What Was Your Name, Again?

Rosalene Bowler
September 21, 2022

“I’m so sorry, I know we’ve been working together for 4 months now, but I’m terrible with names—what’s yours again?”

Yup, I’ve had that conversation, too, more times than I’d like to admit. I’ve also had very similar conversations about forgetting my teammates birthdays, hometowns, marital statuses, child counts, hobbies, mutual friends, and allergies.

How does this mental weakness affect teams?

To be blunt, your teammates are going to be mad at you (openly or secretly) if you forget important details about them. On the other hand, people will be assured that you value them if you remember important details about them. Making this one change could be a significant game-changer for the way your teammates interact with you.

“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Dale Carnegie

Come now, we’re all adults here—do people really care if you forget their names?

Yes, they do. If you fail to remember their name, they will be hurt (again, secretly or openly). But, because everyone is bad at names, they’ll cut you some slack and likely say, “Oh, of course you forgot my name, even though we’ve known each other for a long time. But I forget names, too, so don’t feel bad.” The truth is, they won’t admit that they’re kind of hurt you forgot.

Why are they hurt? Because, in general, people remember things that matter to them. It’s an unsurprising principle of memory—the more important something is to you, the more likely you are to remember it. So, unfortunately, there is a social cost to briefly forgetting someone’s name. (Kelly)

What are some common methods you can use to remember names? First, here’s a list of popular methods, all taught or at least mentioned in Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People. But did you know that lab results have shown these methods to be less effective than others?

·         Repeat the name often during your conversation with the new acquaintance

·         Connect the name to one of the person’s physical features

·         Repeat in your head every 5 seconds

If these methods have failed you, then you’re not alone.

The best method is similar to the first bullet point above, except that you don’t say the name out loud (which saves you from sounding robotic and a little creepy). Instead, what you do is you just think to yourself, “OK, now what’s this person’s name? That’s Jane.” Do that five seconds after you meet the person, so that you’re certain that you’ve got it.

Sometimes you may be distracted or flustered when you meet someone, so you actually miss their name. You need to make a habit of mentally rehearsing someone’s name right after you meet them. That way, even if you did miss their name, you’ll realize your mistake very quickly into the conversation. You’ll be able to say something like, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.” They’ll answer with their name, and you can rehearse it to yourself mentally right afterwards, and maybe 20 seconds later you can rehearse it again. Think to yourself, “Now, what’s her name again? This is Jane.”

Keep doing it, stretching out the time between rehearsals. Do it maybe immediately, then maybe 20 seconds later, and maybe a minute after that. Two minutes after that. Five minutes after that. (Kelly)

This works very well for learning someone’s name, and the same process can be used for remembering someone’s hometown, favorite treat, etc.

Start making a habit of mentally rehearsing people’s names today to show your teammates how much they matter to you. They’ll love you for it.

Talented people are attracted to those who care about them. – Adam Grant


Carnegie, Dale. How to Win Friends and Influence People. Vermilion, 2022.

Kelly, Jane. “Most of US Forget People's Names. Here's a Way to Change That.” UVA Today, 4 Oct. 2021, https://news.virginia.edu/content/most-us-forget-peoples-names-heres-way-change.

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