The Power Of Learning Names

“Hey man, hey bro, how are you mate? Cheers, dude.” I have had a lot of names. Unfortunately, none of them is my real name and people don’t seem to remember it. And you will notice it when people address you like that just because they don’t know what your name is.

So what was your name again?

Learning names is such an important thing! And traveling is such a great opportunity to get better at it. As a former (substitute) teacher and university tutor I can tell you there is no way of losing your students respect faster then by not learning their names quickly. Authors writing books on ‘How to become successful in life’ will tell you how important it is.

And so, so, so often you hear people saying “I am so bad at remembering names.” You will hear this a lot from other backpackers. So does this simply hold true for all of us or is it just a matter of making an effort or not? Well, it is the latter one.

So when you are traveling that is a great opportunity to get better at remembering names as you get to meet new people frequently.

Two examples

First I like to give you two examples from personal experience.

Good at remembering names:

While I was working at a homestead in the Bush (LINK) we had the occasional fancy guests arriving as we also provided some kind of luxury accommodation. Well, luxury on a bush level, so it was sort of upscale but not top notch.

So, there was that one couple arriving (flying in would be more precise) with their own little plane. He was an architect and I don’t remember what his wife was doing. However, we introduced each other and of course I instantly forgot their names.

But when it was time for dinner and I was serving them they were addressing me knowing my name. “Philipp, would you mind bringing us another this and that.” Very friendly people. They bothered to not forget the simple servants name. But apparently he couldn’t be bothered.

That was annoying for me as I could not call them by their names and it was too late (it never is) and too embarrassing (it never should be) to ask. That was one of those moments I swore to get better at it.



Bad at remembering names:

Several months after that incident I found myself living the typical hostel life and spending quite some time with more or less the same people and of course you get to know a lot of their names over time.

However, there were still some people, and I have been living with them together in the same hostel for maybe a month, probably had a few conversations and some small talk with them and still I didn’t know what they were called.

So one day I declared ‘name learning day’. I tried the less embarrassing approach: Not asking them for their names, but other people instead. And you know what? That didn’t work! Why? Because they also couldn’t tell me the name of one or the other person. I asked many people. “Sorry, don’t know that guy’s name” and so on.

Everyone was just as bad as me. And we were all living together for quite a while. End of the story, I went for the uncomfortable way of asking “Sorry, we’ve been talking already a fair bit and what not, but by the way, what is your name?” Don’t worry too much about that one, often you will get the same question in return.

What was your name again?
Unfortunately we do not all walk around with name tags pinned to our shirts (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Why is it so important?

It is important to remember other people’s names. Why? It shows that you value them and respect them. While not remembering someone’s name might not be, because you do not value them, but at least that is the signal you are sending. And at the end of the day, that is what matters.

You probably felt exactly the same. It just does something to you when you notice that someone does not know your name, even worse when you know theirs. But sometimes you also encounter the following. Address them often with their name and suddenly they know your name as well. How come? Maybe they asked someone.

This is also a very relevant issue in situations of power imbalance, such as teachers and students or bosses of companies with many employees, celebrities and people working for them and so on.

In a different post I was discussing how annoying it can be to be called a backpacker (LINK) just because someone couldn’t be bothered to learn my name. This might be an extreme form of not only not remembering names, but also refusing to learn them. But it exists. And it shows other people’s attitude towards you.

Either way, it is interesting what dynamic among people this subject can create. So, to show other people respect make sure to learn their names quickly. And this can make a huge difference especially in a work situation and even before you even managed to get the job (LINK)!

Tips and tricks

One of the simplest tricks to get better at remembering names is to just repeat that name when you introduce each other. “Hi. My name is Kate.” So you answer “Hey, nice to meet you Kate”. It is that simple. And not only pay attention while they are saying their name, also when you say it again.

Another trick is to find some similarity or something that their name reminds you of. Often you might find it easier to remember someone’s name when you already have a good friend that is called exactly like that. You create a link and that is something your brain likes. Linking stuff to other stuff.

Maybe you were even working on some project with other people or took some class where you were playing some name learning games. For example creating alliterations as like “I am Tom the tiger” or similar exercises. They might seem ridiculous, but I think they work well.

Underneath you find a video that will give you some additional tips. I know some of that might sound crazy to you, but these are exactly the tricks that other people use to remember the order of a set of cards or whatever they want to keep in mind.

So check out the video and try to focus and remember the names of his friends when he presents you the photo at the beginning!

In the next video you see some of the tricks already mentioned and also some new ones.

So there you have it. A new little everyday challenge that is going to make you a better person and also a more successful one as well. And it keeps your brain fit. Try it! Have fun with it and do not freak out if you don’t master remembering people’s names right from the beginning. See it as a process and appreciate it when you notice you are improving!

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