“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2), Shakespeare

Many people are quick to write off the importance of names. It’s not because they don’t consider them important; rather, they simply have a hard time remembering them. It always surprises me when people who I consider incredibly intelligent and otherwise polished don’t take the care to remember names. Yet Shakespeare, in one of his many moments of brilliance, struck golden truth with the prose above- a name is as full as a blossoming flower- and should be given the appropriate attention.

Why are names important?

Remembering a person’s name indicates to them that you care about them. It is a sign of respect to the other person, and also indicates to them how good of a listener you are. Particularly in the interviewing world, there may not be any worse faux pas than forgetting the name of the person you have been trying to impress for an hour. The concept applies to the dating spectrum as well– names form the fundamental foundation for all relationships. Beginning a phone call with, “Hey, James, how are you?” is much more personal than, “Hey, how are you?” When you take the care to remember a person’s name, they respond to you in a way that is almost familial, as if you have been friends forever. No name? Forever a cold acquaintance.

Need a great example? There’s nowhere that illustrates how crucial names are much as the spot directly in front of the velvet ropes at a club. Got a name? You’re in. Got no name? Go away. The tight line at a the door of a nightclub indicates another aspect of names: they serve as access codes.

Having “the right” name can get you through many doors that normally would be closed. Trying to get a job? Knowing the name of someone at the company (even if you don’t know them personally) can make the difference between your resume going in the interview pile or in the shredder.

Facebook has taken note of this with it’s new feature, whereby if someone outside of your network friends you or invites you to an event, facebook informs you of your mutual friend. “Jesse Hilschinger (friends with John Rockwell) would like to be your friend.” The context can be the difference between a “confirm” and an “ignore.”

I’m horrible with names-there’s just no use.

I used to be horrible with names too, and thought it was something that would just never change; something I had no control over. That’s before I realized how much knowing someone’s name makes a difference.

The first step to remembering names is putting in the effort. Think of it this way- if I said I would give you $1,000 to remember the secretary’s name at your doctor’s office, would you? You would. That’s because, all of a sudden, her name would become important enough for you to remember. And therein lies the key of why names are so important- because they indicate how important the person is to you as well. Knowing someone’s name elevates you from the average narcissistic Joe to a caring, empathic human being in their eyes.

And, alright, knowing the secretary’s name at your doctor’s office might not get you $1000, but it may very well get you in for an appointment that day when he is booked ahead for months.

Know the matre d’s name at your favorite restaurant? All of a sudden a table just became available when it was formerly booked.

Second time’s the charm

A tried-and-true theory regarding remembering names is “Second time’s the charm.”

When we first meet someone, it is easy to forget his name. And furthermore, it’s completely understandable to forget a person’s name the first time around.

Why? The first time we encounter a new face, our minds are flooded with information. A name, which may often be the first thing exchanged, can easily slip out of your head as you busily attempt to fit this person into your rolodex of acquaintances, colleagues, friends, etc.

So what do you do?

If you know you have already forgotten the person’s name midway into the conversation, at an appropriate pause, lay a congenial hand on theirs and say, “I’m so sorry, but can you tell me your name one more time?”

The good news is that you don’t have to be embarrassed asking. Why? Because they have probably forgotten your name too. More times than not, upon asking a person for their name a second time, they will say to me, “and what was your name again?”

I’m a visual learner; what do I do?

Remembering names can be particularly hard for visual learners, who retain information by seeing it.

And 65% of our population, a vast majority, are actually visual learners.

Write it down

For visual learners, the most important thing is to be able to see the name. You can initially do this by forming a visual picture of it, as if you had written it down in cursive on a white piece of paper in your imagination, or even envision it written on the person’s forehead, as congenial President Roosevelt was said to do. Then repeat the name to yourself several times, even integrating it into the conversation, until it is ingrained in your mind.

If the opportunity arises to ask for a business card, seeing it on paper is very helpful for visual learners.

It won’t be easy when you begin, but it’ll get easier as you go. Remember grade school? A fill-in-the-blank test is always harder than a multiple choice one. It’s always harder to recall information than to choose between choices already there in front of you- but once you are used to recalling pieces of information, you’ll remember them easily.

Then, when you have the chance, write down the person’s name on paper or in your computer. Keep a notebook or contact list divided by organization or affiliation, the person’s role within that organization, a note about the person, and where you met them (for example: Bloomberg: Jimmy, accountant. Tall, dark hair, glasses, obsessed with Katy Perry. Met at Save the Children fundraiser). The next time you see Jimmy, and not only remember his name, but his Katy Perry obsession, you will have won major points.

The name game

You can also use the good old name game, whereby you associate the person’s name with something you know about them. For example: Annie who studied anthropology.

Social Networks

Linkedin and Facebook are also great ways for visual learners to solidify names. When you get back to your computer or your phone, add that person immediately to your facebook or linked in acquaintances- just seeing the name will help to solidify it in your mind, and adding them to your network will keep them on your radar via newsfeeds and the like.

Ultimately, very few people take the time or effort to remember names. But if you do, I guarantee that the results you see in your life- and in how others treat you- will be exponential- and it may even make the difference between getting that first meeting and not getting it.


Samantha Karlin is the Director of Strategic Development at IvyDate. She is a long established dating coach and image consultant, having worked with numerous clients on increasing self-esteem and gaining perspective on their love lives. Prior to working with IvyDate, Samantha was the corporate content manager at Meezoog.com, penning the popular “Dating Diva” blog. Ms. Karlin is a nationally syndicated dating columnist, having been published in Forbes, Fox Business, and Yahoo News, among others. Samantha has studied at Yale University, Tufts University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, specializing in gender issues and humanitarian conflict.