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Taking the Shame Out of Forgetting Names

Hand holding black and white "Hello my name is" nametag

Today is one of those topics that I’m writing about because I’m coming to terms with it. And sometimes, the best thing to do is write it out and send it to hundreds of readers. And here we go… 
As I’ve written about before, I have ADHD. And because of that, my short term memory struggles at times. Consequently, this means that I really struggle to remember people’s names and sometimes faces. Sure, if we’ve worked together for an extended length of time, this isn’t a problem. But if we’ve only had one lunch, no matter how great it was, my brain often has trouble recalling who you are. 
This wasn’t a problem when I worked at the same company for 8 years and saw the same people. But now, I’m meeting tons of new, great people and it’s been causing me some anxiety and shame. And that anxiety makes me more forgetful…and the loop continues! 
I suppose this is my PSA to everyone, ADHD-diagnosed or not, that there should be no shame in the name forgetting game.  
In fact, science backs that it’s completely normal to forget names! Names are an abstract thing. They’re low-frequency, and they have to compete with the millions of other things crammed into our noggins. So, our brain simply catalogues a name as “unimportant” and moves on. It’s only until that name becomes concrete and interesting, i.e. forming a relationship with said name, that our brain switches it into the “important!” file.

The Name Game

  1. When I’m struggling to remember a name during an initial encounter, I simply ask the person: “Next time we meet, could you remind me of your name and how we know each other? I would really appreciate it!” I often take notes to help me, but always appreciate an assist. Don’t beat yourself up over having to ask this. Really, it’s normal!
  2. Be OK with saying, “I’m sorry, what is your name again?” Coming right out and saying it is much better than the inevitable awkward moment when you need to know their name 10 minutes into a conversation. 
  3. Give yourself and others grace. Our brains are processing so many things. It’s understandable that we forget names. So let yourself slip up. And let others slip up too. 
  4. When someone you know is with a friend or partner, take the initiative to introduce yourself. Again, avoid that awkward moment if your acquaintance doesn’t remember your name. Think of it as a gift you are giving them!

Tried and True Methods to Remember Names and Faces

If you’re really trying to work on this skill, there is help! I’m sure you’ve heard most of these devices, but a refresher never hurts.

  • Use a mnemonic device. 
  • Say their name repeatedly during a conversation. Caveat: don’t make it creepy! 
  • Ask them to spell it out (if it is a unique name.) 
  • Choose to care. We can focus our attention. Concentration follows interest. Fire up your brain and tell those synapses to get firing, this is an important fact to remember! 
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Comments (1)

I’m glad to know I’m not alone in having trouble remembering names! These are great tips. Memory loss and forgetfulness are one of the early signs of dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s important to know other warning signs (along with what is normal, like simply forgetting names). I found a helpful checklist of dementia symptoms here: http://allcarelivingservices.com/recognizing-the-symptoms-of-dementia/

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