10 ways to remember names

Let’s start with the very basics of relational ministry–leaders know the people they are serving. You might be thinking, “I was afraid you were going to say that. I’m lousy at names.” Well, so am I, and, so are the majority of people/leaders I know. It’s an easy excuse to fall back on.

I recently had someone say to me, “Thanks for knowing my name; that means a lot to me.” I know it means a lot… our name is our greatest possession. I felt good when this person said thanks, because more often they say, “Hey Doug, what’s my name? I bet you don’t remember.” Many times, I can’t. Shame, guilt, and inadequacy quickly follow.

A name is a personal and powerful possession. It’s part of an identity. To know a person’s name communicates that you care.

Here are 10 practical suggestions for memorizing names (well, 9 plus your additional idea).

1. PHOTOS: Take photos of students on your phone and review them as flash cards.

2. REPETITION: Repeat a student’s name three or four times in your first conversation. (“It’s great to meet you Tina. So, Tina, where do you go to school? Hey, Tina, how many times, Tina, do you think, Tina, that I can say your name, Tina, in a sentence, Tina?” Okay, maybe don’t be that obnoxious)

3. GET MORE INFO: Ask for identifying information that can solidify a name. (“Hey, let me see your drivers license, student ID, passport, bail bond, tattoo … “)

4. WORD ASSOCIATION: Associate his/her name with someone else you know of that name. (Dave – tall, thin, goofy hair – Dave Letterman.)

5. STUDY FACE: Study his/her face while you’re being introduced… look for outstanding features and connect them with name (Neil=nose, Moses=mole, Brian=busy eyebrows).

6. QUIZ:
This is risky, but ask the student to test you on it next time they see you. (“What’s my name, Doug?”) Nothing like pressure.

7. WRITE IT DOWN: Write it down (into your phone, on your hand, whatever). The act of writing it will help you retain it–especially if the ink doesn’t wash off quickly.

8. PRAY: Ask God to help you remember and care–we remember what’s important to us.

9. BLAME: Blame old age and give up… or when all else fails… use name tags.

10. YOUR IDEA: add it to the comments section here.

I wrote this a while back as part of a leader training (click here to see the whole thing) that I allowed Interlinc to use. Then, my buddy Brian Berry took the idea and used it for his group and sent me a copy. I thought, “That would be good for my blog.” So, there you go… the genesis of this idea.

Question: What’s your idea for remembering names? Share it here.

[Are you getting Doug’s daily blog in your email inbox?] If not, it’s real easy–go here.

  • Brian

    I use word association sometimes. I have 2 neighbors boys – brothers – named Darion and Davion. I always got them mixed up. Now I just remember that Davion is the older brother, just like Dave (my dad) was the oldest one in my family.

    • dougfields

      good…simple association

  • David Hertweck

    Facebook can be very helpful for this too. If your youth ministry has a FB group take a few minutes on the day of your youth group meeting to peruse the group members and connect names to faces.

    • dougfields

      good idea! In the old days… I would take polaroid photos (what’s Facebook?) :)

  • http://twitter.com/darrensutton Veteran YouthMin

    Baptism. :) This is terrible to admit, but Lindsey was a young lady in our ministry who came consistently for 8 months whose name I could never remember. She came to Christ in spite of that, and after her baptism, I never forgot her name again. (Her running joke for the next four years was ‘if you want Darren to remember your name, you have to get baptized!) AWFUL!! :)

    In my defense, she began attending with another young lady whose name I always remembered….until now. :)

    • dougfields


  • Bruce

    Well, this is an entirely different approach – and will offend some… But, I work with what I’ve got.

    I’m worse than average with names and the kids know it. (I occasionally stumble over the names of my own kids) So, when it gets a bit awkward, or the person could be hurt. I say something along the lines of: “I may not remember your name, but I know you and i know who you are” and then rattle off a list of good characteristics about them and what they are into, etc.

    • dougfields

      that IS a different approach! you’d think if you could remember all those great qualities that you could associate a quality with a name (i.e. Caring Karen… although not many teenagers have the name “Karen” anymore)

  • Ray

    I’m usually pretty good at using number 2 and 4 to remember names. However, for fun, if you forget a name, make up a completely silly name and call them by that. After they say you forgot their name, say, “It’s not that I forgot your name, it’s just that I thought you changed it.”

    • dougfields

      that’s both “funny” and “dumb” at the same time… perfect youth ministry.

  • http://twitter.com/AusMcCann Austin McCann

    Thanks for sharing these practical tips on remembering names. I suck at remembering names so these will come in handy for me. Thanks Doug!

    • dougfields

      Austin–it’s a very small percentage of people who don’t suck at this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/markeeades Mark Eades

    We actually use name tags regularly – at least around here it’s popular to wear one & the new kids want one since everyone else has one. So I guess everything else has failed :)

    • dougfields

      I love it! I actually think with name tags it helps with remembering names… not just identifying who the kids are. The more you see a name, the easier it is to remember it.

  • http://www.smarterym.com/ Aaron Helman

    I have an intern who studied name etymology. He is better at remembering names than anyone else I have ever met.

  • http://www.facebook.com/milligan.joel Joel Milligan

    Thanks for the list of ideas! My strategy involves the tech geek side of me. When I meet a new student and they tell me their name, I immediately type out their name on a keyboard in my head. Weird, I know, but for some reason it works.

  • Jason Hill

    I remember when you first came to Saddleback’s High School ministry, you told us all you would remember our names – and you did!

    • dougfields

      Interesting that you still remember that 20 years later. There’s power in remembering a name. Hope you’re well!

  • Mike Andrews

    Have everyone in the group say their name. Then, ask if any of the students can correctly name each person. After several students do this you will have heard the names repeatedly. Unless you’re dumb as a stump, you’ll remember most if not all the names.

  • DrewE

    If you’re doing an icebreaker, do one that involves knowing people’s names. There are several circle games involving names, of varying degrees of hokeyness.

    If you’re having trouble remembering people’s names, chances are your students also don’t know everyone’s name, and they’re probably not especially inclined to work at learning the ones they don’t know. If you can get your students to know each other’s names, you’ll hear the names more and probably be reminded of them yourself.

    I sometimes find it helpful to associate names with the locations where the kids are. This doesn’t work in all situations, of course; it stinks for dodgeball, but for things like bunks at camp it helps promote organization in my brain.

  • http://twitter.com/paulstohler Paul Stohler

    Have someone with you at all times and simply have them introduce themselves each time. Then you don’t have to remember at all! #wingman ;-)

    • dougfields

      it’s nice to dream!

  • Blessed Grammy

    When I meet them I tell them I have a hard time remembering names and ask them to be patient while I work on it. I will stop and say their names many times throughout an evening or an event. I think being honest is the most humbling. Once I know them their name comes naturally.

    • dougfields

      you’re right… it’s just so tough to be honest when they’ve been coming for a long time and you keep forgetting.

  • Zac

    My two tricks are to ask for their last name (as though I know the first but can’t remember the last) I do enough work with our rosters that it usually jogs my memory on their first name.
    Otherwise I respond with “Do you know my name?” Half the time they realize they don’t remember my name either… maybe I should be more worried about that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000220431808 Dale Aceron

    In terms of apps, I’m experimenting with Evernote Hello. So far so good!

  • http://www.studentministrycentral.com/ Timbo

    I can’t do it. No matter how much I’ve tried, I just can’t do it. There just seems to be a wall in my brain somewhere. Instead I have managed to nickname kids. This seems to go over extremely well. I usually use extremely bizarre nicknames with are easy to remember. (Either based on something they are wearing, something they’ve told me about themselves, or something they’ve done.) I once named a girl “Dizzy” because she spun around in a game and fell over. She loved it so much she adopted it in the rest of her life and 5 years later all of her friends, and even her family calls her dizzy.

  • Daddie0

    When I decided to become more intentional about names, one trick that I used was when I first introduced myself to a new student I’d ask their name, then say this: “I have a really hard time with names, so tell me three unique things about yourself to help me remember!” This did a couple of things: it continued the conversation so I had more time to associate their names with their faces; it gave me more information about that student and their interests or unique talents/experiences; it helped me associate their names with those talents/traits for memorization/recall; and it told them I was working hard to know them well…but I still might screw up. It always worked very well for me!

  • DavidMartinTX

    Great tips! One thing I do is once I get their name, I then introduce them to as many people in the general vicinity as I can. This helps me not only remember the new name but brushes me up on the ones I’m introducing.

    When all else fails you’ll find me doing “bro…” Or calling them whatever their t-shirt says. :)

    • dougfields

      yep…really good, helpful idea.