6 Clever Ways to Remember Someone’s Name

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Despite the beautiful complexity of the human brain, momentary lapses will always exist. There will always be a split second (or longer if you are unlucky) of time when your neurons seem to stop firing, halting in an embarrassing forgetfulness. Most commonly, this event occurs when you run into someone you haven’t seen in a long time. Though you remember the face, there’s zero chance you can remember the name.

We’ve all been there. You proceed through pleasantries and small talk, but your brain remains fumbling through the filing cabinet, attempting to find an inkling of memory hinting toward the human’s name. Though it’s nice to see a familiar face, you wish you hadn’t run into the other person. You are waiting for the embarrassment when they realize that you have no clue what to call them.

Was it Mark? No, it couldn’t have been Mark.

There are a plethora of articles detailing clever tricks on how to remember someone’s name when you hear it. There are always little brain hacks to help keep memories at the forefront. But, if you just learned these concepts, there are hundreds of names you didn’t do it with. There are hundreds of people that you could run into and still not know what to call them (even after all the tricks).

Here are clever ways to remember or relearn someone’s name when you run into them.

Why Can’t We Remember Names?

Here’s a little science for you.

Why are names so easily forgotten? Even if we deem the person as important, their title can quickly slip through the cracks. Meanwhile, people can remember the entirety of a song’s lyrics without trying.

At the end of the day, memory is a strange thing. Though the human brain can quickly recall numbers quickly, which certainly seems more complicated to most, words can sometimes fall through the cracks. The simple explanation is that we don’t care.

Charan Ranganath, the director of the Memory and Plasticity Program at the University of California, Davis, told Time, “People are better at remembering things that they’re motivated to learn. Sometimes you are motivated to learn people’s names, and other times it’s more of a passing thing, and you don’t at the time think it’s important.”

Ranganath went on to explain that even if we are determined to learn the name and care, our brains can still underestimate the work it takes to remember a simple word. It’s a whole combination of connecting a name to a face, encoding it in a brain full of other memories. Even our brains don’t know how hard they have to work!

How to Get Past It

Once again, we are not giving you tips on how to remember someone’s name better when you learn it. We are giving you social tips on how to skirt by (or relearn someone’s name) when you run into them physically. These are ways to get them to say or write their name, giving you an out before you are outed.

These methods may not always work, but they are worth a shot. It can be disheartening to learn that someone doesn’t know your name when you remember theirs. If you are an empathetic person, you don’t want to put this feeling of doubt and disappointment on another human. You also don’t want to come off as uninterested in the other person or uncaring.

Here are a few ways to get out of the situation with style and grace.

1. I Need to Update Your Contact Info, How Do I Spell Your Last Name?

The beautiful power of a cellphone.

While we often think of cell phones as devices that lead to a plethora of knowledge and convenience, there are more benefits than you’d imagine. In these name-remembering circumstances, having a cell phone can be a quick way out.

When you run into someone who you don’t remember, pull out your phone and tell the person that you’re not sure if you have their updated contact info. Start by asking for the last name first, as many last names have diverse spellings. If you request the first name first, the person might realize you forgot their name. By asking for the last name first, you can request how to spell it and then ask for the spelling of their first name.

Got it? That was a lot of words. Let’s set an example.

The conversation would go something like this:

You say, “I don’t think I ever got your phone number! Can I add you?”

“Sure,” they will hopefully say.

“How do I spell your last name?” which should result in a spelling. You can then go on to say, “And the spelling of your first name?”

If it’s a common name, just respond by saying, “Yeah, that’s what I assumed. I wanted to make sure I have the correct spelling. Thanks.”

Social Media Works Here, Too

It’s important to note that we live in a world devoid of phone calls. Most people are quick to give out their social media profile (i.e. Facebook or Instagram), before giving their phone numbers.

If you decide you would rather ask them for their social, or they say to add them on their social, it still works the same way. Ask them what their last name is or their profile name. Getting it should allow you to see their full name (or something close). It’s the same method with a different platform.

2. Ask to Call You

This is an easy one.

If you believe that you have received their number before, ask them to call you to make sure. Say, “Hey! I don’t think I have your number, but I might. Can you call me to make sure it’s in my phone?”

When the person calls you, their name should pop up. Now you have an easy way to see what it is. If they don’t pop up, hand them your phone and ask them to put their information in (or result back to tip 1).

Aren’t phones wonderful?

3. Bring Up a Memory

This one is a bit complicated and relies entirely on your relationship with the individual. If you know for sure that you have spent a decent amount of time around them or have mutual friends, this can help to kickstart your memory.

Simply put: discussing a past event or mutual friend can help spark your memory, bringing back a flood of information. If you can begin a conversation regarding a past event or person you spent time with together, you may be able to connect the face to the name.

Often, this is what happens when the person walks away. After you finish the conversation and stop thinking about the name, you will start thinking about memories of the human. The name will come to you then.

For example, if you met the person at a party at a mutual friend’s house, bring it up. Say, “I haven’t seen you since the party at Adam’s, right? That was a great time, wasn’t it?”

Start that conversation and see where it leads. It’s possible it may help you bring back the name. If it doesn’t, you can always maneuver to one of the other tips after.

Ask When You Last Saw Each Other

If you can’t remember a specific memory, ask for one. This can put the shoe on the other foot, allowing them to be in the driver’s seat of the conversation. Hopefully, their discussion of a memory of you will help bring up their name.

Say, “It’s been too long! When was the last time we saw each other?”

4. If There’s A Third, Ask Them to Introduce Themselves

This is the most common tip in regard to how to remember (or relearn) someone’s name. Unfortunately, it relies entirely on having another person with you.

If you run into a person and have a person with you that hasn’t met them, you can pass them off as an introduction. For example, if you run into the person with your spouse, say, “Hey! It’s so good to see you. This is my partner, Grace.”

Usually, you would go on to say, “Grace, this is [person’s name],” as a formal introduction. In this case, you are going to stop directly short of that, giving the other person the floor to introduce themselves. They won’t want to be rude and will greet the new person with their name.

Bada bing! You’ve now got their name.

Of course, this tactic involves a bit of luck. It’s possible that it doesn’t work and the person notices you didn’t say their name in the introduction. There may be an awkward pause as it dawns on the other party. Most of the time, the other person won’t call you out on not knowing their name. They will just introduce themselves after the awkward pause and move on. They may still be hurt by it, though.

5. Ask For Their Business Card

This one relies entirely on a professional relationship or knowing what the other person does for a living. If the person is a mutual friend that’s not through a professional connection, you may not be able to pull this one off.

The tip works similarly to the phone situation but avoids the possible slip-up of asking the person to spell their name. Ultimately, you ask the other person for their business card in relation to their profession. It may seem weird, especially if you are supposed to know the other person’s information, but you can move the card need over to another ‘friend’.

For example, if you know the person works in graphic design, say you have another friend that may be looking for a graphic designer. Ask them if you could have one of their business cards to give to the other person. This should be a quick and painless process.

Of course, if the person doesn’t have a business card on them, you may be in danger. Furthermore, if you don’t know what they work in, you can’t pull this move. Or, if you know that you didn’t already learn their profession, you could ask them where they work or if they work nearby. That should give you an opening to start discussing their profession and then ask for a business card.

6. You Can Always Be Honest

This is by far the easiest and most respectful way to overcome awkwardness. Give the person a hug if appropriate, genuinely smile, and tell them you’re horrible with names. Ask them to remind you. There’s a strong chance they forgot your name as well!

Think about it this way: everyone is bad with names. It isn’t just something you have an issue with. There’s a reason there are countless articles about the situation. It’s very, very possible the person doesn’t remember your name either, especially if you only met them a few times.

There’s nothing wrong with being honest. At the end of the day, it’s easier to overcome the awkwardness of telling them outright that you don’t remember their name than them figuring out you don’t through conversation. Sometimes acting isn’t worth it.

What method you choose depends entirely on the situation. If you feel like you should know the other person (whether through important connections, business, or multiple meetings) then you may want to attempt one of the other methods first. If you get caught, apologize and tell the truth.