“Ultimately, the pessimist and the optimist are both right.” This belief applies to the statement, “I am no good with names”. People who say this are basically right. Well, I am good at names. And, I am tight, too. I regularly meet people professionally and socially who marvel that I am good at names. Often, they quickly follow their admiration with an apology for not being good at names. So, what is the origin of my superpowers?
It all starts with a good attitude. I don’t know if I was born with it, or I learned it. But, a good attitude toward learning people’s names is the first step. Upon meeting a new individual, or becoming re-acquainted with someone I have previously met, I want to share my good attitude. I address them with a smile and by name. It is a matter of respect. I use their name immediately after getting it. Then I use it again. In a world full of “hey you”, “buddy”, “dude”, “my man”, even “sir”, people really like to hear their name. Ask an open-ended question (one that begins with what, how, or why) so when they answer it, you can respond with a comment like, “Abby, I see your point.“ By using someone’s name, the good attitude becomes contagious. If you mispronounce the name, ask them for help. Anyone who does not agree to help you with their name’s proper pronunciation probably has much larger personal issues at work. So to establish a show of respect, use the newly learned name. And while visiting with the person, continue to use it again and again.
If you are meeting people in a group, the next level in remembering names is to group names together in sections. When teaching a class, I can group, “Michael, Tom & Sue sitting in row two” or “Ramon, Anna and Zach on the left in the back”. You can even include the class in the game by repeating the rhymes out loud to have a built-in accountability for helping you remember. Besides rhymes and communal support for improving your name memory another success tactic involves connecting new names to a happy memory. For example, Clarice has red hair like my wife’s best friend of the same name. Or Dakota reminds me of a family camping trip in the Rocky Mountains. Triggering the happy memory in turns conveys a good attitude to associate with the new contact. The more pleasant and familiar the memory, the more you are willing to use the name.
Being good at names does not mean that one does not escape from time to time. What happens when after using the individual name, grouping people together, and associating them with happy memories, the name still escapes you? Ask again, politely and sincerely. Then, start using it.
Apply these name learning tips individually, or use them sequentially. But, definitely try them the next time that you meet someone. Over time it gets easier with practice, but results will be immediate. You will feel more confident with your new name memory prowess. The people you meet will marvel at you and you will, in turn uplift them. And, who wouldn’t want to uplift another?
By Glenn W. Hunter
Principal, Hunter & Beyond