Rules of Civility: Remembering Names, It’s Easier than You Think…

When your name is remembered by a long-lost acquaintance, it’s flattering to be recognized.  Being called by name makes anyone feel cared about; using given names puts people at ease quickly. Name recognition is a powerful and meaningful tool in an arsenal of good personal skills.  Having the ability to remember names is envied by many… but acquiring it yourself is not hard.  It simply takes the willingness and determination to listen and focus on a person when you meet.  Do this and the skill will be yours.  No need to ever say again when you don’t remember someone’s name, “I’m just not good with names”.

Meeting a person for the first time means that you forget about your grocery list or what time your next appointment is.  You focus on the task at hand. Just concentrate on the person. Look them directly in the eye, not gazing at the next person you will meet.  Take each introduction by itself and don’t feel compelled to remember both the first and last names, at least at first. When the name is said, repeat it, saying, “Judy, it is so nice to meet you.”  As you briefly converse, remember some feature about Judy that you can associate with her: curly hair, winning smile.  And when your conversation is finished, say her name again, “Judy, it was wonderful meeting you.”  The more times you repeat it, the more certain you are to remember her and connect her name with her.

  • If time permits when you first meet someone, you can also talk about the name itself. “Do you spell Judy ending with a ‘y’ or ‘ie’?” Briefly saying something about the name is a way to make it stick with you.

  • If you don’t hear the name clearly, ask to repeat it. Or, if it sounds complex, ask to sound it out. Almost everyone loves his or her name and will be happy to have it used correctly. A “Steven” who prefers his name pronounced “Stef-Ahn” will be glad you took the effort to get it right. In the process, it is getting engrained in your memory bank just by talking about it.

  • If a person is introduced to you as “Robert”, repeat it as “Robert”, not “Bob” until the person asks you to use the more casual version.

  • If you are a young person being introduced to an older one, use Mr./Mrs./Ms. or title before the last name. Children should always use Mr./Mrs./Ms. when meeting adults, until the adults ask to be called by the first name. Many schools have experimented with using first names for teachers but the experience is swinging back now to calling for titles to be used for teachers, doctors, and religious leaders to encourage more respect for them. For example, Ms. Cavanaugh (the teacher), Dr. Ramos (the pediatrician), Rabbi Sandler from the synagogue or Officer Miner (the policeman) are the appropriate titles for these individuals unless they themselves say to use the first name.

Remembering names is helped when people are introduced well.  Specifically, a good introduction should be spoken clearly and include some lead-in conversation, such as “Jennifer, this is Pam Liberty. Pam and I went to college together. Pam, this is Jennifer.  She and I work together.”  This not only makes the name clear but provides a way to start a conversation.

Three more tips:

  • Both men and women should stand when they are being introduced.

  • One of the rudest blunders one can ever make is failing to introduce someone in the company of others. We are all uncomfortable when we are not introduced. In such a situation, you can take a giant social step forward by introducing yourself. Although it may feel awkward to you at first, it doesn’t have to be. At a stopping point in the conversation, interject, “I’m Stella, mind if I join you?” and put out your hand to shake those of others. In other circumstances, you can try one of the following approaches. “I’ve seen you in the lobby before but I don’t believe we have been formally introduced. I am Helena from the design office and you are…?” Or, use something like, “I have been calling you Lauren for quite a while now. Is that the right name? Mine is Carol. It’s nice to meet you.”

  • If you forget someone’s name after speaking with him or her for a while and you need to make introductions, do not declare a memory lapse. Say something like, “Have the two of you met?” If they have not, reply, “Well, you should! Please introduce yourselves.” Most people know to offer their names in such a situation.

All the while, keep your focus on who you are meeting.  It will bring magic to your skill in remembering names. 


Our Contributor:

Catherine S. Arcure is a professional etiquette instructor, certified by the American School of Protocol®. During her many years as a food editor and writer, Catherine not only attracted a large and loyal following but also took every opportunity to educate readers in the social graces. As a director of development for the University of Michigan and other educational and performance-related organizations, she planned and coordinated major social events for groups ranging from 20 to 2000. In addition to cultural and volunteer activities in Manhattan, Catherine enjoys spending time with her twin grandsons, who are among her most avid students. 
If you have enrollment questions, please contact Catherine at her email at