How To Remember Names

There are few things more frustrating (and potentially embarrassing) than forgetting someone’s name. For many it’s a constant problem. This can be a big issue for business networking, befriending your peers, or simply showing respect for people you see on a normal basis.

You can do something about it. You can learn how to remember names in a surprising amount of time. It just takes commitment to following through both at the point of introduction and immediately afterwards.

Own it in the introduction

Obviously this is where names are given, but it’s also the exact moment when the names are lost. Seriously, how often do you hear someone’s name then forget it seconds later? Too often. You need to make a conscious effort to own names the first time they are given to you.

  • The minute a person’s name is given, repeat it in your mind five times. This quick repetition exercise makes you stop and focus on the name and the person you’ve just met.
  • Use the name immediately in the next sentence. This could be your introduction back, such as “Hi Steven, I’m Mark.” Or it could be a continuing of the conversation, such as “As we were discussing, Steven…” By doing so, you are getting the name into your vocabulary immediately.
  • Ask an honest question (or make a polite statement) about the name. By doing so, you’re getting more opportunity to hear the name out loud. If it’s a tricky name, ask for its spelling. If it’s a unique name, politely ask about its origins. Make sure you’re not rude about it, as some people can be sensitive about unique names. If it’s a standard name, it’s a little tougher, but you can tie it in to some aspect of your life and make mention of it. Maybe you’ve got many colleagues that share the name, or your best friend from school has a similar name.

See the person: Build an impression

Often we talk without seeing. We don’t spend the time to really get a physical impression of the person who’s next to us. It’s especially true in quick meetings, classrooms, and networking events. It makes remembering names a challenge–really it makes it tougher to remember the person at all.

So during the conversation, spend time looking at the person (or people) you are talking to. Build strong impressions so that the people and the names have much better chances of sticking with you.

Use the name a few times naturally in conversation

Now that you’ve established the name during the introduction, you’ve got to get it into your regular usage. If you want frictionless recall of this name later on, you need to build up your muscle memory of using it. Pepper it into conversation when you can. Don’t force it–you don’t want it to appear unnatural as that can kill the rapport you’ve been building, but you must get used to saying it and seeing the face (and hearing the voice) of the person it belongs to.

Write the person’s name into your contact or address book as soon as possible

People often forget about the power of writing (or typing) things down. It can really help you own the name as you’re again having to repeat it, and you’re using new muscles and senses in the process. Your body is taking an action on the name, not just your brain. That helps things stick.

Be sure to also write down the context in which you met this person. Was it at a convention? At school? During work? Where exactly did you meet? Were there other specific things that make it stand out? These notes will give you much-needed hints later on, especially if it’s not someone you see often. It’s good to have a relationship with the name to jumpstart the memory.

Build associations between the name and the person

Or tie a relationship of your own with the name to the person. Either will help you remember the name. Even if it’s a loose association or relationship, the act of trying to create one actually helps solidify the name in your head, so give it a go!

Maybe the name has an obvious real word pairing. Associate that real word somehow with the physicality of the person (Mrs. Price likes pricy clothes.) Perhaps you had a best friend from grade school with the same name. You could even tie in rhyming techniques and your initial reactions to the person (Alice has no malice.) Again, even a loose pairing and the act of trying to build an association or relationship will help you own the name.

Memorizing Pi

Oh the dreaded 3.141592653589793238462643!

If you are dead set on memorizing Pi, we’re here to help. Yes, it’s a long number, but you can do it with a little know how and a bit of repetition. Ok, maybe a lot of repetition, but at the end you’ll be able to ramble off those numbers like a pro.

Defining Pi

You’re here to memorize the numbers, but it’s always good to know what you are memorizing. In short, Pi is simply a ratio. It’s the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a perfect circle. If you want to get into the dirty thick of the science, check out this Wikipedia page on Pi. Otherwise let’s get onto memorizing!

Memorizing Pi

Forget what you learned under Defining Pi.

When it comes down to memorizing Pi, it all starts with forgetting the definition. Yes, I said it was good to know, but for now stop looking at it as some ratio, and simply look at it as a random set of numbers that you must make your own.

Think of memorizing numbers in sets of three
Any long piece of daunting information, whether a number or a paragraph, will freeze you up when you look at it in its whole. Stop, take a breath, and break the number down into simpler sets.




And so on. These smaller sets are long enough to get movement, but not too long to feel like a deer in the headlights. Then begin repeating!

Own each set on its own and as part of the strand from the last number
What does this mean? Simply, get 3.14 down (that’s the easy one). Then repeat 159 until you feel confident with the number. THEN attach it to the number set that came before it. Essentially you are chaining your memorization bit by bit. As in this repeating segment:

3.14, 3.14, 3.14, 3.14

159, 159, 159, 159

3.14159, 3.14159, 3.14159

265, 265, 265, 265

3.14159265, 3.14159265, 3.14159265

And so on.

It may take more than three or four repetitions to get each new segment totally down, but this chaining process does work.

If you mess up during the chaining, stop and start again from the beginning

This is the frustrating part for many people. DON’T just pick up from where you left off. If you do you may create a memorization block right at that point. Instead start from the first 3.14 again and begin chaining each series of three one by one until you have it down perfect.

You’ll find through chaining that memorizing Pi or any longer numerical string is very possible in a surprising  amount of time! Though don’t shy away from other memorization techniques if this one is not working for you. Remember, not every technique works for every person, so be sure to try new techniques when you are in need.

How To Remember The Planets

Memorizing the planets is one of the first memorizing goals faced in our lives. It’s easy to do by creating something called an acrostic. Acrostics are simply sentences where the first letter of each word clues you into what you are trying to remember. So for the planets, create a sentence that uses the first letter of each planet name and then memorize the simple sentence.

REMEMBER: Pluto is no longer designated as a planet (it’s now a dwarf planet), so don’t add it to your acrostic.


So your sentence could be a widely used one like:

MVery Excellent Mother Just Served UNachos

Or you can make something up that is personal to you:

My Valuable Earth May Just Save Us Now

In both cases, you’ve now got that simple sentence to memorize that cues you in to the order of the planets. Acrostics are a big help for remembering any type of list, so try it out for other things, beyond the planets, too.

Exam Cram

Tomorrow’s the big test and you haven’t studied?? It’s time for an exam cram.

Let’s first say that cramming is the last resort. To get the most out of your learning, the right thing to do is to study the right way. But it can’t always be the case, and sometimes an exam cram is the only choice. In those moments, work from the tips and ideas below.

Keep in mind what exam cramming is

During an exam cram, you aren’t studying to own your material for the long-run. This is about getting as much material into your short-term memory as possible in the shortest amount of time as possible. You will forget 70% or more of this information within a few weeks. So if this knowledge is for your job security or your physical safety, you need to get through this test out of the way and go back to really learning the material asap.

Knowing this, don’t get caught up in experiential learning or other things to help you remember the material over time. Stick to blasting that material into your head through repetition and the other techniques listed here.

Strategize and make a quick plan

Don’t spend hours mapping out your cramming session, but do take a step back and think about what you already know, what your teacher is like and what types of tests have been given in the past. Then look at your study material and decide what you have to hit versus what you can  push to the side. If you know certain pieces of info cold, don’t touch it again. If your teacher gives multiple choice tests, that will affect how you study (you only need to be able to recognize the right one, not remember it cold). If there’s an area where your mind is a big blank, obviously that’s where you begin.

Know yourself and how you cram best

Some people need absolute quiet and alone time. Other people cram extremely well with a study group. Know what setting you need and make it happen. Don’t be pressured to join a group if you cram best alone.

Follow the 80/20 rule

You are not going to be able to memorize everything in an exam cram, so it’s important to be ready to throw some knowledge out the door. Once you feel you know a concept 80% of the way (or that it is mostly memorized), move on. That last twenty percent will more than likely be a waste of time during a cramming session.

Study the first few pages of each chapter of a textbook and the last few

This is where the majority of the things you need to know are going to be laid out. Textbooks typically follow a logical pattern. Each chapter begins with laying out the most important principles and terms and ends with a tying together of the key concepts. That’s your 80% right there. If you memorize what’s in those pages, you’ll be in decent shape for a test.

Don’t forget your notes or get some notes from a classmate

Sometimes teachers flat-out say that quiz from the lecture material. Other times, you are just going to have to learn if that’s true from previous tests. If your teacher quizzes mostly on lecture material and not on the text book, then spend 80% of your time going through the notes, not the textbook. If you don’t have notes, then this is step 1 in your exam cram. Get some from a classmate immediately.

Repeat, repeat, repeat the key terms and ideas. And then repeat them some more.

Repetition is your best friend when cramming. You are just bombing your memory with info – getting enough of it to stick for one class session. You can spice it up, though.

  • Use flashcards or index cards
  • Write out the notes again so your brain processes the words in a different way
  • Use mnemonic devices like acronyms and acrostics for tough terms and repeat those over and over
  • Speak the terms out loud, so you get your hearing involved in the learning
  • If you are with a study buddy, quiz each other out loud. The teaching/repeating model is a great way to soak in information fast

Plan for some sleep and book-end your cramming around it

An all-nighter may be tempting, but your memory will come up short if you are overly tired. Instead cram for a few hours before bed, then wake up extra early to study more. You will feel more refreshed. Study the toughest things before bed so that your brain can help you tie all of those pieces together while it rests. In this way, that sleep is working for you!

Be careful with caffeine and other stimulants

Another big temptation, but if these stimulants are used the wrong way, you may be crashing and burning before the test even begins. Plus, if you are over-stimulated, your focus is going to be all over the place. During an exam cram and the actual test, focus is key.