The most common complaint made by people who consider themselves to be in possession of a poor memory, is that they are continually forgetting peoples names. They remember the faces (images are easy to recall), but the names fail to stick. The problem of forgetting names can be a big one. Particularly if you work in an environment which involves meeting a large number of new clients, who may take offence if you are continually getting their names wrong.
In fact they may even be so insulted, that they decide to take their business elsewhere. A terrible calamity indeed! The problem of forgetting names is an extremely common one, which is experienced by most people throughout their lives. But fortunately it is a problem that can be easily rectified. With of course the aid of mnemonics.
In this section I will explain two basic methods, which when used in conjunction with one another, will enable you to remember a large number of individual names associated with their respective faces, after hearing them only once. This is an incredibly useful skill to have and is particularly useful on such occasions as parties, business meetings and various other kinds of work-related or social gatherings. The methods that I will outline are as follows:
But before outlining these systems I would just like to bring to your attantion a particularly pertinent fact. That is that faces are not processed by the human brain in the same sort of way that other information is. In 1971, the scientists Goldstein and Chance conducted a series of tests in which subjects were shown a number of photographs of women’s faces, magnified snowflakes, and ink blots. 14 from each were shown for 3 seconds at a time and following an interval of 48 hours the subjects recall was tested.
It was then found that faces were the most easily recalled, this was followed by ink blots, and finally by snowflakes. Thus showing that facial recognition (unlike name recognition) is a key part of human perception.
The human brain contains a number of different sections, which are responsible for different functions. And although these sections are very indistinct, with some sections possessing the ability to take over the functions of other sections if those sections are damaged in some way, these sections do exist.
For example we all have a ‘Broca’s region of the brain, which plays an important role in speech. There is also (more relevantly) a particular section of the brain that is responsible for the recognition of faces. When this region is damaged, an individual may completely lose their ability to recognize faces. Even those that belong to close relatives or friends. This condition is known as ‘Prosopagnosia,’ from the Greek meaning ‘failure to recognize faces.’
The fact that we all possess such a specialised region in our brains, which is dedicated to the recognition of faces shows us that facial recognition is essential to being human. Now, following that short semi-detour from the field of mnemonics, I will continue to outline the all important mnemonic technique for linking names to faces.
The Observational system
The first thing that you need to do upon meeting someone new whose name you want to commit to memory, is to somehow give their name meaning, so that it may be easily visualised.
For example the name ‘Jhonson’ can easily be broken down into the two words Jhon and Son. These words possess meaning, and anything that contains meaning is far more memorable than something that does not.
The name ‘Rosenberg’ can also be broken down to form the three words Rose, Hen and Berg (iceberg). These words also possess meaning and are thus far more memorable than the abstract name ‘Rosenberg.’
The name ‘Greensmith’ could be separated into the two words Green and Smith. The colour green is obviously fairly easy to visualise. Also smith (to me anyway) immediately conjures up the image of a blacksmith.
As a final example, the name ‘Standish’ may be split apart to form the two words Stand and Dish. Again these two words are simple to visualise.
Some of the names that you will come across are obviously far easier than others to visualise. For example the names Green, White, Brown and Black (being colours), already possess meaning and thus require no further processing in order for you to visualise them. So to do the names Peacock, York, Smiley and Forester.
Other names may however, require a little more effort to transform into a meaningful phrase, or set of images. But with a bit of practice, you will I’m sure be amazed at just how easy you will find it to turn any name at all - no matter how abstract, into an easily visualisable form. However to help you on your way, I have listed at the end of this section, a large variety of different names, together with appropriate mental imagery.
The purpose of splitting an abstract name into a non-abstract collection of words, is to allow your brain to categorise the information that is contained within the name. Something that the human brain has some difficulty doing with the name in its abstract form.
Also the act of transposing a name into a meaningful form, forces an individual to observe that name, and as was explained in an earlier section, observation is the most important prerequisite of an individual’s memory.
The Associational system
After breaking down a name that you wish to recall into an easily visualisable image (or set of images), the next step is to link that image to the individual concerned.
To accomplish this, you simply need to pick out the features or characteristics of the individual that stand out the most to you. This could be a dimple on his chin, or a freckle on her nose, or even a limp in their left leg.
Other things that you could use are – big ears, a hooked nose, wide forehead, a large or a small mouth, full or thin lips, or even a pair of bushy eyebrows. You could also choose something less visual, such as a lisp, or a stutter as the feature of the person that stands out the most to you.
Whatever the feature that you choose is, linking it to a name should not present you with much of a problem. That is it shouldn’t if you are familiar with the concept of linking. I have listed a few examples below to show you exactly what I mean.