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Remember names - give yourself a networking advantage

Eilidh Milnes

How to Remember Someone's Name


In most cases, a person's name is the single most important word to in his/her vocabulary. An Eilidhism says,  "Hearing your name is like honey on the ears."

Names are intimately tied to identity, culture and heritage. How you deal with a stranger's name can have a profound effect on that person's impression of you. Think of how special you felt, when someone you admired and respected addressed you by your name; conversely recall a time when you felt belittled when someone called you by the wrong name, or maliciously made fun of your name.

Here are two simple tips to help you remember names. There are reputable professional sources such as Forbe,s which have written about this topic, so I'm not claiming that my tips are new. However, such experts are often targeting their advice to business, giving tips on how to socially network, schmooze, or otherwise impress people at work. I have written in this context previously. Read more. By way of contrast, I'm writing based upon my own experience.

You'll have to make hundreds perhaps thousands of introductions to strangers throughout your lifetime. (hermits excluded) Like taxes and death, personal introductions simply cannot be avoided, so it's wise to remember the most crucial bit of information - the other person's name.

Unfortunately, many of us totally forget the other person's name as soon as the introduction is over. Here's a typical scenario:

"Hi, I'm Marie"
You respond by saying your name: "Nice to meet you, Marie -  I'm Ernest"

A split-second later, you forget  her name because your mind is pre-occupied thinking about the next thing you're going to say, or too focused on listening to Marie. Likewise, Marie has totally forgotten your name for the same reasons.

The conversation might proceed for a few minutes, and then by the time you and Marie part company, neither of you can remember each others name, and you're probably too embarrassed to ask for it again.
I'm much more conscientious about remembering names nowadays. If you don't make an active effort to remember someone's name the first time he/she tells it to you, then it's really difficult for you to get another chance to do so. Let's do a re-run:

"Hi, I'm Marie"

As soon as you hear her name, start repeating Marie in your head loudly a few times - MARIE, MARIE,  MARIE. If you want to practice saying it out loud a few times, ask her about her name. "Marie, that's spelled M-A-R-I-E?"  or "How do you spell that?" The purpose of these questions is to simply get you and Marie to repeat her name a few times to help you to remember. This step should only take a few seconds at most, or else it can start feeling awkward. After all it could be Maria and you have mis-heard her.

Now introduce yourself: "Nice to meet you, Marie. I'm Ernest."
Unless you have something desperately urgent to say, let Marie talk, and as you listen to what she has to say, keep associating what she says with the name Marie. Think creatively about how you can clearly associate that name with her face. If you know someone else with the same name, try to associate that person with Marie; or if you know some clever mnemonic (memory aid) use it, no matter how absurd it might seem e.g. Marie likes tea.

When you finally part ways, mention her name to her e.g., "Great talking to you, Marie." This has the double benefit of making her feel good that you remembered her name, and also helps you reinforce her name in your head even deeper.

With practice and a genuine interest in people, you'll find that you become much better at remembering people's names.

Most people you'll meet will have conventional-sounding names, like John, Diane and Steve. However, you will inevitably meet people with unconventional, foreign-sounding, or hard-to-pronounce names. Like me, these folks are used to people forgetting or finding our names awkward, so you will make an extra good impression if you can accurately recall it. A name like Kahumbura is harder than Smith if you are not from the same culture. Believe me when people remember Eilidh, I am amazed and highly flattered! I always help them out and say it's like Ay-lee.

My main advice here is to gently ask the other person to repeat and clarify how exactly to pronounce their name: "Sorry, could you repeat how to say your name?"  People like me with unusual names are used to having to repeat or clarify our names, we don't mind, especially when we are meeting them for the first time. Forget about how to accurately spell our names. Focus on making up a phonetic spelling that's easy to remember. For a name like Evgeniya, you could think to yourself, Ev-jen-ya And when you address her again, you can ask her to repeat it, with something like "Did I pronounce it correctly? I want to get it right." At the very least, she'll appreciate that you're making an effort.

If you have a name that's difficult for others, offer help. My sister is Lawther. She introduces herself like this, "Hi I'm Lawther - that's Law-ther and it rhymes with bother."


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