Human social reciprocity has undergone a retrograde evolution throughout the centuries; surrendering acute memory retention for greater processing abilities. Throughout the ages, before printing presses and scribing became a norm, people memorized an abundance of information and retained that information over long periods of time. Poets and storytellers verbally reenacted their works as if the manuscript lay before their eyes. Priests and monks quoted scripture verbatim, and common folk visually captured terrain for hundreds of miles without the guide of a map or compass. In today’s society we are overwhelmed with stimulation. We rely heavily on technology to compensate for our digressed memory capacity. We no longer retain phone numbers; our cell phones and address books do that. We no longer need to pay attention to the land around us; our GPS will guide us to the location. We no longer need to memorize important documents and stories; the content is a Google search away. Our memory sacrifice does not come without reward. Today, people process information at a remarkable rate compared to the ages before. Unfortunately, what we process is still archived in short term memory, so, although we may interpret answers faster, remembering the variables that led to the answer or remembering the answer itself may efface from thought. The most important social scenario that is directly affected by memory retention is human introduction.
Remembering someone’s name is not rigamarole, yet people today have a hard time retaining social nomenclature. This is partly due to the evolution described above, but also due to lack of technique and effort combined with individual distraction. The value of retaining names in a social situation is priceless. The use of proper nouns is the difference between someone viewing you as a stranger or someone who wants to get to know you. There are many scientific theories as to why we don’t remember names in an initial greeting. The reason, however, is very simple; people who forget names are too concerned with conveying their own name to the party, and they simply don’t register any other introduction. Variables such as order of introduction, volume of environment, physical appearance, social demeanor, and thinking heavily on what your introduction will be are just some of the stimuli that prevent us from associating names with individuals. When an individual’s memory is already laden with introductory responses of their own, memory can’t retain the responses given by the party. Remembering names, especially in a big group, is an easy way to show people you appreciate them. Conversely, if you have just been introduced to someone and you don’t remember their name, it expresses denigration. Put simply, you come across like you don’t care. To rectify this, you must eliminate distraction; put your thoughts aside and concentrate on the individual. After you eliminate distraction, you must apply a few simple name association techniques and most importantly, give a conscious effort.
The first technique I use, whether it is a big group or an individual, is to repeat each name back to the person(s) as the introduction(s) take place. So instead of going around the group listening to names, repeat the name(s) back to the individual(s) for confirmation. This assures that 1) you have the name correct and 2) you have consciously put a name to a face. Another technique I use to retain the names of individuals is to associate them with similar names of people who I already know. I make it a point to pick out a physical attribute or a personality characteristic which can be compared to someone familiar in my life. If I just met a “Melissa” and she has blonde hair and I already have a friend named “Melissa” with brunette hair, I can remember the newly introduced Melissa by associating an opposite trait with the Melissa from my past. This technique can easily be applied to associating new people with famous people, personal traits, physical appearance, and character. Just remember to deliberately repeat the name of the new individual with whatever variable you choose to remember them by (Please don’t repeat your association out loud in front of the individual whose name you are trying to remember, some associations may be taken as offensive). Finally, don’t be afraid to ask the person to repeat their name. I see it time and time again; people start engaging in conversation after one repetition of the name and they still didn’t pick up the correct pronunciation. It is imperative that you get the name right in the initial introduction. It isn’t appealing to talk to someone any length of time and be asked for your name again when in the beginning the person acknowledged that they understood it. When introduced to people with difficult names to pronounce, such as foreign names, ask them to repeat the name and help you with the pronunciation. Also ask them to spell it for you. This shows you are taking an interest but it also helps you remember the name based on spelling association.
Whether you want to impress a business client or hook up with someone from the opposite sex, the first step (hopefully) is to remember their name. If I introduce myself to someone and they forget who I am within a reasonable amount time, I make a negative mental note of it. Contrarily, when someone who I haven’t seen in a long time remembers my name, I make a positive note. It also signifies that 1) I made good impression at our first encounter and/or 2) the person uses their own name association techniques; either way I am impressed. So instead of asking people secretly what a person’s name is behind their back or begging a friend to blatantly ask a person for their name (on behalf of you), take some of that post introduction effort I just described and show some skill at the initial introduction. If you do this from the beginning of any relationship, you can at least appear that you care, which is better than appearing not to care.