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How to remember names

Remembering names

Learning how to recall names can help your career and prevent some embarrassing moments.

Potential clients or customers, as well as employers, might feel insulted if you can’t remember their names, says Marshall Karp, MA, a career coach for the Phoenix Career Services™ resource at University of Phoenix. But even if they don’t feel slighted, he adds, you certainly don’t want to stare at them blankly, trying to figure out who they are.

Remembering names, Karp emphasizes, impresses people. In fact, he says the name-memory skills of a congressman had a lasting effect on him.

Karp says he spent less than one minute with the congressman at a meeting of more than 70 people. Yet, when the lawmaker was leaving the gathering an hour later and walked past Karp, he said, “Nice to meet you, Marshall.”

Here, Karp offers five things you can do to remember names:


Pay attention to peoples’ names during introductions. Too often, Karp points out, you’ll be thinking of other things when you hear names, so they don’t register. If someone then asks you about whom you met and you can’t answer, he says, it won’t be because you forgot the names — it’ll be because you never actually got them.


When people say their names, echo them back, such as, “Hi Sally, [it’s] nice to meet you.” Then, Karp suggests, follow the introduction with a question using the name in a sentence — “So, Sally, what do you do here?” — to reinforce the name in your brain.

“You’ve got to get the name from short-term memory to long-term memory, and one way is with repetition,” Karp advises. You also can try repeating the name to yourself several times if saying it aloud would be awkward.

Visualize or rhyme.

Use a mnemonic device, a trick to help with memory retention. Karp says one way to do this is to picture something that connects a memory to the name that you can use as a trigger. Maybe the initials of Sally’s full name spell out a common word that you can associate with her. You also can try to rhyme the name with the job of the person you meet. For instance, “Jack coaches track.”

Write it down.

Some people remember things better if they’re on paper, so write down the names of people you meet as soon as possible. Karp also suggests asking for business cards; names will be easier to remember when you see them in print. The more senses you use, the more likely you’ll retain the information.

Ask again.

Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask people to restate their names, Karp says, adding that they likely won’t mind, especially if you’ve just met. In fact, they may be impressed that you care enough to make sure you have their names correct, he notes, adding that they may think, “He’s trying to remember my name; that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”