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How To Remember Names

Trouble coming up with that name? We can help!

When it comes to difficulty remembering things, names are at the top of the list. And the older we get, the harder it is to remember them. You might think that’s just the way it is, and nothing can be done to help. It turns out that anyone can learn to better remember names. Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: First, you have to pay attention when someone is telling you their name. You can’t be focused on the delicious-looking hors d’oeuvres going by, looking at how nice her necklace looks on her dress, or thinking about what you are going to say next. You need to pay attention to her name! You can actually improve your ability to pay attention using techniques such as mindfulness.

Step 2: Next, repeat the name back to the person aloud. When they say, “Hi, I’m Victoria,” you say, “It’s nice to meet you, Victoria.” That simple act of processing the name and saying it aloud will really help you to remember it.

Step 3: Make an association between the person’s name and something that is meaningful to you, whether it be something public (like Queen Victoria) or something person (like my sister’s name is Victoria).

Step 4: Form a mental image between your association and the person in front of you. Imagine the Victoria in front of you wearing a crown, holding a scepter, and dressed like a queen. Or imagine your sister Victoria giving the Victoria you’ve just met a big hug or a peck on the cheek. Do these images seem silly? That’s good! The sillier the image the more likely you’ll remember it.

Step 5: Find something in the person’s appearance—their jewelry, clothing, face, hair, etc.—that will help you to remember their name. For names beginning with “V” like Victoria, look for a necklace or V-neck sweater and picture it as the first letter of their name. A pair of glasses held on their side looks like a “B.” The lower lip and chin can form a “D.” An ear can look like a “G.” Sometimes patterns on clothing can form letters or give you other associations with names. I once met a woman named Brooke who had a blue-and-white striped shirt that looked like many brooks flowing down her shirt.

Step 6: Lastly, say the name again, either in the conversation or to yourself, sometime in the next minute or so, then again 5 minutes later, and when part company to go get a drink. Say the name again as you’re driving home and again the next morning. Say it a week later, a month later, and six months later and you’ll remember that name for a very long time.

© Andrew E. Budson, MD, 2018, all rights reserved.


Budson AE, O’Connor MK. Seven Steps to Managing Your Memory: What’s Normal, What’s Not, and What to Do About It, New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.