This was the question that someone named Dan asked:
Why do we forget people’s names when we first meet them? I can remember all kinds of other details about a person but completely forget their name. Even after a lengthy conversation. It’s really embarrassing.
He’s not alone. We all are guilty, and it’s not because we are feeling fly about ourselves or something. It’s because of the way our memory works.
An article by the BBC explains that our minds store information based on how many associations we make with every new information, not how badly we want to remember it. This is the reason we day dream.
For example, reading about why the sky is blue may make you think of airplanes, and your friend Mary who recently moved to Canada and shared pictures of herself learning to ice skate. And perhaps you tell yourself, I would also like to ice skate.
So when you meet someone for the first time and learn their name, to your memory it is just another piece of information unconnected to anything else you know, and would later learn about them.
Here’s how to remember names using some basic principles of memory.
- You should repeat any name said to you. Practice is one of the golden rules of learning: more practice makes stronger memories. In addition, the more you use someone’s name in a conversation, the more you are linking it to yourself and to the current topic of the conversation in your memory. For example – So, James, just what is it about fish that makes you love it so much?
- Second, you should try to link the name you have just learnt to something you already know. It doesn’t matter if the link is completely silly, it is just important that you find some connection to help the name stick in memory. For example – the guy you just met is called James, and your primary school friend was also James. Though this guy is fair in complexion, Primary School James was dark, and he would never bleach his skin. It may sound silly, but it can help you remember.
- Finally, you need to try to link their name to something else about them. You could try to bridge between the name and something you have learnt about them. For example – James is a sort of biblical name, you get the King James bible after all, and James begins with J, just like Jonah in the bible who was swallowed by the whale, and this James likes fish, but I bet he wouldn’t like their smell on him!
It doesn’t matter if the links you make are weird. You don’t have to tell anyone. In fact, probably it is best if you don’t tell anyone, especially your new friend! But the links will help create a web of association in your memory, and that web will stop their name falling out of your mind when it is time to introduce them to someone else
And if you don’t think this will work, try this quick test. I’ve mentioned three names during this article. I bet you can remember James, who isn’t Jonah. And probably you can remember your friend Mary (or at least what she was doing in the pictures she shared). But you can you remember the name of the reader who asked the question? That’s the only one I introduced without elaborating some connections around the name, and that’s why I will bet it is the only one you’ve forgotten.
This principle may even be applied to your school work!
This article was culled from a BBC Future article, and have been adapted for the purpose of this article.