Memory Forum

Memorizing Names and Faces

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This page compiles techniques for memorizing names and faces. For the Names & Faces event in memory competitions, see: Names and Faces Event.

Contents

Dominic O'Brien's Methods

These techniques are from Dominic O'Brien -- 8 time winner of the World Memory Championships. The techniques are described in the audiobook, Quantum Memory Power.

Three principles of memory:

  • association -- memory and creativity are based on associations
  • location -- there is something about placing mental images in a specific location that makes them easier to recall
  • imagination -- the mind remembers things that are exaggerated, so mnemonic images should be vivid and exaggerated

O'Brien said that mnemonic associations should be given a specific location. When someone's name can't be remembered, the first thing the mind does is say, "where did I meet this person?" As soon as the person can be placed in a location (e.g., "I met this person at a cafe last year"), all the other associated information about the person usually comes flooding back.

Mental locations for people can be artificially created. In Quantum Memory Power, Dominic O'Brien says always give a face a place.

Here is a summary of the four techniques for remembering names and faces from Quantum Memory Power:

1. You remind me of someone...

If a person immediately reminds you of someone, they can be transported to a specific mental location. For example, if they remind you of a friend, picture the person at your friend's house.

Then when they tell you their first name, use the name to create a key image that you then place with the person in your friend's house. If their name is James (the most popular name in the US), you might have the person holding a gun and spinning around like at the beginning of a James Bond movie.

When you see the person's face, you remember the mental image of the person at your friend's house and the gun (symbolizing James Bond) which brings up the name James.

You can reuse key images. "Gun" might always mean a James. "Apple on head" might always mean a William (Tell). "Jay pecking at a corn cob" might mean a Jacob.

2. What's my line...

For this one you need their line of work, so it's less convenient. If you know their line of work, you can get your location from their line of work.

Example: she works in a coffee shop, so place the person behind the counter of a specific coffee shop. Her name is Isabella which can be broken down into "is-a-bell-a"... you could picture her transforming into a bell. When you see her, it brings up the image of her turning into a bell at a coffee shop and you remember "Isabella - works at a coffee shop."

3. The feature link

This variation uses things like physical features, tattoos, or other characteristics. If your first impression is "pointy ears," and that makes you think of Spock from Star Trek, place the person on deck of the Starship Enterprise.

When they say their name, place the key image with them on the deck of the Starship Enterprise. E.g., the name is William. Picture him with an apple on his head on the deck of the Starship Enterprise.

When you see the person the chain of associations is: pointy ears -> Mr. Spock -> Starship Enterprise -> apple on head -> William Tell -> his name is William.

4. First-name Places

This is the easiest for remembering a lot of unfamiliar people at once. Get person's first name. Transport them to a location based on the first name.

E.g., for the name Noah, you could picture him on an ark. Seeing the person brings up the image of them on the ark and the name, Noah. The name Samantha might remind you of the TV show Bewitched so you could place the person on the TV show.

Complicated names can be broken down. One example Dominic O'Brien uses is the name Walski. You can break it down to "wall-ski" or someone skiing up a wall at the location. So Samantha Walski might be skiing up a wall on the TV show Bewitched...

Ron White's Methods

Ron White, two time USA Memory Champion:

  1. Make images for common names
  2. Pick a distinguishing feature on the person
  3. Attach the image to the distinguishing feature with an action

E.g., all people named Karen might have a "carrots" image. If her cheeks stand out (feature), imagine her cheeks are made of carrots (image) and you're eating carrots off her cheeks (action).


See also Ron White remembering names on Montel Williams.

Ron White uses the following images for common first names. This list is free from his website and might be just a partial list:

Female names

  • Abby – A Bee
  • Abigail – A bee in a pail
  • Adell – A Bell
  • Alice - Lice
  • Allison – Lice in the sun
  • Amy – Aiming
  • Angie – Ants drinking tea
  • Ann – Ant
  • Anita - kneading
  • Annette – A net
  • Annie – Orphan Annie
  • April – A pill
  • Ashley – Ashes
  • Audrey – Laundry
  • Barbara – barbed wire
  • Beatrice – beat rice
  • Becky – horse bucking
  • Belinda – Bee in a window(winda)
  • Bernadette – burn a net
  • Beth – bath
  • Betty – betting
  • Beverly – bed of leaves
  • Billie – billy goat
  • Bobbie – fishing bobber
  • Bonnie – Bonnet
  • Brenda – bent window (winda)
  • Bridget – Bridges
  • Camille – camel
  • Candice- can of dice
  • Candy – candy
  • Carla – car with lace
  • Carmen – car and man
  • Carol – Christmas carol
  • Celeste – stars
  • Charlotte – spider web
  • Cheryl – chair that is ill
  • Chloe – clover
  • Chris – cross
  • Chrissy – cross in the sea
  • Christine – Christmas tree
  • Cicely – sis being silly
  • Cindy – cinnamon candy
  • Clara – clarinet
  • Claudia – cloud
  • Colleen – calling
  • Connie – convict
  • Crystal – crystal vase
  • Daphne – dolphin
  • Darlene – door with beans
  • Dawn – dawn
  • Debbie – dead bee
  • Deborah – dead boar
  • Denise – disease
  • Diana – dying ants
  • Dixie – Confederate flag
  • Donna – Donald Duck
  • Doris – doors
  • Dorothy – tornado (Wizard of Oz)
  • Dottie – dots shaped like ‘E’
  • Edna – head saying ‘ahh’
  • Eileen – eye leaning
  • Elaine – air plane
  • Eleanor – plane landing on door
  • Elise – A lease
  • Elizabeth – lizard breath
  • Ellen – island
  • Ellie – belly
  • Emily – family
  • Erica – ear
  • Eve – Christmas Eve
  • Evelyn - violin
  • Faith – church
  • Felicia – fleece
  • Florence – floor dance
  • Frances – Eiffel Tower
  • Gabrielle – Gabby (talking ) bell
  • Gail – gale force wind
  • Georgia – gorge
  • Gina – blue jeans
  • Ginger – ginger bread man
  • Ginny – bottle of gin on knees
  • Glenda – blender
  • Gloria – Old Glory
  • Grace – saying a prayer
  • Hannah – hand
  • Harriet – lariat
  • Hattie – hat with an ‘E’
  • Heather – feather
  • Heidi – someone hiding
  • Helen – light (what Helen means)
  • Holly – boughs of holly
  • Hope – rope, soap
  • Irene – eye ring
  • Iris – a wrist
  • Jackie – car jack
  • Jacqueline – lint on a jack
  • Jamie – chain on your knee
  • Jan – jam
  • Janet – jam in a net
  • Janice – jeans in a noose
  • Jeanette – jeans in a net
  • Jeanie – genie
  • Jennifer – chin fur
  • Jenny – chinny
  • Jessica – vest with cuffs
  • Jill – pill
  • Jo – sloppy joe hamburger
  • Joan – Joan of Arc
  • Joanne – sloppy joe w/ ants
  • Joy – Joy dishwashing liquid
  • Joyce – juice
  • Juanita – one knee
  • Judith – blue desk
  • Judy – chewing tea
  • Julie – jewelry
  • June – june bug
  • Karen – carrot
  • Kate – gate
  • Katherine – cat that runs
  • Kathleen – cat that leans
  • Kathy – cat
  • Katie – kite
  • Kay – key
  • Kim – swim
  • Kirsten – skirt with a stem
  • Laura – laurels
  • Laurie – lowering an ‘E’
  • Leslie – less than sign ‘<’
  • Lillian – lily with ants on it
  • Lily – lily
  • Linda – window (winda)
  • Lisa – Mona Lisa
  • Lois – lost ‘S’
  • Loretta – lower it
  • Lorraine – low rain
  • Louise – low easel
  • Lucille – loose sail
  • Lucinda – loose cinder
  • Lucy – I Love Lucy
  • Lynn – lint
  • Madeline – mad at lint
  • Mandy – mandolin
  • Marcy – marching
  • Margaret – market
  • Marge – barge
  • Maria – sangria wine
  • Marian – mare with ants
  • Marie – mare with an ‘E’
  • Marilyn – marry lint
  • Marjorie – my jury
  • Marsha – marsh mellow
  • Martha – vineyard
  • Mary – merry go round
  • Marry Ellen – marry a melon
  • Melanie – melon on your knee
  • Melissa – molasses
  • Meredith – mare in a dish
  • Miriam – mirror ham
  • Mitzi – mitt that can see
  • Mona – moaning
  • Monica – harmonica
  • Nan – nun
  • Nancy – nun eating seeds
  • Natalie – gnats
  • Nellie – kneeling
  • Nicole – Nickel
  • Nora – snore ah!
  • Noreen – no rain
  • Norma – normal
  • Olive – olives
  • Olivia – oh liver!
  • Pam – spam
  • Pamela – paneling
  • Pat – act of patting
  • Patricia – pats of butter
  • Patty – hamburger patty
  • Paula – ball with an ‘A’
  • Pauline – pole that leans
  • Peg – peg
  • Penny – penny (coin)
  • Phyllis – philly
  • Priscilla – pass the Jello
  • Rachel – ray shining on a shell
  • Ramona – ram moaning
  • Rebecca – reach for the deck
  • Renee – raining A’s
  • Roberta – robot
  • Robin – bird
  • Rochelle – row of shells
  • Rosa – rose ah!
  • Rosalie – rose on your knee
  • Rosalyn – rosin (bag)
  • Rose – rose
  • Roxanne – rocks in hand
  • Ruth – Baby Ruth candy bar
  • Sadie – saddle
  • Sally – salad
  • Samantha – saw a man
  • Sandra – sander
  • Sandy – Sand
  • Sarah – Sarah Lee cup cakes
  • Sasha – sash
  • Sherry – bottle of sherry
  • Sharon – sharing
  • Sheila – shield
  • Sheryl – chair that is ill
  • Shirley – shirt sleeves
  • Sidney – sit on a knee
  • Sylvia – silver ware
  • Sonia – Sony Walkman
  • Sophia – sew a bee
  • Stacy – stay seated
  • Stephanie – step on knees
  • Sue – suit
  • Sue Ann – suit with ants
  • Susan – lazy Suzan
  • Susannah – snoozing
  • Tammy – tummy
  • Teresa – tree saw
  • Terry – terry cloth
  • Tess – test
  • Vanessa – van wearing a dress
  • Vicky – Vick’s cough drops
  • Victoria – victory
  • Vivian – we win
  • Wanda – wand
  • Windy – wind
  • Yvette – Corvette
  • Yvonne – heave on
  • Zoe – sew an ‘E’

Male names

  • Aaron – air gun
  • Abe – ape
  • Adam – a dam
  • Al – owl
  • Alan – alan wrench
  • Albert – burnt owl
  • Alex – owl that licks
  • Alexander – leg sander
  • Alfred – owl fried
  • Alonzo – bonzo (clown)
  • Alvin – owl wins
  • Andrew – ants drew
  • Andy – ants drinking tea
  • Angelo – angel eating jello
  • Anthony – ants in a tree
  • Archie – archery
  • Armand – arm band
  • Arnold – arm hold
  • Art – art work
  • Arthur – author
  • Austin – cowboy boot (Texas)
  • Barney – barn
  • Barry – berry
  • Bart – dart
  • Ben – bench
  • Benny – bending
  • Benjamin – bend a man
  • Bernard – St Bernard
  • Bernie – burn a knee
  • Bert – bird
  • Bill – duck’s bill
  • Bob – bobsled
  • Bobby – bobby pin
  • Brad – bread
  • Bradford – bread in a Ford
  • Bradley – bread with leaves
  • Brandon – branded
  • Brian – brain
  • Brock – rock with a ‘B’
  • Bruce – bruise
  • Bud – rose bud
  • Ceasar – Julius Ceasar
  • Cameron – camera
  • Carl – curl
  • Carlos – car that is lost
  • Carter – charter a boat
  • Cary – carry
  • Cecil – seal
  • Cedric – red brick
  • Chad – chaps
  • Charles – charcoal
  • Charlie – charred leaves
  • Chester – chest of drawers
  • Chet – Jet
  • Chris – cross
  • Christian – Christ
  • Christopher – kiss furr
  • Chuck – chalk
  • Clark – clock
  • Claude – cloud
  • Clayton – ton of clay
  • Cliff –cliff
  • Clifford – Ford going off cliff
  • Clint – lint
  • Clinton – ton of lint
  • Clyde – Clydesdale horse
  • Cole – coal
  • Colin – calling
  • Conrad – con(vict) rat
  • Corey – apple core
  • Craig – crack
  • Curt – curtain
  • Dan – dam
  • Daniel – van yells
  • Darren – da rent
  • Darryl – barrel
  • Dave – cave
  • David – divot
  • Dennis – dentist
  • Derek – oil derrick
  • Dick – deck
  • Dirk – dirt
  • Dominick – dominoes
  • Don – dawn
  • Donald – Donald Duck
  • Doug – dig
  • Douglas – dug a glass
  • Drew – drew
  • Duane – drain
  • Dunking – dunking
  • Dusty – dusting
  • Dwight – white ‘D’
  • Earl – pearl
  • Ed – head
  • Eddie – eddy
  • Edgar – head gear
  • Edmund – head mount
  • Edward – head ward
  • Edwin – head wind
  • Eli – eel eye
  • Emmanuel – a manual
  • Eric – ear ache
  • Ernie – ear and knee
  • Erwin – ear & wind
  • Ethan – eating
  • Evan – oven
  • Everette – sever it
  • Felix – feel it
  • Fletcher – fetcher
  • Floyd – flood
  • Frank – frankfurter
  • Fred – fried egg
  • Freddy – frayed ‘E’
  • Frederick – frayed brick
  • Garrett – chair it
  • Gary – garage
  • Geoffrey – chef in a tree
  • George – gorge
  • Gerald – chair that is old
  • Gil – fish gil
  • Gilbert – burnt fish gils
  • Graham – graham crackers
  • Grant – granite (rock)
  • Greg – keg
  • Gus – gust of wind
  • Hal – hail
  • Hank – hankerchief
  • Hans – hands
  • Harold – hair that is old
  • Harry – hair
  • Hector – heckler
  • Herb – herb
  • Herbert – herb & bird
  • Howard – coward
  • Hugh – ewe
  • Irv – nerve
  • Irving – swerving
  • Isaac – eye sack
  • Ivan – eye on van
  • Jack – car jack
  • Jacob – Jacob’s ladder
  • Jake – shade
  • James – chains
  • Jason – jaybird in the sun
  • Jay – jaybird
  • Jeff – chef
  • Jeffrey – chef in a tree
  • Jeremy – chair on me
  • Jerome – chair roam
  • Jerry – cherry
  • Jess – chest
  • Jim – gym
  • Joe – sloppy Joe hamburger
  • Joel – jewel
  • Joey – kangaroo
  • John – toilet
  • Jonah – whale
  • Jonathan – toilet that is thin
  • Jordan – jaw of tin
  • Jose – hose
  • Joshua – shower
  • Juan – wand
  • Jud – jug
  • Julio – jewel that is low
  • Justin – justice
  • Keith – keys
  • Ken – can
  • Kenneth – can on a net
  • Kent – tent
  • Kevin – cave in
  • Kirk – kick
  • Kyle – tile
  • Lance – Sir Lancelot
  • Larry – lariat
  • Lawrence – law for ants
  • Lee – leaves
  • Len – lens
  • Leo – lion
  • Leon – lean on
  • Leroy – leaves on a toy
  • Les – less than sign ‘<’
  • Lionel – Lionel train
  • Lou – blue (color)
  • Lucas – low kiss
  • Luke – luke warm water
  • Luther – roofer with an ‘L’
  • Lyle – aisle
  • Mack – Mack Truck
  • Manny – man with an ‘E’
  • Mark – marker
  • Marshall – law enforcement
  • Martin – Martian
  • Marvin – carving
  • Mason – mason jar
  • Matt – door matt
  • Matthew – matt in a pew
  • Maurice – more rice
  • Max – mix
  • Maxwell – mix well
  • Mel – melon
  • Melvin – melt van
  • Michael – bicycle
  • Mickey – Mickey Mouse
  • Mike – microphone
  • Miles – miles
  • Mitch – mitt
  • Morris – Morris The Cat
  • Morgan – organ
  • Nathan – gnat in your head
  • Ned – bed
  • Neal – nail
  • Nick – nickel
  • Noah – no air
  • Noel – Christmas Noel
  • Norman – Norseman
  • Oliver – olive
  • Oscar – Academy award
  • Otis – Otis elevator
  • Owen – rowing
  • Pat – pat something
  • Patrick – St Patrick
  • Paul – ball
  • Pedro – paid to row
  • Pete – Pete Moss
  • Peter – Peter cottontail
  • Phil – fill up
  • Pierre – pier
  • Preston – pressing a ton
  • Quincy – wind and sea
  • Ralph – raft
  • Randall – ram and doll
  • Randolph – ram and dolphin
  • Randy – bottle of brandy
  • Ray – ray of light
  • Raymond – ray on a mound
  • Rex – wrecks
  • Richard – wrench in a yard
  • Richie – dollar sign
  • Rick – brick
  • Rob – robber
  • Robbie – robe
  • Robert – robot
  • Rod – rod
  • Roderick – rod in a brick
  • Rodney – rod in knee
  • Roger – rod in chair
  • Roland – rolling
  • Ron – rum
  • Ronald – Ronald McDonald
  • Ronnie – running
  • Ross – boss
  • Roy – Roy Rogers
  • Russ – rusts
  • Russell – rustle
  • Sam – Uncle Sam
  • Sammy – Uncle Sam on knee
  • Samuel – Uncle Sam on mule
  • Sandy – sand
  • Scott – Scott paper towels
  • Shawn – yawn
  • Seymour – see more
  • Sheldon – shielding
  • Sherman – German shepard
  • Sid – sit
  • Stan – stand
  • Steve – stove
  • Stewart – steward
  • Stu – stew
  • Tad – tadpole
  • Teddy – teddy bear
  • Terry – tearing an ‘E’
  • Tex – Texas
  • Theodore – see a door
  • Thomas – thermos
  • Tim – tin can
  • Timothy – tin of tea
  • Toby – toe and bee
  • Todd – toad
  • Tom – tom cat
  • Tommy – Tommy gun
  • Tony – Tony the Tiger
  • Tracy – tracing an ‘E’
  • Ty – tie
  • Tyrone – tie rowing
  • Tyler – tire
  • Van – van
  • Vince – fence
  • Vern – fern
  • Vernon – furry nun
  • Vic – Vick’s cough drop
  • Vincent – mint fence
  • Wade – wade in pool
  • Wallace – walrus
  • Walt – waltz
  • Walter – wallpaper
  • Ward – ward
  • Warren – warden
  • Wayne – rain

Chester Santos' Methods

Tips from the 2008 USA Memory Champion: http://www.chestersantos.net/blog1/?p=20

Summary from the blog post:

  1. Repeat the person's name right after hearing it: "Nice to meet you, John."
  2. Associate the name with someone or something: Alice -> Alice in Wonderland
  3. Use visual images: Alice -> Alice in Wonderland -> rabbit. Alice has nice lips, so picture a rabbit kissing Alice. [Unusual images are more memorable. This is similar to the Dominic O'Brien techniques described above.]


Quote: "Granted, what I've just described takes practice, but it is a skill that you are very capable of developing. Using this technique alone, I've been able to memorize and perfectly recall the names of as many as 75 people in only 15 minutes."

See also, Chester's article on remembering names on AskMen.com.

Harry Lorayne's Methods

Harry Lorayne's methods for memorizing names and faces described here come from his book Ageless Memory.

Combined Names and Faces

Lorayne advises remembering names through auditory associations which he calls the Substitute Word system. These images are then related to salient or outstanding features on the person's face to create a composite, absurd image that will be easier to remember (similar to Ron White's method).

Names

Five rules are given to increase name recognition 20%. The Substitute Word system is supposed to cover the rest by making a meaningful image.

  • Rule 1: Be sure to hear the name
  • Rule 2: Try to spell the name
  • Rule 3: Make a remark about the name
  • Rule 4: Use the name during your initial conversation
  • Rule 5: Say the name when you say goodbye

Surnames in the Lorayne system are classed into three categories of meaning:

  • names with obvious or inherent meaning (Grove, Whitefield, Brown)
  • names with immediate associational recognition (Versace, Faulkner, Berra)
  • names with no clear association or meaning (Maurello, Sosostris, Akakievich)

This last category must be 'unzipped,' meaning the names are brought to the front of the learner's attention and linked to similar sounding words. An example of his system is the name Baldwin, which could be turned into 'bald one' or 'bald win.'

Further examples:

  • Petrocelli (pet row jelly)
  • Bentavagnia (bent weather vane)
  • Van Nuys (van noise)
  • Jeffries (chef freeze)

Lorayne recommends set images for common prefixes and suffixes (an egg or oven for -ova in Russian names, a hamburger for Mc- or Mack-).

The same system is recommended for first names. With fewer first names, standard images can be created e.g. a door mat for Matt or an edible deed for William. These images will be joined to the surname image along with any other markers that need to be remembered. Petty officer Jacques McAdams could be Lurch (from the Addams family) in a petticoat (petty officer) holding a jackknife (Jacques) and eating a hamburger (Mc-) with his other hand.

Faces

  • Remembering faces follows the same basic layout as remembering names. The final step is uniting the names image with the facial characteristic.

First, attention must be paid to any unusual features found on the face such as plucked, thin eyebrows, a large nose or square jowl. The chosen feature will serve as a locus for the name image. If Petty officer Jacques McAdams has a large nose, Lurch can disappear into his nostrils or carve them out with his jackknife and dump his leftover hamburger into them.

Nelson Dellis' Method

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