By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Featured Columnist
If it's happened to me once, it's happened a million times --- I see someone I've met yet I can't put a name to the face. Or, sometimes when I'm watching a movie with an actor I know and like but I haven't seen in awhile, I just can't remember his name. After awhile the name comes to me but why does a name get "lost" in the first place?
Names are important. Names mean everything. Studies have suggested that, if you meet someone again, and you can't remember their name, they almost always devalue you. A boss once told me something I have never forgotten --- if you send a letter to someone hoping to get hired and you misspell their name, they usually don't bother to read the rest of the letter and if they do, they're not going to hire you. Why is it easier to remember a face but not a name?
How Your Memories Are Made
You remember people you know and interact with often because the names and faces of these people are stored in your long-term memory bank. But how did they get there? How did they go from "renting" to " owning" space in your brain?
The problem of remembering names is called "nominal aphasia" and it affects almost all of us to some degree.
The process of making a memory starts with the first time you encounter a new person. Say you are at a party. You may meet 10, 20 people or more. But you may remember only a few of them, if any.
When you first meet someone, your brain uses something called "sensory memory". Your brain registers the information and keeps it for just about half a second. You sense what you hear, smell, see, feel and taste.
Sensory memory is like a whiff of a light perfume. It evaporates quickly.
If you pay attention to this information, your brain then moves it along the assembly line to "short-term memory". Short-term memory is mainly auditory--- it relies on what you hear. Ever try to remember a phone number quickly? It helps to say the number to yourself several times. This works because saying a number helps your short-term memory to "encode" it an retain it for later use.
To move a memory down the assembly line from short-term to long-term memory bank takes repetitioon and "meaning". We remember what is meaningful to us. What is meaningful to us are things that have resonance in our lives, that we value.
If you value money or getting rich, you are unlikely to forget the name of someone you meet whom you know is super-rich.
If you value physical attractiveness, you are unlikely to forget the name of that person who is beautiful.
Each person will be assigned a "value" in your long-term memory bank. High value people are people who match your set of values --- educated, honest, slick, fun-loving, rich, beautiful --whatever your values are.
The truth is that you don't remember the names of people you don't value.
Now, if you already have everything you want in life, this quirk of nature will not affect your life at all. But if you are like 99% of us who do not have everything they want in life, then you should never try to give off a vibe that you don't value people.
So how do you change that? How do you start to remember names of people even though you may not value them on first meeting. Here are 7 tips:
1. Repetition Works
Repeating someone's name 3 times helps you to remember it. The reason repeating it helps is that, again, just hearing a name spoken out loud activates the short-term memory.
Repetition moves the name from the "sensory" to the short-term memory bank.
If you want to make the repetition even more effective, repeat the name to yourself in 3 different voices.
Choose a high-pitched voice, a deep baritone and perhaps a voice from a film star you like. Doping this just helps to connect the information to information that already has a permanent place in your long-term memory bank.
2. Weave a Story
When someone gives you their name, react to it. Charles Wongerfeld? That's a little unusual, is that German? Diane Summers? You know, that reminds me of the name of the character from the TV show "Cheers", you know the one set in that bar in Boston?
3. Take a Word Picture
We remember names that rhyme with things we know.
If you meet someone named Andy Snow, connect it with the image of snow falling on his head.
If you meet someone named Winston, connect it with the image of a giant cigarette sticking out of his mouth. Or picture Winston Churchill sitting in their lap.
Our visual memory is activated in the sensory memory bank and on the long term memory bank.
4. Grab the Initials
If someone introduces themselves to you, immediately ask them to repeat their name. They won't be offended, people like to see you're interested. Then, when they repeat it, grab the initials.
If you meet, Terry Smith, remember "TS". If you meet "Amber Rose", remember "AR". Tom Phillips would be "TP".
Then, after you grab the initials, see if you can make them meaningful. TS might be a super sweet guy, so you think "Too Sweet". Tom Phillips would be "TP" and if he is gruff, then think "Toilet Paper". You get the idea.
5. Associate the Features of the Face with the Name
Always look for a quick association between a feature of the face and the name. Does Jerry have a long neck like a giraffe....a "Jerr-affe"? Does Mitt have hands as big as a baseball "mitt"? Does Angela have ears that stick out like wings of an angel?
6. Solve a Mystery
Every person is unique, as unique as you are. No one is what they appear at first sight. When you meet someone, keep in mind that what you are looking at is probably the best "mask" that they want you to see. Get interested right away in seeing clues to something interesting about them that is not so obvious.
Is that single man wearing an unusual ring on the ring finger of his left hand? Does that woman say her vowels like she is from Canada?
The more interested you are, the more likely you are to remember their name.
7. Use Your Own Name
You can almost always improve your ability to remember a name if you immediately associate it with your own.
Does the person's name contain any of the letters of your own name. Pick out that letter and visualize them sitting on top of a giant sized one. For example, if their name is Sarah and your name is Susan, picture Sarah sitting on top of a giant, red letter "S".
If your last name is Willis and their name is Larry, picture them sitting on top of a giant "L".
Just having that quick picture will increase the odds that the next time you see them, their name will pop up.