In the post-factual, fake news, digital age we live in, it seems there is no need to remember anything anymore. Names, however, are among the few things we leave up to memory on a daily basis.
So then, why are many of us bad at remembering them?
Forgetting names, in fact, has gone mainstream, with its own pop culture references: it’s the subject of television shows like “Celebrity Name Game.” It even has entries on UrbanDictionary.com like “name shame” or “forgettery.” (As in, “please remind me what your name is again. I have a forgettery instead of a memory.”) A popular iPhone app called Namerick purports to cure even the most forgetful folks through repetition and mnemonics.
While forgetting names is commonplace, it’s still associated with the most negative of feelings. “It’s the worst feeling in the world when a person is talking to you, and you know that you know that person, but you just can’t recall their name,” says Devin Selte, senior manager, Member Experience and Analytics at Servus Credit Union (373,000 mem- bers, $14.6 billion in assets) in Edmonton. It’s bad enough when the person standing before you is an old pal from high school. It’s something worse when you’re facing someone and that person happens to be a member.
Working with focus groups, Selte and his team, unsurprisingly, learned that their members liked when Servus representatives remembered their name as well as something personal about them. Members associated this with the perception that the credit union placed a positive value on them and their business.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world when a person is talking to you, and you know that you know that person, but you just can’t recall their name.” – Devin Selte
These findings make sense to Graham Best, the Langley, BC-based founder and president of Memory Dynamics Inc. “If somebody calls you by name, you feel important,” says Best. “If they remember things about you, you want to do business with that person.”
Remembering names, however, is easier said than done. Best argues that everyone has (or can have) a great memory. A former high school physics teacher turned memory trainer, he recounts being on “The Alan Thicke Show” (remember that name?) in the early 1980s, demonstrating how he had memorized the entire studio audience and their telephone numbers from a single meeting as they led into their seats. But while Best’s abilities may appear unique, he insists anybody can do it. Dutch neuroscientists have found evidence to support his claim. Their research involving brain scans, published in the science journal Neuron, revealed that there aren’t any obvious anatomical differences between the minds of memory champs and those of regular folk. Memory performance, he says, all comes down to training.
Visualizing, associating, studying — these are the techniques Best shares in his workshops and through his five-step guide, How to Remember What’s His Name. If the concepts below ring a bell, it’s because they are not unlike techniques you may have used to remember the periodic table of elements back in chemistry class.
For instance, one approach involves picturing a word that sounds like the name you’re trying to remember. Take “Bill.” Best notes that name “could be pictured by a duck’s bill, or a dollar bill.” Similarly, a technique for putting a name to a face involves studying a person’s features and picking out something memorable such as their hair style, nose shape or birth mark. The lesson goes, if Bill happened to have a cleft chin, you could make a mental picture of rolling up a dollar bill to put in his chin.
Though you may not be immediately persuaded by the quirky examples, they can work – particularly if you use associations that make sense to you. Best also notes that to maintain memory, it’s important to eat a healthy diet low in saturated fats, get plenty of exercise and, most importantly, get enough sleep. The No.1 tip he recommends? Make a point of challenging and engaging your memory regularly; like any other muscle, you use it or lose it. ◊