From The Daniel Island News

Do you have trouble remembering people's names?
By Steve Ferber
Jan 30, 2013 - 9:04:31 AM

If so, you’re not alone. Extensive research supports the notion that people’s names are among the most difficult words to remember. And theories abound. The leading candidate is that names are arbitrary and meaningless, that is, a person’s name is an isolated element with no unique associative qualities (contrast this with, say, a person’s career or hobby).  This would explain why it’s easier to remember nicknames, since they often are linked to particular traits or events.
The truth is, a person’s name generally provides few clues about their appearance or their personality.  It may hint at their age, or their birthplace, but names typically provide weak semantic hooks. And a 2010 study by Zenzi Griffin supported this notion, saying that “several factors . . . conspire to make personal names particularly difficult to retrieve.”
One study (conducted by Gillian Cohen and Dorothy Faulkner) provided participants with fake names and biographies, then asked them to recall information about those people.  Here’s what people remembered most (according to an article written by Maia Szalavitz for
• Jobs: 69%
• Hobbies: 68%
• Home towns: 62%
• First names: 31%
• Last names: 30%
Faces are a different matter altogether. They’re just easier to remember. But why?  An article in offers these compelling reasons:
1. Our visual memory is stronger than our aural memory;
2. You hear a person’s name just once, but see their face over and over (every glance is a new impression);
3. People often don’t pronounce their name clearly (said the article at “Don’t blame yourself for forgetting something you never knew”; and
4. Lack of attention.
Remembering names . . . is a “mighty good investment”
Perhaps the most worthwhile advice comes from, which reminds us that “attention to new names is a mighty good investment.”  The article counsels us to “have a strong and definite purpose in mind to grasp and retain the name of every person you meet.”
How then do we go about improving our skills?
The most popular technique – or at least the one most commonly cited – is memory association, that is, forming an immediate association between the person’s name and a unique characteristic (the person’s appearance, their job, their clothing, etc). And repetition also works – if you repeat someone’s name back after you are introduced, and immediately use it in conversation, you’ll have a better shot at remembering their name.  
Additional guidance comes from
• Mental picture: “Every time you meet a stranger, say to yourself: ‘I’ll know you the next time I see you.’ Then associate the name with the face that goes with it. Use any unusual feature as a peg to hang the name on . . .. Make a mental picture of the person’s face; select some notable features for special attention (anything that’s unique or distinctive) . . ..
• Attention and Intention: “Be prepared to make a good, clear mental impression for your mental photograph . . .. When introduced, focus all your attention on the name, hear it, speak it, write it, see it, taste it, smell it, feel it with a grip that never lets go, and ten to one you will never forget it.
Steve Ferber is author of “21 Rules to Live By,” available for purchase either at or Island Expressions, located on Daniel Island. Reviews at

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