Making Memories of First Meetings:
Names to Faces and Faces to Names
In everyday life it is a fairly common experience to meet several new people at once, as at the beginning of a new school year or when joining a new sports team or music class. A few weeks later, you may meet these same people in a new environment and discover they are someone you recognize as familiar but cannot name. In this situation you may often be able to remember details about the person, especially in relation to the environment you first met them, but still be unable to put a name to his or her face. Knowing people's names helps create healthy, friendly relationships, and there are skills and methods to help you.
The brain best remembers things that are repeated, rhythmic, rhyming, structured, visually striking, or connected to something we already know. For connecting faces to names, the best visual cue is the face (we cannot go by what the person is wearing on that day or what they are carrying), and the best sound cue is something about the sound of the name (sound, rhythm, rhyme, or alliteration). Animated actions round out a third possible memory hook.
How do we make a face memorable? The moment you see the person’s face, what feature attracts your attention 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.
How do we make a name memorable? The key to remembering names to pay attention to the stressed syllable.
Every name, and every word really, has one primary stressed syllable. That is usually the root of shortened names and nicknames. 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 complete name for you.
How do we combine the two? This is where creativity and imagination come in: we combine the Person (the face) through a memorable Action (animation or motion), with the abstract Object (the name).
This is National Geographic Emerging Explorer 2014 grant recipient Asher Jay, a conservationist.
In Person: Visually, her hair is arranged in side bangs; she may change this look later, but this is what we have for now.
In Action: Her bangs keep falling into her face when she nods her head, which she does a lot in conversation--she is a very positive person.
In Abstract/Semantics: Aurally, she pronounces her name using the United Kingdom/India pronunciation "As-SURE," in contrast to the more common American "ASH-er." This will make her even more memorable.
Faces to Names Memory: I’ll remember that she nods her head up and down quickly and enthusiastically, and her bangs are bouncing up and down as she says “Sure!” or "Okay!--This rhymes with and mimics the movements of Asher Jay!
This is National Geographic Emerging Explorer 2014 grant recipient Sanga Moses, a renewable energy and reforestation advocate.
In Person: Visually, he smiles almost constantly.
In Action: His hands are in constant motion when he is in conversation; he traces a circular path with his arms, usually ending with his hands clasped in front of his chest.
In Abstract/Semantics: Aurally, he pronounces his name "SAN-ga;" he is from Uganda (U-GANh-duh). This creates some sound connections to make him even more memorable.
Faces to Names Memory: I could remember that he is "Smiling Sanga," or "Circular Sanga," always "Moses in Motion." Sanga of Uganda--This makes Sanga Moses a most memorable force for his mission of reforestation!
Improving faces to names memory takes practice and a dedication to being fully in the moment when you meet someone new. It is easiest for people who have the observation skills to associate their visual memory of the person’s face to an action memory of physical mannerisms linked to the sound of the person’s name. It’s all about creating a vivid experience in your mind that you to reach back and remember at some later time and place.