Learning Names

I love being greeted by name. It feels good when someone cares enough to learn my name.

I know people who seem to know everyone’s name. My pastor Terry can walk down the aisle, shaking hands and greeting everyone by name. Art is always introducing me to someone new. And Chris the barista not only knows my name but also my ever-morphing “regular” order. Impressive!

Unfortunately, I don’t easily learn names. I have to work at it. Here’s what I do:

  • Make the most of introductions. When introduced, I intentionally listen for the other person’s name, not mine. If I don’t, I’ll walk away from the introduction, pleased I was introduced correctly, but I won’t even remember having heard the other person’s name. That’s a missed opportunity and stupid.
  • Ask spelling. I learn visually, so many times I’ll ask how the name is spelled. Picturing the name helps me remember it. Saying it immediately (It’s nice to meet you, Joe) also helps.
  • Write names down. After hearing a name, I learn it better if I write it down. In meetings, I”ll write down names on a “map” of the conference room table. Right now, my whiteboard at work lists seven names. Many times, I also write down a description like “blond, wavy” or “dark brown, ponytail.” Yeah, I know. Trying to recognize a woman by her hairstyle is fraught with danger, but that’s another long (and embarrassing) story. Sorry, Joyce… :-(
  • Memory tricks. I’ve found that putting the name in a silly sentence (If own-Lee I could learn Lee’s name; it would be a Christmas present to learn Chris’ name) helps. Alliteration also works. (“Tom Terry from Tigard” just clicked for me.) Recognizing that someone else I already know has the same name helps.
  • Review names. On the way to a social setting, I’ll review the names of people I’m likely to meet. Reviewing couple’s names in both orders (John and Mary; Mary and John) helps me to remember both names even if I can recall only one at first. I also review the names on my whiteboard a couple of times each day.
  • Use names. When I’m learning someone’s name, I force myself to use it. My natural inclination is not to use the name in case I’ve remembered it wrong. I’ve found that embarrassment helps me learn names.
  • Set expectations. When I meet someone, I tell them that I like to learn names but names don’t always “stick” the first time. Please don’t be offended if I ask for your name later. Note, this is the opposite of what I’ve heard elsewhere. Some say to avoid admitting that you’ve forgotten a name. Instead, they recommend you ask someone else or eavesdrop, hoping to hear the forgotten name. I prefer the direct approach, saying, “Hi, I’m Brent and I’m sorry, but I forgot your name.” Most the time, they’ve forgotten mine, too, and appreciate the opportunity to exchange names again.
  • Notice names. Many people wear name tags. I use these as opportunities to practice learning names.

These are the techniques that work for me but I’m always looking for more.

What about you? How do you learn names?

<< Next Post
Previous Post >>

4 responses to “Learning Names”

  1. Todd Avatar

    The best tip I’ve run across is to visualize writing the person’s name across their forehead while you’re talking to them. It’s worked for me pretty well.

  2. Brent Logan Avatar

    Oops! First time I read your comment, I skipped over “to visualize.” Um, yeah, writing the person’s name across their forehead would work. Do you recommend a Sharpie? ;-)

  3. Art King Avatar
    Art King

    I’m honored to be mentioned in your post, but I’m surely not an example of someone good with names. I always depend on my wife to remind me of people’s names. Your post has a bunch of really excellent ideas. Thank you!

  4. Brent Logan Avatar

    Hey, Art! I should have mentioned what I believe is your secret in learning names: have a genuine interest in the person whose name you’re learning. After all, learning names is about relationships, not a “friend collection.”