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Names and Faces

Remembering names doesn’t need to be hard.

Lots of names and faces…

The model that most mnemonists use to remember names and faces is to take (1) a feature of someone’s face and (2) the person’s name, and then somehow connect them with a mnemonic. Simple enough, right?

But the two main problems are:

  1. How do you make sure you can come up with a mnemonic connection on the spot?
  2. How do you make sure that even if you are able to create a connection between the face and the name, you are actually able to remember the name from looking at the face instead of just the other way around?

Remember, here’s the model we need to use for remembering anything:

Basic memory model

Following this model, the goal is that when you look at someone’s face, you’ll be able to remember their name. So we have to make sure that the face is the trigger.

I’m going to show you how to come up with your mnemonic quickly and how to make sure that the mnemonic you choose actually strongly connects with the person’s name.

1. Trigger

As I just pointed out, the trigger has to be the person’s face.

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.

2. Mnemonic and result

As I wrote in the page on vocabulary mnemonics[link to vocabulary page], the key to remembering words and names to pay almost exclusive attention to the stressed syllable.

Every name, and every word really, has one primary stressed syllable. If you focus on that, not only will you be able to come up with a mnemonic more quickly because your choices are narrowed, but also, because of the magic of stressed syllables, your mind will almost always fill in the rest of the name for you if you just give it that one small part of the word.

Here are some sample names:

Common names

These are just a bunch of names I grabbed from the top of a list of common names. You can see that turning a stressed syllable into a word isn’t too hard:

(Just don't start calling your friend "Microphon-El".)

(Just don’t start calling your friend “Microphon-El”.)

Sometimes it takes a little modification, but even then, if I give you the stressed syllable, you will be able to remember the associated name. If I say “mat”, you’ll think “Matthew”; “tie”, “Tyler”; “coal”, “nicole”; “ran”, “Brandon”, because it’ll be a trigger to remember the rest of the name.

Now, some names are harder than others. “Jessica” and “Sarah” are some examples; you might use “stare” for Sarah if that works better for you, but just be creative.

Anyway, that stressed syllable gives you something to connect to the facial feature that sticks out at you. Let’s try out a couple to connect them.

Face Jessica

Name: This girl’s name is Jessica. This is one of the tougher names to mnemonize based on the stressed syllable, but we’ll derive “yes” from the syllable “Jess.” That ought to work.

Facial trigger: Your mileage may vary, but for me, the facial feature that immediately strikes me as unique is her bangs.

Mnemonic: I’ll imagine that she nods her head up and down, quickly and enthusiastically, and her bangs are bouncing up and down as she says, “Yes!”

Result: Every time I look at her face, I’ll notice the bangs and imagine her nodding and saying “Yes!” From the “yes” I’ll derive the name “Jessica.”

Face Christopher

Name: This guy’s name is Christopher. We’ll use “wrist” as the word that derives from the stressed syllable of his name.

Facial trigger: What sticks out at me the most (again, your mileage may vary) is the smallness of his upper lip.

Mnemonic: I’ll picture him rubbing his wrist on his upper lip, maybe scratching it with his watch.

Result: Every time I look at his face, I’ll (trigger) notice his upper lip, (mnemonic) think of him rubbing his wrist on it, and (result) remember the name “Christopher” from the word “wrist”.

You’ll have to practice with it yourself to make it work for you. I encourage you to use this method next time you meet someone. It takes some practice, but it can make a big difference for you.

Questions on this method or any other memory subject? Leave me a message on my podcast page.