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What’s in a name?

Want to connect better with new people? Take their name.


Picture the scene. You’re in the supermarket and you turn down the pasta aisle and there they are strolling past the linguini, a smile of recognition on their face as they catch your eye, it’s… erm… the person you met at that networking event… they know Liz… they once climbed Snowdon in a force ten gale…no, it’s gone.

And it feels like a piece of your dignity has gone too, as you stumble through the conversation awkwardly avoiding an introduction to your partner who has totally clocked that you’ve forgotten the person’s name.

We’ve all been there. But ‘taking names’ can have a much bigger impact than just avoiding embarrassment on the weekly shop.

As Dale Carnegie said in How to win friends and influence people:

“One of the first lessons a politician learns is this: To recall a voter’s name is statesmanship. To forget it is oblivion.”

The reason why? A person’s name is their favourite word. It makes ‘love’, ‘pizza’, even ‘Friday’ pale into insignificance. Because it’s the greatest connection to their identity. And when someone uses it – for good or bad – it’s a sign of acknowledgment, of being seen.

So when you meet a new client, a new contact, a friend of a friend, listening actively to their name and really taking note can make a big difference. ‘I’m terrible with names’ just doesn’t cut it, because what you’re really saying is ‘I didn’t think your name was worth investing in.’

Get better at remembering

That said, it isn’t always easy to remember names – we are exposed to huge amounts of information every day, some important and some not – and it does take effort to make what matters stick.

Next time you meet someone new try these tricks:

1) Repeat repeat

When someone introduces themselves don’t just say ‘Hello’ say something that repeats their name like ‘Hello Jade, nice to meet you.’ or ‘What do you think of the event Jade?’

2) Spell check

If it’s an unusual name don’t be afraid to ask someone to spell it. It doesn’t make you look stupid, just genuinely interested and if you’ve got a visual memory can really help the name stick.

3) Make associations

A great way to remember things is to create a memorable association or connection. If your brain works visually try creating a mental picture to help – i.e. if you meet a guy called Bill from a bank picture him going into a bank and handing over a bill. Or try to make a connection between their name and a famous person or someone you know with the same name.

Create connections

Whether it’s with a new member of your team, a new client, a prospective partner, or just someone you meet at dinner, using their name is all about strengthening your connection. It makes people feel closer to you and more likely to listen and engage with you.

So, the next time you’re going into a meeting, a room full of prospects, or a social event, take some time to review who you’ll be meeting. A little bit of prep can make all the difference, because after all, as Carnegie puts it, ‘A person’s name is, to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.’