The 3 Steps to Ensuring You Never Forget a Name

Updated: November 16, 2010

There are two parts to my madness, I mean method: Association and Repetition. I'm sure you're familiar with each of these. Now I will give you a formula for using them most effectively. Association starts with the first handshake. Begin as follows:

When shaking hands with someone for the first time:

  • Look at them closely
  • Rate the firmness of their handshake
  • Repeat their name out loud and ask one of the following:
    • If it's spelled the traditional way (as in John). There is always an untraditional way to spell common-sounding names and you will lose all the respect you've built up by calling them by their name when you write it on the board incorrectly. Some examples are Mechel, Jayne, Suezy, Marc, Thom, and Bryan
    • If it's an untraditional name, how they spell it (as in Dweezil, Steveanna, and Dashiell)


Next, associate their name to someone, somewhere, or something:

  • Association to Someone:
    Who else do you know by that name? Once you come up with someone find another commonality between them. Besides physique, look at:
    • Style of hair, clothing, speech, or humor
    • Personality type, happy, quiet, or even no personality

The more ridiculous here the better, e.g. do they have boyish-cut bangs, wear "stuffy" clothing, talk like a hillbilly, or think they're funnier than they really are? If you haven't had time to establish a personality, the handshake will tell you a lot, e.g., limp, firm, sweaty, etc.

Gabriel: As an example, Gabriel was a very handsome young gentleman I met, with a strong physique and eyes blue as the heavens. No-brainer for me here; "Gabriel the Angel" was forever his name in my mind (of course I just referred to him as Gabriel in class.

  • Association to Somewhere:
    Sometimes people's names will remind you more of a place. In that case, you will need to find a commonality between the person and the place.

Donegal: There was that guy named Donegal who of course immediately drew to mind the city in Ireland. I know nothing about "Donegal" but did perceive that his green-colored sweater could be made of wool. Green and sheep, Ireland, Donegal; I hoped it would work. And it did!

  • Association to Something:
    Some names remind you more of an item or thing rather than a person. Here again, you need to find another way the person reminds you of that item.

Rusty Nail: Take for example my brother-in-law Rusty Nail (yeah, that's really his name). He has red hair and a "to-the-point" personality (which I noticed upon our first meeting.) He in no way reminds me of a rusted nail in looks or personality; in fact, the only hair on his head right now is a small military regulation mustache. But, his mustache is "rusty" colored.

  • Two-named Persons:
    That last example reminds me of another variable in my method, that some people must go by both their first and last name. It just makes more sense.



The second part of this mad method is of course, Repetition.

  • First Repeat:
    The first repeat must come right away when they tell you their name and you're still shaking hands. I know people think I'm a little strange in that my handshakes tend to be longer than most, but it also makes them feel important, so no worries about what they'll think of you. If you need to clarify pronunciation or spelling, repeat it again after that clarification. Count all of this process as your "first repetition."
  • Second Repeat:
    After you have the names of a row or table of people, repeat their names in your head. If someone subsequently sits amidst that row, or changes seats, you will need to repeat in your head the new order of that row. There is no need to assign associations between the different names in the row because our brain will have then practiced in the correct order. Sometimes all the names beginning with "J" sit together. Or some rhyming names sit next to each other making memory recall easier. This process must be done for each table or row during gathering time to complete your second repetition step.
  • Third Repeat:
    Shortly after the event has begun, you must go through the whole room or area (or portion of thereof which you are concerned with) and repeat in your head all the names using the associations and orders you have practiced. Again, don't worry if people think you're looking at them. Just smile and they'll think they are important enough to deserve a second look (which they are!)


Well, that's it. Easy, huh? Will following this method be mistake-proof? NO. But you can use your mistakes to your advantage and usually to the delight of the subjects. I make a mistake with every group, and they always get a good laugh out of it. It's actually kind of important. Otherwise they may consider you a "show-off" because you can remember names.

Common mistakes

George: There was this wonderful gentleman in one of my classes that I accidentally called George (to this day I can't remember his real name). He corrected me. When this happens, I have to make a second association and do it out loud in front of everyone to help it stick better in my brain. Usually, just the fact that I made a second/better association and did so publically ensures I'll remember that name forever. However, the next time I spoke to him, I called him George again! Well instead of acting embarrassed, I just said, "there is some reason I want to call you George, but I don't know what it is so, may I just call you George?" They almost always say yes and actually feel special. The class laughs every time I say "George" and it makes for a fun day.

Janiero: This beautiful lady's name I saw in writing before I was introduced. So, I tried to pronounce it with my limited education of Spanish (shjaw-nee-air-oh). She explained that it was pronounced Jan-air-oh. So then I thought, "Oh, like Rio de Janeiro!" Then, when I went to write her name on the board, I spelled it wrong (ei vs. ie) and I was still mistakenly softening the pronunciation of the "J." I then admitted publically that her name would probably continue to stump me the rest of my life. This gave everyone great satisfaction to know I did not consider myself perfect AND that it was their group that would be remembered as the one that stumped me. Now the truth is, I've since then remembered how to pronounce AND spell her name, but in class I would always refer to her as the lady with the name that defeated the "world-class name rememberer." Again, fun was had by all!

Mark: Now how hard could this be? But the first time I forgot a guy named Mark's name, I said "Sorry, it must be because it's the same as my ex-husband's." The audience loved this SO much that I've started using it as an excuse for just about any gentleman's name in the group that I forget! Then, I say no, that's not really true, and try to come up with another association.

The common denominator between all these associations is, have fun at your expense. You will endear with rather than offend those whom you forget.

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