In further experiments, the researchers showed that occupations are easier to remember because we can associate them with ideas or memories that are meaningful to us. When you hear that a man is a baker, you associate him with all kinds of ideas about what that means: he bakes bread, his workplace smells fantastic, maybe he even wears a funny white hat.
But the name Baker isn't really associated with anything except with the stranger's face, which isn't particularly meaningful to you.
How can we use this information? If you want to get better at remembering names, you need to add meaning.
Here are four simple steps to getting better at remembering names.
1. Pay attention
First, remember to be mindful and pay attention. If you're thinking about what you're going to say next in the conversation, the person's name won't even enter your short-term memory. Focus and repeat the name back. Ask for the spelling or for a last name if that helps you to focus.
2. Add meaning
In your mind, add meaning to the name. You can think of an object that sounds similar (a garden for Gordon, a stove for Steve). You can think of someone else you know who has the same name (like your brother John, or your best friend Angela). Or find a rhyme for the name (Jane rhymes with chain, Leigh rhymes with flea). Turning the name into something visual can be especially powerful. (Garden, stove, your brother, chain, flea are all things that you can visualize.)
If you yourself have an unusual name, you can help others by adding meaning for them. Actress Soairse Ronan helps people to remember the pronunciation of her unusual name by saying, "SIR-shah, like 'inertia'". I often help people to remember my name by providing the visual: "Fawn, like the baby deer."
3. Pick out a distinctive feature
What is an interesting feature of the other person? Does he have large ears? Does she have a streak of white in her hair? Do they have big dimples?
Now attach that meaningful name to that visual cue. Mike with big ears could have microphones in his ears. Jane might have a chain in her white streak. Gordon's big dimples might have flower gardens growing in them. The more ridiculous the better; your brain loves to remember novel images.
In our last blog post, we described how effortful retrieval is key to remembering in the long term. At the end of an event or at the end of the day, ask yourself, "Who did I meet today?" Take the time to revisualize the name and the key feature of the person to anchor them in your mind.
Does this sound like a lot of work? It certainly does take more effort than forgetting! But let this thought encourage you: unlike your shoe size, your memory is not fixed. Memory is something you can grow. So while this is more work, remember that you are training to get a better and more powerful brain. The steps above take just a few extra seconds. Get into the habit, and you'll be on your way to growing your brain and your memory, not to mention impressing everyone you meet when you remember their name.
 McWeeny, Young, Hay, & Ellis, Putting names to faces, British Journal of Psychology, 1987