July 14, 2014 / Why You Can’t Remember Her Name
And why it doesn't matter.
(comic from The Oatmeal)
You see a cute girl, you approach her, you start talking to her. You ask for her number, and as you bring up the contacts in your phone, you realize: Shit. I forgot her name!
She introduces you to her friends. You smile, shake their hands, and start talking to them. You’re about to introduce your friends to them, when you realize: Shit. I forgot their names!
You take her out on a date. You run into a coworker who just started at your company. He walks over and says hi. Suddenly, you’re filled with dread. Because: Shit. I forgot his name!
You’re terrible with names. If this happens more than you’d like, don’t feel too bad about it. It’s actually completely normal, and pretty much everyone has this problem.
We’re All Terrible at Remembering Names of People We Just Met
The reason why it’s so easy to blank out the name of someone you just met is physiological. You don’t have "name-specific ADD" (and if you think you do, stop diagnosing yourself). It’s simply how your brain works, namely, the cerebral cortex.
The cerebral cortex controls both memory formation AND perceptual awareness and language. So when you meet someone new, your cerebral cortex kicks into overdrive because you’re thinking about making eye contact, having a good handshake, making sure you say "nice to meet you," etc. While your cerebral cortex is doing all this, it doesn’t have any further capacity to retain new memory.
Hence, we all suck at remembering the name of anyone we’re introduced to for the first time.
How to Mitigate Forgetting Someone’s Name
It’s not entirely a lost cause. While your brain may struggle to etch that person’s name into your memory, there are some tricks you can to help yourself out.
1. Associate Them With Someone Else
Think of an old friend, family member, or celebrity with the same name. Or even a cartoon or comic character. Imagine you’re actually shaking hands with that person. Or better yet, fuse them together in your mind. So if you meet a girl named Ariel, you should literally imagine herself with a mermaid fish tail (although that may cause you to wonder where her vagina is).
The goal is to associate that person’s name with a memory you already have. In other words, it’s easier to recall an image of The Little Mermaid than to memorize "A-R-I-E-L."
2. Associate Them With Anything Else
Association isn’t limited to another person. If you meet someone named "John," imagine that guy sitting on a toilet in front of you. If you meet someone named Mike, imagine him holding a microphone.
In general, an association to another object works best if that object starts with the name letter at that person’s name. This is because of the "Tip of the tongue" phenomenon, which you can read about further in Wikipedia if you’re especially bored right now. Even if you associate Susan with "Saxophone," that can be enough to jog your memory.
3. Echo Back Their Names Several Times In Your Introduction
"Your name is Ariel? Nice to meet you, Ariel. So Ariel, where are you and your friends from?"
It’s that simple. Just repeat their names. Repetition is usually weaker technique than association in terms of memory recall, but it’s better than nothing. Sometimes you’ll meet someone named "Greg" and nothing comes to mind for association within the first couple seconds. You can at least use repetition to at least have a prayer at remembering his name later.
How to Recover When You Forgot Her Name
Despite these techniques, let’s face it; this is going to happen. It’s especially likely to happen with girls you’re hitting on, because your cerebral cortex is especially engaging on things like environmental awareness and reading her body language. So if you’ve forgotten her name, what can you do?
1. Have Her Add Her Own Number to Your Phone
If you’re talking to a girl and exchange numbers, usually you’ll do this by giving her your number and have her call you, and vice versa. Once she’s done this, ask her to input her own name as a contact in your phone. Say, "Here, put in your name… I don’t want to assume how it’s spelled, I know some people get offended by that."
If she goes, "um, okay…" because her name is "Jane," then tell her you once met someone named "Khymm" and she’d get really pissed off whenever anyone assumed it was spelled "Kim" (or any other equivalent — if you’re under age 30, millenial parents love giving their kids ‘normal’ names with weird-ass spellings, so I’m sure you’ve met some at some point) which should give her a laugh.
2. Introduce One of Your Friends To Her
If you’re with friends, introduce him to her. "Hey, this is my friend John." Hopefully she says, "Hi John, I’m Ariel." If she just shakes his hand, hopefully your friend takes his queue and says, "Nice to meet you, what’s your name?"
When you do this, it will be a lot easier to remember her name since your brain has settled into the social engagement and your cerebral cortex can balance between handling memory and awareness.
3. Ask if She Has a Business Card
If she brings up her work, ask if she has a business card. "Oh, you’re a massage therapist? My friend just mentioned she’s looking for one, do you have a card?"
Can’t I Just Admit I Forgot Her Name?
Of course. If all else fails, just admit you forgot her name. She won’t be offended, because there’s probably an 80% chance she forgot yours too. And there’s 0% chance she’ll say, "I’m so offended you forgot my name, you jerk!" and slap you, so don’t sweat it.