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10 Simple Ways to Remember Names

Let’s start with the very basics of relational ministry: Leaders know the people they are serving. You might be thinking: “I was afraid you were going to say that. I’m lousy at names.” Well, so am I, and so are the majority of people/leaders I know. It’s an easy excuse to fall back on.

I recently had someone say to me, “Thanks for knowing my name; that means a lot to me.” I know it means a lot. … Our name is our greatest possession. I felt good when this person said thanks, because more often they say: “Hey Doug, what’s my name? I bet you don’t remember.” Many times, I can’t. Shame, guilt and inadequacy quickly follow.

A name is a personal and powerful possession. It’s part of an identity. To know a person’s name communicates that you care.

Here are 10 practical suggestions for memorizing names (well, 9 plus your additional idea).

1. PHOTOS: Take photos of students on your phone and review them as flash cards.

2. REPETITION: Repeat a student’s name three or four times in your first conversation. (“It’s great to meet you, Tina. So, Tina, where do you go to school? Hey, Tina, how many times, Tina, do you think, Tina, I can say your name, Tina, in a sentence, Tina?” OK, maybe don’t be that obnoxious.)

3. GET MORE INFO: Ask for identifying information that can solidify a name. (“Hey, let me see your driver’s license, student ID, passport, bail bond, tattoo …”)

4. WORD ASSOCIATION: Associate his/her name with someone else you know of that name. (Dave—tall, thin, goofy hair—Dave Letterman.)

5. STUDY FACE: Study his/her face while you’re being introduced. Look for outstanding features and connect them with name (Neil = nose; Moses = mole; Brian = bushy eyebrows).

6. QUIZ:
This is risky, but ask the student to test you on it next time they see you. (“What’s my name, Doug?”) Nothing like pressure.

7. WRITE IT DOWN: Write it down (into your phone, on your hand, whatever). The act of writing it will help you retain it—especially if the ink doesn’t wash off quickly.

8. PRAY: Ask God to help you remember and care—we remember what’s important to us.

9. BLAME: Blame old age and give up … or when all else fails, use name tags.

10. YOUR IDEA: Add it to the comments section here.

I wrote this a while back as part of a leader training (click here to see the whole thing) that I allowed Interlinc to use. Then, my buddy Brian Berry took the idea and used it for his group and sent me a copy. I thought, “That would be good for my blog.” So, there you go … the genesis of this idea.

Question: What’s your idea for remembering names? Share it here.  

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Doug Fields has been in youth ministry since 1979 and former pastor to students at Saddleback Church in Southern California. He's the author of 50+ books, including the best-selling Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry & Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry. He's also the founder of Simply Youth Ministry, an instructor at Azusa Pacific University/HomeWord, and on the leadership team with Youth Specialties. You can connect with Doug through his blog at www.downloadyouthministry.com! More from Doug Fields or visit/subscribe to Doug's blog at www.dougfields.com