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:

Trigger => Mnemonic => Intended Result

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:

how to memorize names from faces

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”.

how to memorize names from faces

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.

Boys’ names

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

Girls’ names

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.

 remember his name from his face


remember Riley's name from her face


Remember Evan's name from his face.


Remember Mackenzie's name from her face


Remember Nathan's name from his face


Remember Madelyn's name from her face


Remember Dylan's name from his face


Remember Madison's name from her face


remember Matthew's name from his face


remember Ella's name from her face


remember the name Ben from his face


remember Avery's name from her face


Bonus section: More numbers

We just made some new acquaintances and remembered their names. But because we want to impress our them even further, let’s also try to memorize their phone numbers! 

In the previous lesson we got to know the numbers 1, 11, 2, 22, 3, and 33. This laid the foundation for memorizing numbers.

Today we will learn 4, 5, 6 and, you have probably already guessed it: 44, 55 and 66.

So let’s get started. First, we’ll do the body parts (which don’t use the Major System):

4: crossed legs

5: hand (because it has five fingers)

6: abdomen (picture someone’s six pack)

Now, to go further with these digits, we’ll start associating them with sounds.

To learn 4, just remember that the name “four” ends with the “R” sound (“fourrrr”). 4 is equivalent to the letter R.

For the digit 5, look carefully at the middle of this digit: If you cut the top and bottom off, you’re left with something that looks like the letter L. So the digit 5 represents “L”.

The digit 6 represents the “sh” sound, the “j” sound, or the “ch” sound. With some imagination, a 6 looks like a backwards J, or maybe you can imagine it as a G but make sure you remember that it’s the soft version (as in the word “gentle”). For me personally, I think of the number 6 as a curled up snake named “Josh”… somehow this works for me.

Now let’s turn these into two-digit words:

44: “RR”, RaRe (not really an object by itself, but picture a rare steak)

55: “LL”, LiLy (a flower)

66: “J,J”, JudGe (I actually picture a judge’s wig for this)

Now looking at the above word for 66, you might be confused because of the spelling. We turned one 6 into the letter “J”, and we turned the other into “dg”. But the sounds are the same: When you say “judge” out loud, the only sounds that you hear besides vowels are “J-J”. (The major system is purely phonetic, a sound based system.)

To be able to memorize the numbers better I have prepared a quizlet set for you again:

Quiz Your Numbers


To memorize phone numbers, let’s start having our objects and body parts interacting with one another. What funny combinations of images can you come up with, putting two number images together?

Imagine for example how a rare steak would look sitting on top of someone’s abs (446). Then picture someone kissing an onion (322). This way you can remember several numbers in one spot in your memory palace. This is ingenious and saves time. You simply “chunk” the pictures together, i.e. you make a small bundle of two mnemonic pictures.

The one trick here is to remember which of the two images comes first. But I have a hack for this: I always put the first number on top of the second number. A rare steak (44) is sitting on top of the abs (6). So I remember that it’s 446 (not 644).

For a thorough example, let’s memorize Liam’s phone number. Suppose he tells you to remember 662-665-5544. That sounds intimidating at first, but we’ll simply chunk the pieces together: First, 662 is a judge’s wig sitting on top of a nose. 665 is another judge’s wig, this time on a hand. And 5544 is a lily on top of a steak. That’s only three chunks, so it’s doable!

Now we have to associate these three chunks with Liam, and we have to do it in order. So we’ll put the first chunk on the top of his head, the second chunk on his eyes, and the third chunk on his chin.

To make this as vivid as possible, I’m imagining that he’s wearing a judge’s wig on top of his head, and it has a disembodied nose sticking out from under it (662). His hand is covering his eyes, and his hand is covered with yet another wig (665). And then, lower down, a lily is lying down on a juicy steak that’s stuck to his chin (5544).

I recommend that you close your eyes and see if you can picture this whole scene. Did you forget any details? Maybe you forgot about second judge’s wig because it wasn’t vivid enough. You should imagine it hairier, and picture that it’s scratching his hand and his eyes at the same time. Or maybe you forgot that there was a lily on the steak on his chin. Imagine that its leaves are getting stained by the juice from the meat. Now close our eyes and try again. If you can remember everything, and if you can now say all those numbers out loud from memory (662-665-5544), you’re on your way to becoming an amazing mnemonist!

If you want an even bigger challenge, see if you can memorize more than one phone number. Associate each of the following numbers with each individual’s face. This will take a lot of creativity, but it’s really fun!

  •     Riley: 225 222 3366
  •     Evan: 223 113 4466
  •     Mackenzie: 334 551 6644
  •     Nathan: 331 1144 223
  •     Madelyn: 551 3366 442
  •     Dylan: 661 5511 665

In the next lesson, we’ll learn about memory palaces. These are amazing tools for permanently storing basically unlimited amounts of information. Stay tuned…

Go to lesson 3: Memory palaces. (Click here.)