Names and faces
Remembering names is one of the first and most important questions that come up when you’re talking about memory.
But fortunately, it’s also one of the easiest memory issues to fix! That’s our task today.
Premise: Use a “trigger” to remember names
In the previous lesson, we talked a little bit about “triggers”.
Mnemonics are the images or funny stories that help us remember things… but that only works if we can remember the mnemonics in the first place! That’s what a trigger is for: It’s something that first prompts us to remember what we need to remember.
Here’s the model:
In the case of names and faces, the trigger is the face. You want to make it so that when you look at the face, that triggers you to remember the name.
Now, how do we make their face a trigger? Easy: The moment you see the person’s face, what feature sticks out at you the most?
This is really important, but it also makes it really easy. Make sure that you choose something you’ll notice the second time you look at their face, something that really catches your attention in a unique or memorable way.
For example, this guy’s name is Christopher:
Your mileage may vary, but for me, what sticks out at me the most is the smallness of his upper lip.
This means that the next time I look at his face, I’ll notice that upper lip. So if I turn that lip into a trigger to remember his name, I’ll easily be able to remember his name next time.
Now how do I connect that lip to the name “Christopher”? That’s where the magic of stressed-syllable mnemonics comes in.
Names and their stressed syllables
Every word in a Western language has a stressed syllable, the part of the word that is emphasized more than the rest.
For example, with the name “Michael”, the stressed syllable is the first syllable, “Mike”. But with the name “Elizabeth”, the stress is on the second syllable, “Liz”. (Notice that most “nick names” are made from the stressed syllable of a name, not necessarily the first syllable!)
But of course, if I tell you “Mike” or “Liz”, you can easily remember the rest of the name. We’ll use that to our advantage here.
For our friend Christopher, we’re going to take the stressed syllable and turn it into a physical object, kind of like what we did with numbers in the previous lesson. See, names are not very memorable, but tangible objects are.
So notice that the stress of “Christopher” is on the first syllable, from which we can derive the word “wrist”. That’s the stressed sound in the word.
With some practice, you can start turning names into physical objects pretty quickly this way.
Tying it together with a mnemonic
Now that we have a recognizable part of Christopher’s face, as well as a physical object that represents his name (“wrist”), all that remains is to tie them together.
Simple: We’ll imagine that he’s rubbing his wrist on his upper lip, maybe scratching it with his watch.
As a result, every time you look at his face, you’ll notice his upper lip, think of him rubbing his wrist on it, and remember the name “Christopher” as derived from the word “wrist”.
You can go out and practice this on your own. Just remember that the three steps are:
(1) Notice the most memorable thing about the person’s face.
(2) Turn the stressed syllable of the name into a physical object.
(3) Imagine the object interacting with that part of the person’s face.
Some stock name mnemonics
In the lists below, I’ve provided mnemonics for the most popular baby names in the US from 2010. Beside each name you’ll see a word that’s similar to the stressed syllable of the name, plus the physical object that I suggest using as a trigger for the name.
Aiden: “aid”: band-aid
Jacob: “ache”: bruise
Jackson: “jack”: a “jack” (the old-fashioned toy)
Ethan: “eat”: disembodied teeth or dentures
Jayden: “jay”: a blue jay
Noah: “noah”: an ark
Logan: “log”: a log
Caden: “kid”: a baby goat’s hooves
Lucas: “luke”: a hot water bottle full of lukewarm water
Liam: “lean”: a walking cane
Mason: “mace”: a spray bottle of mace
Caleb: “kale”: a green leaf of kale
Jack: “jack”: a car jack
Brayden: “braid”: a braided rope
Connor: “con”: a broken pair of sunglasses (which someone cons you into buying)
Ryan: “rye”: pieces of dark grain
Matthew: “matt”: a dirty doormat
Michael: “mike”: a microphone
Alexander: “hand”: a rubber glove filled with air.
Landon: “land”: a clump of dirt with pieces of dead grass sticking out
Nicholas: “nick”: a nicked empty can
Nathan: “ate”: a disembodied stomach full of food
Dylan: “dill”: a dill pickle
Evan: “heaven”: a halo
Benjamin: “ban”: caution tape
Sophia: “fee”: a hundred dollar bill
Isabella: “bell”: a bell
Olivia: “olive”: an olive
Emma: “hem”: the edge of a skirt
Chloe: “clothes”: a clothes hanger
Ava: “A”: alphabet soup
Lily: “lily”: a lily
Madison: “mad”: horns
Addison: “add”: a calculator
Abigail: “ab”: a dumbbell (to exercise with)
Madelyn: “mad”: red eyeballs
Emily: “M”: a giant letter “M”, made out of folded sheet metal, with the edges sharpened
Zoe: “zoo”: a zebra
Hailey: “hail”: pieces of ice
Riley: “rye”: pieces of dark grain
Ella: “ale”: a mug of ale
Mia: “me”: a name tag sticker
Kaitlyn: “ate”: a disembodied stomach full of food
Kaylee: “kale”: a green leaf of kale
Peyton: “pay”: a pile of coins
Layla: “lay”: a hen sitting on a nest.
Avery: “ave”: feathery wings
Hannah: “hand”: a rubber glove filled with air.
Mackenzie: “cans”: heavy cans of beans
Elizabeth: “liz”: a lizard
Start associating these names with these objects, and you’ve made your next social event even easier. You already have the mnemonics for many people in your head.
You can start to quiz on these using this flashcard set.
Here are some faces to practice with, all names and faces matched at complete random. To make it a real challenge, I’ve given you 12 people. But if you can remember even 6 of these people’s names on your first try, that’s already impressive!
Follow the three steps with each face, and then quiz yourself by just looking at the pictures and trying to remember the names based on the memorable part of their face and the mnemonic you’ve created with the object based on their name.
Bonus section: More numbers
At this point you have object pegs for numbers that only include the digits 1, 2, and 3. Now, if we add one more digit, we can learn seven new numbers.
Today we’ll do the digit 0 (zero). When you pronounce the number, it starts with a “z” sound. In the Major system, zero represents both “z” and “s”, which are very similar.
For example, when you combine 0 with 1, you get ST, which for me is “acid”. Imagine a small bowl of bubbling acid, which is so strong it’s starting to melt the dish itself.
Here are all the objects for today:
00: SS: “saucer” (with a silent R)
01: ST: “acid”
02: SN: “snow” (snowball)
03: SM: “semi” (semi truck)
10: TS: “dice”
20: NS: “noose”
30: MS: “moss”
Here’s a quiz with all the numbers we’ve learned so far:
Got them all memorized? Now try them out by memorizing Avery’s phone number!
Simply turn this number into five objects: “menu”, “tuna”, “menu”, “saucer”, “nut”. Imagine that the first menu is tangled up in her hair, then spill the tuna over her eyes. Make the second menu pinch her nose closed. Stick the saucer in her mouth so that her cheeks bulge out. And hang the nut from her chin.
If you can look at her face and remember all those objects in order, and then convert those objects into numbers… congratulations. You’re on your way to being a SERIOUS mnemonist.
In the next lesson, we’ll learn about memory palaces. These are amazing tools for permanently storing basically unlimited amounts of information. Stay tuned…