet a Dave, picture him high-fiving your other friend named Dave. If you meet an Audrey and she talks to you about bananas, picture the name Audrey written on a giant banana. If you meet someone named River, picture them splashing in a river.

Don’t Let Name Shame Get You!

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  1. Ask them to spell it. If someone has an unusual or ethnic name you’re unfamiliar with, smile, compliment their name, and ask them to spell it. Then repeat back the spelling and ask respectfully if you are pronouncing it right. People with unusual names are used to this! Just make sure you are complimentary, not critical, as you learn their name.
  1. Be fully present during introductions. Admit it. When you ask for a name and forget it five seconds later, it’s usually because you were preoccupied and not really listening. So make this decision for yourself: from now on, pay closer attention when you meet someone new. Decide that introductions are worth a deeper kind of respect. Learn the person’s name, repeat it back, and see how the name fits them as they talk. (I like to imagine them signing their name at the bottom of a letter.) Learn names with respect and genuine interest, and you’ll be better at remembering them later.
  1. Repeat three times. When you meet Sabine at the coffee shop, repeat her name back to her. Try and use it another time as you chat. And say “Bye, Sabine, nice to meet you!” at the end. The third time’s the charm.
  1. Ask for a business card, write it down, or use your smartphone. Here’s my personal system: I keep a file in my iPhone just to record introductions. When I meet someone, and I don’t get their business card, I jot down their name right after the conversation. Plus another couple of key points to remember (for example, if they’ve mentioned family members or hobbies, I put that in there too).

Sometimes it really pays off. I ran into someone this summer, and I had his name on the tip of my tongue. Then I suddenly remembered I’d put him in my iPhone. Just recalling I’d written it down was enough to jog my memory: I quickly remembered his name, and wife and kids’ names too! He was impressed that I remembered. And with that win, I was finally able to lay my name shame to rest.

Do you have a story to share about remembering names? I’d love to hear from you! Join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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