Many of us are guilty of this, but I’m afraid I’m the biggest offender. A few times I have forgotten names just seconds after I’m being introduced. Sometimes I try to play it off. “I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name…” Other times I’ll say something like “Anyway….. Melissa, right? No? Megan!! That’s right! Sorry, I just met a Melissa earlier, I got confused.”
Two weeks ago, however, I was in serious trouble when I ran into a lady at the Portland Salsa Congress. This is someone whom I had previously met in LA. I saw her a month after in San Francisco during the SF gotkizomba! festival. I didn’t remember her name then, and I sure didn’t remember it in Portland. This kind of situation becomes worse when the other person calls me by my first name, but I can’t remember theirs for the life of me.
This time I had no excuse. I had forgotten this lady’s name for the third time and she was annoyed. I don’t blame her…
I think that as dancers it is important to remember names. We meet new people on the dance floor almost every week. We go to festivals and congresses in other cities and meet a lot of interesting people. Dance instructors and trainers meet a lot of new students every season. Not only is it nice when new people remember our name, it shows a high degree of interest and respect.
So why do we forget names in the first place?
According to Dr. Gary Smalls, from the Brain Research Institute at UCLA, the main reason we forget people’s names is because we are hearing the other person speak, but we are not listening. Our mind is not focused, and we not paying attention.
If this is the case, by simply listening more, leaning a bit forward and paying attention when we meet someone we should be able to remember more names, I plan to practice this new tactic the next time I go out dancing. But there’s something else…
We learn better with images rather than words
After my fiasco in Portland, I decided to surf the internet for a solution to my lack of memory. Most of the blogs and websites I looked suggested that the best way to remember names is by using mnemonics (ne-mo-nics. The first ‘m’ is silent). A mnemonic is any device, technique or aid to help us remember things. You know, like the ‘ABC song’ we learned as kids to memorize the letters of the alphabet.
My roommate in college, who was also terrible at remembering names, told me that he tried to repeat the person’s name as much as he could. For example, if he had just met a man named ‘Mike’, he would say something like “Hello Mike, very nice to meet you, Mike!” And as he was leaving he would again say “Bye Mike! Very nice to meet you again, Mike.”
What he was trying to do was learning by repetition, which is how I used to learn things when I was in middle school. By repeating things over and over we hope to move them from our short term memory to our long term memory, and hope to recall them later when we need them. Learning names by repetition might have worked for my roommate, but to me it seems a little weird. Imagine repeating the other person’s name in every sentence, and then walking away mumbling “Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike…” This is where mnemonics come in handy.
How about we try it? Are you paying attention? Good! There will be a test at the end….
You can repeat a person’s name and associate it with another person
Very well! Now that we know the name, we can associate it with someone else with the same name. Maybe another Samantha from dance class, or perhaps there’s a lady called Samantha at your work. When trying to memorize this name, repeat it aloud, and then think: ‘Samantha, like the lady at work.
If you don’t know anybody named Samantha, then you can think about someone famous, or a character from TV, like Samantha from the show ‘Sex and the City.’ Or Samantha Bee, the host of “Full Frontal” on TBS. You can even imagine Samantha Bee standing right next to this lady, repeat her name and then say: Samantha, like ‘Samantha Bee’.
Look, snap, and connect
Very well. Now let’s try to memorize the name of the dancer to the right using another method. This time you are meeting Michael, you shake his hand, and say, “pleased to meet you, Michael.” Now, pretend you are holding your cell-phone and take a mental picture of Michael. A picture you are going to save in your brain archives.
It may seem like a lot of mental effort, but this is how mnemonics work. The more vivid and graphic these visual images become, the more effective they are. We have to really make the effort and pretend we are taking a picture of Michael with a cell phone, and then saving it to our brains. You can even go as far as having a pop-window appear in your head and type in the name. “Save as…. Michael”
We are trying a technique that Dr. Gary Smalls calls “Look, snap and connect”, which uses three memory skills. We start by getting a visual image of the person, then we are snapping it by taking a picture in our heads and finally connecting to the name.
Connect the name with a physical feature
Another way to memorize names, is to connect them with the most prominent feature we can see on a person. Let’s try to memorize the name of the new guy from the dance team: Ramon.
There’s a lot interesting features we can pick from Ramon. Starting with his thick curly hair, his broad forehead, his big nose, thick eyebrows or his tanned skin.But perhaps the most distinguishing feature is the gap between his teeth, also called a diastema.
Now that we’ve picked a feature, we have to connect it to the person. If the diastema is enough for you to remember him, you can simple repeat in your head: ‘Ramon is the guy with the gap between his teeth’. But if you still have trouble recalling the name, then you have to connect it with something more vivid.
We need to create a mental picture that we can connect to the person.
This guy’s name reminds me of Joey Ramone, the famous punk rocker. And speaking about music… Madonna has also a little gap between her teeth. Perhaps we can imagine Madonna singing on stage with Joey Ramone, and we can see the little gap between her teeth. Or maybe we can picture Joey Ramone giving Madonna a kiss on the lips. Again, the more vivid and graphic we can make this mental picture, the easier it’s going to be to remember the name.
Remembering first and last names
If you need to memorize a full name, there are a few ways to do so easily. Let’s pretend that we are meeting this dancer named Caroline Fisher. Lucky for us, her last name means something. Names that have a meaning like Fields, Black, Cook, Archer, or Baker are the easiest to remember. In this case, we can imagine that Caroline Fisher is on vacation, and she’s fishing on a lake in South Carolina.
However, if Caroline’s last name were Gilroy, which doesn’t mean anything, then we have to use our imagination again. For those who live in California, you may have heard of a town called Gilroy, which is famous for its Annnual Garlic Festival.
Let’s create another mental picture. Notice that Caroline has two streaks of pink hair, which adds a physical feature that we can attach to her name. So, to remember Caroline Gilroy, we could imagine that there is a lady with pink hair from South Carolina, eating garlic bread in Gilroy, CA.
A few more tips to help you remember names
If you meet someone with an usual name, Dr. Gary Smalls recommends to ask the person to spell it for you. Just by simply spelling out the name, and picturing the letters in you head you can store it in your memory easily. For example, when I was in college I met a lady from Laos called Phetlampanh Keokesa. “You can call me Pat” , she said, which of course makes it easy on us. One time, I noticed her name written on one of her textbooks. I paid attention to the way she spelled it and memorized it. After that, I had no problem remembering her, and she always liked the fact that I could remember her full name. Visual images are the best aid and the easiest way to memorize things. Young children learn with pictures and images because they don’t know how to talk or read yet. Nonetheless, it works for them.
Practice learning people’s names with the technique that works best for you. Or perhaps you know another way to remember names that you would like to share with us. Feel free to tell us about in the comment section below.
Remember that we like it when people remember our names. If you can too, you will be popular in your dance group, and you’ll never have to endure any embarrassing moments.
Ready for the test? No? That’s too bad because it’s happening, and I did warn you about it.
What are these people’s names? (one of them has two).
External Links http://www.bri.ucla.edu/people/gary-w-small-md http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mnemonic https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diastema https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilroy,_California People's images courtesy of ClipArts. Find out more at www.cliparts.co