by Len Horridge

Remembering names

One area of memory that drives people to distraction can be the rather simple (or so it is perceived) social grace of recalling people’s names.

Why do we forget names?

The principal reason for the common tendency to forget people’s names is very obvious, when you think about it – we usually don’t pay enough attention when we hear them, and we often don’t hear the name properly.

For example, perhaps you are in the middle of a meeting or some other social occasion and there are lots of other things on your mind. Introductions are often hurried affairs, particularly if there are several people to be introduced, and most people’s attention is on saying their own name correctly or shaking hands with just the right grip and so on. In such circumstances, the names will lodge in your short-term memory for a few seconds, and then be replaced with other data before they get a chance to transfer to long-term memory.

But why are names so much harder to remember than other things? Or do they simply appear so, because we feel so bad when we forget a name?

Personal names are harder to remember than many other types of information, and the reason is simple – connection, or the lack of it. The main principle behind memory techniques is that well-connected information is easy to remember. The more connections a piece of information has, the more likely you are to find it.

But what connections does a name have with a person? For the most part, names are arbitrary. Because the information itself isn’t meaningful, you therefore have to make a special effort to create meaningful connections.

Creating strong connections

Names can be remembered using the same technique, or combination of techniques, that you use for other information.


One person I knew apparently remembered me as a picture of a pen in a bowl of porridge... hence ‘Pen In Porridge’ (a picture) easily became Len Horridge.


If you are meeting pairs of people in relationships, either work or social, try to recall both names, as often one name will lead to the other. This is because it is simpler to remember pairs of words (though you should put the ‘and’ in!). As a bonus, you will effectively be halving the number of names you really have to remember. You could even create a mnemonic to help with this.


When you are introduced to a new person, get them to say their name; say their name to them and then say it again. When you are saying it again, ensure you make a good picture of their face, coupled with the name.

When you communicate with people, use their name. People like it, and it will help you to remember them.

Later, during the course of the meeting or event, mentally review the names of the people that you have met. During this review, create associations (see below).


When you meet people, look for a connection to something that is bizarre yet memorable. It might be something they have done, or something about their appearance. For example, Helen is forever on top of a Tiger Moth as she once did a charity stunt; Charlie Smith is a picture of Charlie Chaplain with a sign saying SMITH!, while Sally has a tall black hat as she reminds me of a witch.

You have to be careful with this, of course, as you don’t want to let people know if you have an unflattering nickname for them!

Business cards

After a meeting, look again at any business cards you have collected and write a brief note on each of reminders or associations you have made.

Look at these again when you file them into your computer later.