You're considerate, polite, and well aware of the value of a great first impression. So why on earth is it that half the time when you're introduced to someone new, literally seconds later you've completely forgotten his or her name?

Blame it on your brain. According to a fun short video from Asap Science, the problem isn't specific to you, it's how humans are wired. While we're programmed to retain information that seems relevant and which we can tie to other facts and sensations we're already storing in our heads, if a piece of data, like a name, is context-less and random there's less for the brain to latch on to.


"Names are completely arbitrary and hold no specific information in them, and if your brain can't make connections between multiple pieces of information... then you're more likely to forget that information," the video explains. Plus, you might be distracted thinking of how you're going to introduce yourself (or because you're scanning the room for the waiter with those tasty hors d'oeuvres).

But just because this problem is widespread doesn't make it any less embarrassing. Armed with information about what causes names to go in one in one ear and out the others, can we figure out any ways to remember this all important bit of information about new acquaintances? Certainly, useful tips abound, including:

1. Pay attention

The tasty hors d'oeuvres problem is the easiest to fix. If nerves or absent mindedness are contributing to your issues with names, simply take a minute before you meet someone new to remind yourself to focus completely on the interaction. "Mentally make a decision to remember the name before you hear it. This focuses your brain and directs it to store the name in your long-term memory. You can imagine that this person is very powerful and important and that it's in your interest to remember their name!" instructs Lifehack.

2. Repeat it out loud

Continue focusing by actually using the names you learn as soon as possible. "When you get someone's name, don't just nod and continue the conversation, try to plug the name into what you're saying. For example, if the man in front of you says his name is Mark, say, 'Hi, Mark, nice to meet you.; Or ask a question with his name at the end, 'How long have you been working in IT, Mark?'" advises Kristi Hedges on Forbes.

3. Create associations

The problem with remembering names is that you don't have anything to associate them with, but that's easy to fix with a little creativity. When you meet someone new consciously link their name with a person or image to help it stick in your brain, recommend a host of experts.

"Your brain works best when you can link two facts together. Start with something you already know. Think of someone famous or a memorable image. Lock in on the first famous person or image that comes to mind. If you meet a man named George, you could associate that person with George Clooney or Curious George. Or if you learn he is from Alaska, you could think of him making an igloo or throwing snowballs," writes blogger Jason Treu on Brazen Careerist, for instance.

4. Spell it out

Unusual names present both problems and opportunities. You probably can't associate them with a famous person as suggested above, so what's the solution? Try spelling it out. "Psychiatrist and memory expert Dr. Gary Small suggests asking someone to spell his or her name, especially if it's an unusual one. This technique can be helpful if you have a visual memory, as it creates a mental picture of the person's name," notes Hedges.

Another idea? Break unusual names into pieces and create a little story with the sounds. "Make the story highly visual, especially great if the story sounds silly and makes you laugh. Example, 'Bengodi' -> 'Ben Affleck is going to become a deejay,'" explains Tina Su on Think Simple Now. I can personally attest that this one works. Years ago I met a man named Rohit who, when introducing himself to me, mimed rowing a boat and hitting a baseball. I still vividly remember him over a decade later.

5. Focus on their face

"Note any distinguishable facial features," Lifehack also suggests. "What is different or unusual about this person? For example someone may have unusually curly hair and you may remember them as 'curly sue'. By associating their name with the characteristic the next time you meet them, you're memory will be triggered by the feature (in this case curly hair) which will in turn trigger the name! (curly sue)."

6. Write it down

Your memory might be unreliable, but your smartphone's isn't. If the situation permits, don't forget you can always ask for a card or save their number to your phone. Su even suggests carrying a small notebook for the purpose of recording names (especially to events where you're likely to meet lots of new people). "At conferences, I will have a page in my notebook dedicated to names. After meeting someone new, I would write it down in this page along with a quick distinct reminder about that person," she says.

7. Ask again!

Last but not least, don't be afraid to ask for the person's name again if your brain fails you the first time around. Getting the person to repeat his or her name has to be more polite than simply continuing to awkwardly avoid revealing your ignorance. Plus, forgetfulness about names is such a common problem, your new acquaintance is bound to understand.

Published on: Oct 9, 2015