Remembering Names, Part One & Two by Charles R. Swindoll
Remembering is a skill. Sure, there are those who have been blessed with a good memory. But they are exceptions. For most of us, remembering is a skill, like speaking in public, singing, reading, thinking, or swimming. We improve at a skill by hard work—direct effort applied with a good deal of concentration, mixed with proper know-how.
One of the most glaring weaknesses we often confess is in the realm of remembering names. We excuse it by saying: “I’m not good at remembering names!” or “Your face is familiar, but what was that name?” I suppose that’s better than: “Your breath is familiar, but not your name.”
But I’m afraid we have begun to believe something that isn’t true as we make our excuses. The fact is . . . you can remember names! Except for a very few, rare cases, anybody can remember anybody.
The secret lies in that very brief period of time we stand face to face with another person—in fact, the most important person in your life at that moment. You see, that momentary encounter has been directed by God. He has arranged two lives so that they cross at His prescribed time—so you can be sure that the meeting is significant. So is the name! How you fit the name with the face—and cement both together in your memory bank—is of crucial importance.
I’ll go into that tomorrow; for now, I must again emphasize the proper mental attitude we should have to begin with. Remind yourself at each introduction and handshake:
This person is important (because he or she is!).
God has arranged our meeting (because He has!).
It would be safe to say that people with remarkable memories developed them because of a driving need or desire. One of the keys that unlocks a person’s soul is the realization that you are interested enough to call him or her by name. Let that be your driving force as you make the concerted effort to remember someone’s name. I’ll tell you how tomorrow.
Okay . . . there you stand, getting introduced to someone. How are you going to remember the person’s name? Well, you’re already of the mind-set that this meeting and the person are very important. You remember that from yesterday, right? Okay, so now zero in first on one major thing—the name, nothing else, for a few seconds. Ignore all distractions and peripheral activity. Listen for one thing, the name. That is your goal, after all.
Now then, I’ll pass on a simple little process that works for me. It is not original with me, but I have found that it is successful when I concentrate. Three steps are involved in the process of cementing a name and the face into my mind:
1. Impression. Allow the name to make an impression—a dent—on your mind. Do this by being sure you have heard the name correctly. Repeat it. If necessary, spell it to the person, asking if that is the correct spelling. As you shake hands and talk for a few moments, picture the name in your mind. Secure the exact pronunciation.
2. Association. Here’s where the fun comes. Think of an association you can link with the name. Visualize the name and think of something that sounds like it or rhymes with it. The crazier the better! Mr. Steinhaus (“stone house”). Frank Baer (“he’s a big and hairy fella”). The Haughtons (they seem “haughty”). John Lincoln (“he is tall like President Lincoln”). Marlene Moody (“she is sad-looking . . . moody”). Ed Neuenschwander (“how can I forget a name like that?”).
3. Repetition. As you talk together, use the person’s name frequently in the conversation. You might introduce the individual to others in the group, and again distinctly repeat the name.
This is no guarantee . . . in fact, it may even backfire on you at times. But more often than not it will enable you to grab the other person’s “handle” at that moment of panic when the two of you meet again.
Maybe you’re thinking, “A name isn’t that important . . . what I’m interested in is his soul.” Listen, as I mentioned yesterday, one of the keys that unlocks a person’s soul is the realization that you are interested enough to call him or her by name!
Furthermore, the Bible is filled with thousands of people who had names . . . and those names often had associated meanings: Simon—later Peter . . . Jacob—laterIsrael . . . Saul—later Paul. And what about the angel’s firm command in Matthew 1:21, “You shall call His name Jesus.”
When the eternal books are opened, earthly names will be read (Revelation 20:15; 21:27). When we are ushered into heaven, new names will be given to each one (Revelation 2:17).
If the Lord thinks enough of our names to write every one of them in His record, is it asking too much to learn a few as we travel here below? Of course this means that we must consider the other person important enough to remember. If you struggle with that, you have a problem far more serious than a faulty memory!