How to Remember Peoples' Names

Patrick Kelly, Marketing 101By Patrick D. Kelly, a partner with Steptoe & Johnson PLLC in Charleston, WV.  This article is excerpted from his new bookRainmaking 101, How to Grow Your Client Base and Maximize Your Income.  Patrick can be reached at 304.353.8119 and that a man’s name is,
to him, the sweetest and most
important sound in any language.
—Dale Carnegie
For many of us, remembering names is difficult, but make no mistake: It is extremely important in building relationships. People like to hear their own names. It has been said that the sweetest sound in the world is hearing one’s own name. If that is true, and I believe it is, then we must place great importance on learning names. When you remember a person’s name, you make that person feel important, and you begin to establish a personal rapport. One of my friends claims he cannot remem­ber names, yet he can memorize the batting statistics of dozens of Major League baseball players. The fact is he canremember names. He simply doesn’t place any importance on doing so. You need to make a conscious decision to remember names and place a high priority on it. If you apply yourself and use a few helpful tools, you can do it.

Word Association

When you meet a new person, try to associate the person’s name with something you like, such as a place, object, actor, phrase, color, or animal. “Ralph Wilson looks like Tom Hanks.” “Mike-Maryland.” “Jean-Jaguar.”


Turning names into pictures also may help. For a person named Barney, you might think of a barn. For Katrina, visualize a cat. Try different associations until you find something that works for you.



Repetition is a very effective way to learn any type of infor­mation. If you think about the poems, prayers, and stories that you can recite from memory, chances are you remember them because you said them or heard them over and over again. Why do more people know the words to the Pledge of Allegiance than the “Star Spangled Banner”? Because they said the Pledge of Al­legiance every day at school. Repetition is a very strong tool that works in our conscience and our subconscious. You can use this important tool to help you remember names.


Repeat Names Aloud

When you are introduced to a new person, listen carefully for her name. Most people don’t catch the person’s name because they are too busy thinking about the next thing they want to say, and they aren’t listening. After a person says his name, repeat it aloud while you shake hands. For example, someone intro­duces you to Jim Brown. When you extend your hand, say, “Jim Brown, it is nice to meet you.” This exercise allows you to repeat the new person’s name and assures that you have learned the name correctly. If you didn’t learn the name correctly, Jim likely will correct you in a polite manner. This habit is extremely effec­tive because of its simplicity.

law firm marketing, business developmentRepeat, Repeat, Repeat

When you meet someone new, repeat his name three times. If you are uncomfortable doing that aloud, say it to yourself three times. This experience will help you remember his name.

How do you say a person’s name aloud three times without looking ridiculous? The first time is when you shake the person’s hand and say, “Jim Brown, it is nice to meet you.” After that, during the course of your conversation with Mr. Brown, work his name into the conversation. The easiest way to do that is by say­ing the person’s name before a question. “Jim, how do you think the Steelers will do this year?”

Instead of asking, “Where are you from?” ask “Jim, where are you from?” You can incorporate the person’s last name by saying something like, “Is the Brown family originally from Pitts­burgh?” This will keep the conversation at a more personal level. By sporadically saying your new acquaintance’s name, you will reinforce it in your mind. Moreover, the sense of familiarity will hasten the development of a relationship.

If another person is present, immediately introduce your new acquaintance to that person. “Gloria, do you know Jim Brown?” By saying his name, you again reinforce your memory.

Learn the Name Correctly

Remembering someone’s name incorrectly is very danger­ous because it may be difficult to change what you have learned. Don’t hesitate to ask someone to repeat his or her name when you are introduced. Often people are introduced or introduce themselves hurriedly, and you can’t understand the name you hear. It is important to ask them to repeat their name so you can learn it and learn it correctly.

Some names are complicated. Ask for help with complicated names and make a sincere effort to pronounce the name cor­rectly. Never respond by saying, “That is a mouthful,” or some other disrespectful statement. You may feel embarrassed about asking, but remember, it is not about your comfort level. The goal is to make your new acquaintance feel respected.

Seeing Is Remembering

If you are a person who learns by seeing things rather than hearing things, look at the person’s nametag. Seeing the name written may reinforce it in your memory.

Also, ask your new acquaintance for her business card. For visual learners, seeing the person’s name on the card may help you remember it. Moreover, you can refer to the card later to reinforce your memory. Place the business cards you collect in a drawer or envelope with other names and cards you have col­lected and review them on a regular basis. That will help you memorize through repetition. Better yet, purchase client relation­ship-management software to keep track of your contacts or cre­ate a database of your own that you can access easily.

I Can’t Remember His Name!

Have you ever been in the situation where you see someone you know but you just can’t remember his name? It happens to me all the time. I will remember the face and some detail about the person, but I just can’t think of his name or I am not sure what his name is. If this happens to you, try the following tips:

Introduction plan. If you attend an event with a spouse or friend, develop a plan to help each other. If one of you does not immediately say the name of a person, the other person’s job is to extend his hand and introduce himself. The mystery person likely will introduce himself and you can hear the name. Third-party pass. If a person enters a conversation and you can’t remember his name, introduce this mystery person to a per­son whose name you do know. “Have you ever met Bill Perkins?” The mystery person will likely complete the introduction himself. 

Ask for a phone number. When you encounter a person you have not seen in a long time and cannot remember his or her name, hand that person a blank piece of paper and ask him to write his telephone number or e-mail address on it. Inevitably, he will not only write the requested information, but he will also write his name next to it. When he hands it back to you, just take a quick peek, and you will learn his name! It is amazing how this little trick works, especially with phone numbers.

Business Meetings

When you go to a business meeting and suddenly find yourself at a table with several people you don’t know, draw a diagram of the table with a star marking the place where you are sitting. As people introduce themselves around the table, write their names on the diagram at the places they are sitting. You may only have time to write first names, and that is all right. You can fill in last names later. If you miss a name, leave a blank space and listen for someone else to say the name during the meeting. When you hear the name, write it in the empty spot on the diagram. If you don’t have paper, offer each person a business card and politely ask for their business card. When the people around the table in­troduce themselves, arrange the business cards in a pattern based upon where the people are seated at the table.

Time Is of the Essence

Remembering people’s names is extremely important in de­veloping relationships. It is critically important to concentrate on learning a person’s name as soon as you meet her. Odds are you will not learn a person’s name if you do not learn it within the first 30 seconds of meeting her. Remembering names is a skill and, like any skill, it takes time and practice to develop.

Practice Time

Are you interested in practicing any of these techniques? Turn on the TV and watch a movie. Try to remember the names of all of the characters who appear in the movie. It can be quite challenging, and it is great practice.

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