This Holiday Season, WRAP a Name
Updated: Oct 18
Tips to Help You Remember Names for
Stronger Personal Connections & Broader Professional Networks
As the holiday season is upon us, around the globe, old & new families & friends gather, organizations host holiday celebrations, and opportunity awaits in each circumstance to build & develop new personal and professional relationships. The first step & key component to impressing on others that you wish to connect, network, and value this developing relationship is learning….and remembering their name. If you don’t recall someone’s name, you might be able to finesse your way out of it, or if unsuccessful, you might find yourself in a somewhat embarrassing situation. To illustrate & reiterate how not being able to remember someone’s name can be embarrassing, I share with you a story that a close friend has shared with me and others many times, and has given me permission to share with you all. My friend is fortunately very good at remembering the intricate details about where he has met a person and the context of their interaction, but to his misfortune, will forget one of the most critical aspects of developing a connection, i.e., the individual’s name! My friend ran into a former business school classmate a few years after they had graduated, while waiting in line at a local cafe. (This is someone that my friend had classes with and interacted with on a fairly regular basis during their graduate school years.) After exchanging pleasantries and recognizing they needed to catch up on the years they had missed, they (like many of us), pulled out their cell phones to share numbers with a commitment to meet up soon over drinks. As is typical for him, my friend, holding his phone out, ready to enter in his former classmate’s contact information, realized he had forgotten his name! Also, as is typical practice for my friend, he was going to try any angle he possibly could to find out what his friend’s name was (other than directly asking him), and ‘finesse’ his way out of this potentially embarrassing situation. My friend thought he had a brilliant plan--so he went for it--he asked his former classmate to spell his name. His former classmate laughed and said, “You don’t remember my name, do you?!”. My friend, trying to hold strong and continue to not let on that he had in fact forgotten his friend’s name, tried to suavely state that he did in fact remember it, he just didn’t want to misspell it. This is when his former classmate had confirmation that my friend had indeed forgotten his name. His former classmate now chuckled even louder and while looking at my friend straight in the eyes, asserted, “You couldn’t misspell my name, even if you literally spelled it backwards….my name is BOB!”. My friend was embarrassed by forgetting Bob’s name, and moreover, unsuccessfully trying to ‘sneak out’ of this situation without letting on that he had forgotten. What made my friend feel even worse about this incident was the fact that Bob, who has a fairly common name here in the U.S., was able to recall my friend’s far less common name without difficulty. Luckily, in this situation, Bob was very playful & understanding about my friend not being able to recall his name. However, that may not always be the case. Forgetting someone’s name can be embarrassing. It can maybe even have the potential of being offensive in certain situations.
How do you help not embarrass yourself or unintentionally offend someone this holiday season & beyond? You WRAP their name! There are strategies that can be deployed to engrain someone’s name in your memory for years to come. These strategies that I present to you are not new, and they are not specific to just helping remember names. In fact, they are used on a daily basis by thousands of my Speech-Language Pathology colleagues that work in clinical settings, helping patients who struggle with injury-/disease-related memory challenges, training these patients on how to use these strategies with all types of information they need to store & recall, not just names. These strategies are universal, and can benefit everyone, with application to all types of information, not only names.
Write it down. Meeting someone new? Get their contact information and ask them to spell it as you enter it your phone. Make a note/memo in your phone or wherever you might be writing down their name & contact information about any information that may help you remember who they are, where you met them, and/or why you should care about this information (e.g. the organization they work for, someone that can connect you with that person on LinkedIn that you have been waiting to be introduced to, or an interesting fact or hobby that sparked your interest & makes you want to get to know more about that person). Maybe they already have it written down for you-on their business card. Make sure you keep that in a safe, easily accessible place. If you know that there is a chance of you running into someone or you will be needing to call them in the near future, write down notes about important information you wish to bring up in subsequent conversations, e.g., their children’s names, a charity event that they are hosting, etc.
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat… The more times you say the person’s name, the better the chance of you being able to retrieve that name from your memory ‘bank’ when you need it. However, this is a bit tricky. You most certainly do not want to simply repeat their name 5 times in a row upon learning it, while you are in conversation to ‘drill it’ into memory. Doing so is awkward and takes away from the opportunity to extend other meaningful content in your current conversation. Try to repeat it in a more natural way. When first meeting an individual, instead of just saying, “Nice to meet you.”, use this moment as an opportunity to repeat their name & have your neural pathways take note…try to instead say “Nice to meet you, Bob.”. Do not overuse their name in conversation, as this again can be awkward and sound unnatural, but do try to use it intermittently when addressing an idea, question, or topic towards them. “You know, Bob, that’s a great idea…let me look into that and get back to you.” If you are at the gathering with a spouse, another colleague, a friend, etc., take the opportunity to introduce your new acquaintance to your companion. (If you don’t remember their name in that moment, simply ask & let them know, and have them repeat it for you. You might get lucky and they will repeat it themselves without you having to ask when you introduce your companion to them.) After the gathering, when talking to your family/friends about the gathering, repeat the new acquaintance’s name so that you are providing yourself with more opportunities to repeat their name, strengthening the chance of you being able to recall it when you interact again.
Associate. Make associations between newly learned information to information you already know (& have stored in your memory). Within the context of remembering names, take for example you learned that a new associate at your organization is named Bob. That happens to be the same name as your colleague that you work with on a regular basis. Mentally connecting the information that this new associate and your very familiar colleague share the same name, will hopefully help you recall the new associate’s name with more ease. Also, if you make notes (mental or written) about personal or professional connections that you have in common, or shared interests/initiatives you may have, you are more likely to help yourself remember their name (and/or perhaps ask other shared connections you know to help you recall their name and avoid potential embarrassment.) Also, use associations of something you are familiar with that sounds like the individual’s name, or leads you to an approximation of the main sounds in their name. For example, I used to have patients help remember my name by associating ‘Sonia’ to a ‘Sony TV’ so they could remember at least the first part of my name with a bit more success, and hopefully lead them to recalling my full name.
Picture it. While this may feel a bit silly, it works. Either make a mental picture of an individual’s name written in big letters in the air while talking to them, or take one of your associations and connections and picture that in your mind…even if those pictures may be a bit silly. For example, if you were to meet someone named Rose, you associate the name ‘rose’ with the beautiful flower…and to help you remember this individual’s name, picture a flower, specifically a rose, when learning her name. Hopefully the picture will pop up and help you recall that her name was the same as the beautiful flower…Rose! Now, if someone were utilizing a ‘Sony TV’ image to try and remember my name, they would want to make that mental image of a TV with the SONY brand name visible on the front. You could also picture other people you are familiar with that hold the same name-in the instance of Bob, you could picture any other friends/family/co-workers you know named Bob, or any famous celebrities that share that same name. Connecting with others by remembering and using their name is a very important component in establishing and maintaining a strong personal and/or professional relationship, and as importantly, not remembering their name can lead to awkwardness and be potentially offensive. Remember, when you WRAP a name during the holidays or any other day, you are giving someone else the gift of respect, letting them know they hold importance & value for you, and you are helping to strengthen the personal & professional connections you make.