How to Remember Names
Those of us with ADHD have terrible working memories. One of the problems this causes for me (and I’m sure many other ADHDers) is remembering people’s names. I am terrible at remembering names. This causes me guilt when people who know my name say hello to me and use my name. I can remember their face and how I know them, but I have no idea what their name is. This is an area where I want to improve, so I did what any millennial would do. I googled how to remember names. This is what I found.
Use a Unique Technique
One that I’m sure all of us ADHDers know is that we cannot do the same things neurotypicals do and expect the same results. ADHDers do things differently. Which is okay! However, we do need to recognize that we cannot expect the techniques that work for neurotypicals to work for us. If you have ever googled how to remember names, you will probably get a lot of the same advice on every search result, and it is stuff you have already heard and tried before. Those techniques will not work for you. We need to do something unique.
What follows are my suggestions based on the research I have done. Before you read further, know that everything that follows might be ineffective for you. That is okay. You need to do what works for you. If my suggestions below do not do anything for you. Keep experimenting. Find what works for you.
Also, do not be afraid to be weird. A recurring theme when I was doing my research is that doing something weird will make it stick in your memory better.
Eliminate Limiting Beliefs
If we do not believe we can improve our ability to remember names, we won’t. This goes back to what I wrote about in my four-part blog series on having a growth mindset. We need to start telling ourselves we can grow and get better. Instead of saying, “I am horrible at remembering names,” start saying, “I am working on my ability to remember names, and I will get better.” This simple switch in your mindset might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Do you ever paid attention to the things you tell yourself? If you do, you might be surprised at what you say to yourself. Try telling yourself more positive messages and see if that starts to shape how you view your ability to remember names.
Get in the Right Frame of Mind to Learn a Name
If you are stressed or rushing through things, you will not remember the name. Your mind will be a thousand places other than where you need to be to learn a name. If you know you are about to learn someone’s name, take a deep breath and try to relax. Calm your mind as much as you can. This will help your brain be more open to learning.
One of the things I found while researching this topic is growing evidence that our technologically advanced culture has damaged our ability to memorize things. Apparently, if we are constantly storing data on our phones and devices, we are damaging our ability to memorize.
However, we have been doing this for a long time. We have been writing down addresses and names in our address books and rolodexes for years. Socrates actually expressed a similar fear. He did not like writing because he felt writing would weaken our memory.
For those of us with ADHD, our brains are not wired for memorization. Our brains lack the internal filing system that neurotypicals have. We need to externalize what we are trying to remember. This might mean carrying around a small notebook or using a note taking app on our phones. I have even met an ADHDer who took a picture of everyone he met, so he could better remember who he met and what they discussed.
Manage Your ADHD
One thing I saw as a recurring theme in my research on this topic is to focus when someone is introducing his/herself to you. Focus is one thing with which we ADHDers struggle mightily. So, by managing our ADHD, we will be better able to focus and, therefore, learn other people’s names. The brain is incredibly powerful and incredibly fragile. Brain health is even more important for ADHDers. The healthier your brain is, the better you will be able to remember people’s names. Be sure to take your medication, get exercise, eat right, and follow your health care plan.
Recognize That It Is Okay to Ask Them to Repeat Their Name
Generally, when a name is forgotten, it is forgotten by the end of the first conversation with that person. When you meet someone for the first time, ask yourself if you remember their name as the conversation is ending. If you cannot remember their name, simply ask, “What was your name again?” This will not be awkward if it is your first time meeting. In fact, it will show the other person that you are, indeed, trying to remember their name. They will know that you care enough about them to want to remember their name. This is much preferred to asking someone you’ve known for a while to repeat their name.
What, though, do you do when you see someone later and cannot remember their name? Here is something I have done in the past that has taken the pressure off of asking someone their name again: I tell them that I remember them, and I give them some details I remember about them (where we met, how I know them, details I learned about them when we met, etc.) and then say, “But, for the life of me, I cannot remember your name.” In my experience they smile and remind me of their name. I have never received a negative reaction from anyone when I have done that. However, I usually too embarrassed to actually try that. So, I, too, need to remember that it is okay to ask what their name is again.
Wear a Button That Says, “I Have ADHD. Of Course, I Don’t Remember Your Name.”
Sometimes, it might just be best to let people you do not remember their name. You could wear a button on your shirt that lets people know to remind you of their name.
This is not a joke. These buttons actually exist. I saw people wearing these at the 2018 International Conference on ADHD, but I did not have a chance to acquire one. I also do not remember who was handing them out. So, if anyone out there knows who was distributing them or knows how I could get one, please let me know!