I worked with an accountant named Harold for close to 20 years. We worked on all sorts of projects together, and being a generally outgoing sort of person, I’d always use his name. "Hey, Harold," I would say, "where the hell are the numbers, please?" When I left my job, I said, "Hey, Harold, I’m leaving my job." And he said to me, "Why have you always called me Harold? My name is DWIGHT!" Even though I thought Harold more befitted this person, this incident made me realize how hard it is to remember people’s names.

I think there’s a reason for this. I’ve always believed that, like computers, people have a finite amount of memory. Medical science has shown that our brains can retain only so much. In my case, I have taken up all available memory banks with lyrics to top-40 hits, happenings from 1963 through 1973, dates of family birthdays and my Social Security number. This leaves no room in my brain to remember things like mathematical formulae, state capitals or Dwight.

Difficulty remembering names is an annoying trait I share with lots of people in business. As a general business rule, everyone in an organization will remember the name of the CEO, and many people will remember the names of the executive team, but few will remember your name.

At middle-management levels, it can unnerve people when you remember their name and they don’t remember yours. I was once in a meeting where the name of a fellow participant stuck in my head. My name didn’t stick in his. Whenever I would see him, I would affect a friendly tone and say, "Hey, Victor! How are you?" And I could see by the look in his eye he had no clue what my name was. Perplexity would do a quick tap dance across his face, then his eyes would open wider as if they could absorb more light and thus gain some measure of identification. Then he’d kind of stammer and say something like, "Oh! Hi ... buddy." I’d laugh a low, guttural laugh, and just to unnerve him further, I’d wink.

If you really want to rattle someone, find out the name of a stranger who is going to be in a large meeting with you, and at a critical point in the meeting, say, "What IS the answer, Ruth?" Or, better yet, use the person’s last name, thereby switching from the familiar to the impolite and intimidating: "What was the result of the analysis you did on this, Boogerman?" This is, of course, doubly effective if you know that Boogerman has no responsibility for any such thing.

Now, at the lower levels of an organization, only a few of your co-workers and maybe your boss will remember your name. This doesn’t mean that people don’t know who you are; they just don’t know your name. To them, you may simply be The Guy Who Winked at Victor.

The best people at remembering names are always in sales. They use what are called mnemonic devices. These are mental tricks, such as "30 days hath September, some other months and November, but all the rest have 31, except the one of mom’s birthday," that help you remember things. Salespeople will associate your name with something, thus burning it in to their cortex.

Example: "Dan, meet Joe Ford." "Nice to meet you, Joe Ford (repeating name). Are you any relation to the famous Ford automobile family (creating mnemonic device, because I am remembering that I took my first date, Sue Jean Polyglot, to the movies in my used Ford)?" Joe Ford: "Heh-heh, Dan. No, I’m not related to them, but I sure wish I were!" "I’ll bet you do, too (locking mnemonic device on permanently), Sue Jean!"

Practice this technique, and you’ll go far, whoever you are.


Dan Danbom’s name is, sadly, memorable.