The Key to Connection: 6 Ways to Remember Names

“A person’s name is–to that person–the sweetest and most important sound of any language.” - Dale Carnegie

It was April 15, 2010, the release day of the first iPad. I had reserved mine for pick-up at the local Apple Store. My daughter, Olivia, wanted to join the fun. When we got to the mall, there were several hundred people in line waiting to get their hands on the new device. Apple was only allowing a certain number of people in the store at a time. Olivia and I waited in line for about two hours, slowing making our way to the front. Finally, we came to the entrance of the store where we were greeted by a lovely Apple associate named Shamira. She introduced herself and said, “Isn’t this exciting? You’re getting an iPad!” Then she asked my name and my daughter’s name. Shamira was warm and welcoming, but I did not think much of our short conversation.

I brought my new iPad home that weekend. My wife decided she wanted one too, so we went back to the Apple Store the following Tuesday night. Shamira was there. To my amazement, she said, “Hi Del! How do you like your iPad, and where is Olivia?”

I immediately said, “Wait a minute. There must have been hundreds of people in line on Saturday morning. How in the world did you remember my name and my daughter’s name?”

Shamira said, “Well, first of all, I didn’t remember everyone’s name. But I do make an effort to remember names. When you said your name was Del, I thought of Dell Computer, and I have a best friend whose name is Olivia.”

When you remember and use people’s names, two good things happen: You make the other person feel special, and you come across as one very sharp cookie. That was my impression of Shamira. 

The old TV show Cheers theme song rings true: we want to go “where everybody knows your name.” Remembering another person’s name creates a unique connection.

Everyone has an unconscious, positive emotional reaction at the sound of his or her name.

Here are 6 strategies to help you remember names. Don’t simply dismiss these strategies because you think you are lousy at remembering names. Anyone can get better.

1. Concentrate.

We often do not concentrate on other people’s names when we first meet them. By the time the brief encounter is over, we are often frustrated because we don’t recall their name. When you first meet someone, make it a point to shake their hands, notice the color of their eyes and focus on their name.

2. Repeat their name.

When you first meet someone, use their name several times in your initial conversation. Do not overdo it, or it will come across as insincere or sales-y. But mentioning their name a few times helps solidify it in your mind.

3. Ask them to spell their name.

I once was introduced to a woman named Brunni. I did not know if I heard it correctly, so I simply asked her to spell it. When she did, it not only confirmed that I heard the name right but by visualizing the spelling, it greatly enhanced my likelihood of remembering it. Even common names like Kathy or Sean have various spellings, so you can ask, “Kathy with a K or a C?” It conveys your interest in them and helps you recall their name the next time you see them. (Don’t do this if the name commonly has only one spelling–e.g. Pam, Nancy, or Steve. That would be weird.) 

4. Alliteration

Alliteration is when two or more words start with the same letter. For example, I recently met a woman named Linda. She told me that she has a job at a hospital in Medical Records. During our initial conversation, she said she really misses her previous job of working face-to-face with patients at a physician practice. I thought to myself “Lonely Linda.” Now, Linda isn’t really lonely, but I simply concentrated for a few seconds after the conversation thinking of Linda being lonely at her job. This may seem silly, but it is actually very effective, and no one needs to know what your internal strategy is.

Here are some other simple examples:

  • Perky Pam
  • Shy Sharon
  • Tall Tom

5. Association

Associate the person whose name you are seeking to remember with someone familiar. This is a common technique, but it works well.

For example, my wife’s name is Karen. It is easy to remember people whose name is Karen because I simply associate them with my wife’s name. 

A few years ago, I often saw a guy at the gym in the morning before work. After seeing him repeatedly, I decided to introduced myself. He said his name was Paul. Now Paul is about my age and has a full head of hair. I associated him with Paul McCartney of the Beatles who were known as ‘mop tops.’ Once I did this, it was quite easy to remember his name. And the cool thing is that once you get to know someone, you don’t have to work at remembering names. It just comes naturally. (It doesn’t take great mental effort to remember the names of your children or your best friend.)

6. Visualization

This technique has worked very effectively for me. Here is how it works: When you meet someone, come up with a way to visually remember their name.

For example, I recently met a woman named Lois. I pondered for a few seconds on how to visualize her name. I came up with the idea of Lois Lane and pictured her briefly flying through the skies with Superman. It is a crazy idea, but it certainly crystallized her name in my mind. I have had no problem recalling her name since.

Every business is a relationship business. If you want to make a convincing, positive impression with others, remembering and using another’s name is powerful.

By the way, Shamira still works at that Apple Store. I saw here a few months ago, and she immediately came up to me and said “Hi Del.” I continue to be amazed.