‘Originally your name was designed to be simple to remember and to be linked to the context of your life,’ says memory expert Tony Buzan, founder of the World Memory Championships and author of numerous books on the subject.
‘For example, if you walked into a little village a few hundred years ago, the family on the farm were called the Farmer family.
Memorable meeting: A distinguishing feature can help you to recall someone's name
‘The people who lived in the house on the hill were Mr and Mrs Hill.’ But, obviously, this isn’t the case today. ‘It all went wrong when young Miss Hill went into the City and became an accountant,’ says Buzan.
‘All image and association was lost. People began to struggle to remember her name.’
Buzan believes that to remember names in the 21st Century you need to hark back to this idea of image and association. ‘You have to make outstanding images in your head and connect them to the person you have met,’ he says.And using memory in this way improves overall ability to recall facts. Here are Buzan’s top five tips for remembering names.
BOB THE BUILDER FIXES THAT IMAGE
Pick out distinctive physical characteristics of the person you are being introduced to and try to draw associations with their name in your mind. For example, if you meet someone named Felicity, you may observe that she has rather feline features, so say to yourself, Felicity the cat. ‘Or if someone has the same name as a famous cartoon character, like Fred – as in Fred Flintstone – or Bob – as in Bob the Builder – then try that,’ says Buzan. ‘But you should probably keep these associations to yourself and in your head.’
DETAILS THAT MAKE SENSE
Pick out a person’s distinguishing features, link a name with a job or remember how they talk. Or take mental notes about the detail of their face, their mannerisms, the sound of their voice, the smell of perfume or aftershave – anything that stands out about them. For example the girl with a flower in her hair who is called Rose. By paying attention to multi-sensory characteristics of a person and linking them to a name, you are creating more associations in your brain and reinforcing the memory.
Bob The Builder: Pick out distinctive physical characteristics of the person you are being introduced to
SAY IT AGAIN, SAM
When you are told a name, repeat it back to the person. You could ask if you have got the pronunciation correct. Repetition is the key to a good memory and by this simple, social politeness you will imprint the name you have just heard deeper into your memory bank. If the name is straightforward you could pretend you had not heard it correctly and ask them to repeat it.
This is a good tactic if you are in a loud environment. You could enquire where their name originates from, which is another excuse to repeat it. Once the conversation is over, be sure to say their name when you bid them goodbye – this is not only a good memory technique, but a good social trick too. ‘Don’t repeat the name too much though, no more than three times as a rule of thumb,’ adds Buzan. ‘Otherwise you’ll seem a bit odd.’
TIM? THAT’S AN INTERESTING NAME ...
If you can obtain a business card, comment on the spelling of the name. You could say: ‘That’s an interesting spelling of Rebecka. Do you like it?’ Talking about the spelling of a name helps you obtain a visual picture of the letters that make up the name. If it’s an interesting name, you could ask where it originates from.
‘Of course, this will only work if they have an unusual name,’ comments Buzan. ‘If they’re called Tim, you’ll look a bit daft asking how the name is spelled.’
And remember the idea is to improve your memory of their name and face, not to make someone uncomfortable by grilling them. Pick and choose the techniques when they are applicable to a particular social setting at the correct time.
Buzan says: ‘When memory champions train for events they don’t just concentrate on mind exercises. They focus on a combination of diet, physical activity and memory games.’
Eight times World Memory Champion Dominic O’Brien cuts out alcohol for several months before competitions and takes fish- oil supplements. Gunther Karsten, another previous world champion, combines physical and mental exercise with meditation.
‘For all aspects of memory, keep yourself physically fit,’ adds Buzan. ‘My catchphrase is healthy mind, healthy body, healthy body, healthy mind. Your memory needs oxygen as fuel, so why not feed it often?’