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Can’t remember names? Try our hacks


Not being able to remember names is a very common complaint, especially for older people. The problem can be frustrating and cause embarrassment.

Do you struggle to remember names?

Many of us share the experience of bumping into an associate whilst we have a friend in tow. Etiquette tells us we should introduce the two, but we just can’t remember the associate’s name. The mind goes blank and, no matter how hard we try to place the person, we can’t recall their name. Sometimes, if left without your introduction, the two people introduce themselves, giving you a chance to refresh your memory with the forgotten name. This isn’t always the case though, and the situation can feel incredibly awkward!

Canโ€™t Remember Names โ€“ Why?

According to research, there are several reasons why we may find it difficult to remember someone’s name:

1. You’re not getting enough sleep

Sleep deprivation causes many memory problems. If you’re tired, your brain doesn’t organise and store information well. As a result, your concentration is poor, and you forget more. If you struggle with memory, one of the first things you may notice is forgetting simple information like people’s names.

2. They are not important to you at the time you were introduced

This sounds harsh, but it’s true. Our brains are busy. To help them cope with the sheer volume of information they have to process, they prioritise information based on how useful we perceive it to be. If you canโ€™t remember names, then perhaps when you were introduced to the person whose name you’ve forgotten, you weren’t very interested in them or didn’t consider them important?

3. You are visually orientated

We all have a unique, preferred learning style. This means that we favour one modality over another for retaining memory and recalling information. Most people have a bias towards either auditory or visual learning. When we are introduced to someone new, there is both visual and auditory learning involved. If you canโ€™t remember names, you may have a strong leaning towards visual learning so your brain is too busy taking in the visual details to store the auditory information provided. It’s necessary to retain both visual and auditory details to remember names.

4. You’re stressed or depressed

Conditions like anxiety, stress and depression can cause problems with memory. Depression makes our brains feel sluggish and unfocused. If you were feeling stressed or anxious when you met someone, it could be that your brain was focused on unpleasant feelings of panic or discomfort. Remember, the brain can’t do everything at once. If you’re focused on feeling anxious, the likelihood is that your memory isn’t working at its optimum.

5. Your brain is overloaded

If you’re busy multi-tasking, your mind may be too busy to remember some information and the names of people you’re introduced to could become a casualty. Think of your brain like a computer; there’s only so much it can process at the same time before it starts to crash!

6. There is an underlying health problem

It’s worth making sure that there isn’t an underlying health problem that’s affecting your memory if you always struggle to remember details. Talk to your doctor about your memory problems to rule out any severe conditions. Similarly, some medications can also affect your memory. If you’re concerned about the side effects of your medications, discuss the issue with a professional.

How to Remember Names โ€“ Simple Hacks

Ruling out any medical reasons, there are some simple tricks you can implement next time you’re introduced to someone which may help you remember their name.

1. Use visual association to remember names

When you’re introduced to someone, visualise their name written down in your mind’s eye. If you know someone well with the same first name, imagine them with that person. In that way, you are filing them together in your brain’s memory.

Other visual association techniques have been proven to work. For example, if someone is a Matt โ€“ see them standing on a mat. If someone is a Doug, see them digging a hole. If someone is an Elizabeth, imagine them as the Queen! These visualisations will all help your brain to file and recall the information.

2. Eat a brain-healthy diet and get enough sleep to remember names

There are foods we can eat, which help our brains to function well. Try incorporating some of these foods into your daily diet:

  • Fatty Fish (rich in Omega-3)
  • Turmeric
  • Nuts, Seeds and Berries
  • Oranges
  • Dark Chocolate and Coffee
  • Eggs

Practice good sleep hygiene to make sure you are getting enough sleep. If you have regular insomnia, consider using relaxation or meditation to help you retrain your mind to switch off and sleep more soundly.

3. Use the name in conversation

When someone is introduced to you, use their name several times in the initial conversation you share. This helps form familiarity and commits the name to memory.

4. Write it down immediately

If you canโ€™t remember names, why not write down the names of new people? Keep a notepad in your drawer and quickly write down the name along with a few notes about the new person. Not only does this give you a reference to use in the future, but it also helps your brain to focus on the information and remember it.

5. Connect with them on Social Media

If all else fails, consider connecting with associates on a social media platform like LinkedIn or Facebook. Such platforms feature a profile picture of members next to their name. If you regularly review your contacts, your brain will remember the details with more ease. You can also refer to the platform when your mind goes blank!

Illumine’s Improve Your Memory Course includes how to remember names and faces. We also have 90 minute workshops which focus on this vital skill.

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