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Forgetting Names Is a Pretty Common Occurrence. A Few Simple Tips May Help

Pep talks, repetition, associating name with a picture — all may help embed the name in memory

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You're introduced to Annabel at a party, and in less than a minute her name flies out the window. If this happens to you, you might be momentarily embarrassed, but theres no need to be worried about it. And you’re certainly not alone.

In a survey of 130 people ages 40 to 65, nearly 95 percent reported difficulty recalling names. These individuals mostly felt annoyed during times of forgetfulness, according to a study published in 2022 in Advances in Cognitive Psychology

The good news? There are simple techniques you can practice that may help you remember.

Gary Small, M.D., chair of psychiatry at Hackensack University Medical Center and coauthor of 2 Weeks to Younger Brain, says, “You want to help lodge names in your brain — and the best way to do this is by framing and focusing the information with both visual and auditory cues.”

Here are Small's top name-recalling tips:

  1. Give yourself a pep talk. Before going into a business or social situation, tell yourself you're going to focus and remember names. Put away anything that might distract you during introductions, including your phone.
  2. Repeat the name during a conversation but not in a robotic or unconscious way. You can do this by gathering specific information: “Doug, where do you live?” or “Doug, is this your first time here?” Right before leaving, seal the memory by looking the person directly in the face and saying, “Pleasure meeting you, Doug!”
  3. Ask for the spelling, even with a simple name. “Is that Smith with an I or Smyth with a Y?”
  4. Associate the name with a picture. If his name is Mr. Bender, for example, think about him bending down.
  5. Notice striking characteristics. Let's say he has a big beard and his name is Sam: You might connect his name with Santa.
  6. Create a narrative. If a name is shared with someone you already know, remark on it. “Michelle — that’s my favorite cousins name.”
  7. Go with your gut reaction. The first association is usually the one that sticks in your brain, so don't overthink your name-recall trick.

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