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Maxvoltar - Memorizing Names

Maxvoltar is the personal weblog of Tim Van Damme, a freelance interface designer at Made by Elephant.

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Memorizing Names

dConstruct came and went, and yet again, it was awesome (Sam Brown has a great write-up on it, and there are numerous photo sets available on Flickr). It’s always great being reunited with familiar faces, and meeting new ones. There’s one problem: I suck at memorizing the names that go with the faces.

dConstruct after-after-party at The Old Ship

Having a photographic memory, I will immediately remember where we met before, when we met, and usually also what we talked about. However, I will probable don’t remember your name. This is something that has been haunting me my entire life, and can often lead to embarrassing conversations like “Hi, I know we met last year at conference X, but forgot your name.” or “What’s your username on Twitter again?” and so on (I actually have less difficulties remembering Twitter usernames).

It gets even worse when I follow you on Twitter and you don’t use a real picture as an avatar. This means I can be talking to you for an entire year, and still wouldn’t recognize you if we were standing next to each other at some pre/after-party.

On the other hand, I have absolutely no problem remembering URL’s or names of web services and can tell you exactly which color scheme they’re using on their website…

So, if we’ve already met before, but I didn’t remember your name, I’m very sorry. It’s me, not you :)


  • FriendlyFire

    4898 days ago

    I have to say this: thanks a lot, I no more feel alone in this world!

    I can usually remember people I saw ten years ago, who they are and what I did with them (heck, I even recall complete strangers if I see them more than once despite never actually talking to them), but I have trouble remembering the name of that guy I see everyday in my class…

    If anyone’s got a trick for that, please share!

  • Kirk

    4897 days ago

    i suggest you read ‘The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci’. Ricci was a Jesuit priest posted in China in the late 1500’s. To ‘prove’ the superiority of Western culture, he taught young Confucian scholars memory tricks. The book title refers to the method employed. In a nutshell it involves visualizing a palace or other building and placing information you need to remember within that structure. For instance – you need to remember the name of the person you just met. That person’s name will now be kept in the top-left drawer of the desk that sits in the palace’s lower rooms. I’m not doing it justice, but it is an interesting read. Fun fact – in the Hannibal Lecter stories Lecter’s superior memory skills are attributed to using the methods outlined by Matteo Ricci.

  • Tim Van Damme

    4897 days ago

    @Kirk: Thanks for the book tip. Will definitely check it out!! (love your blog BTW)

  • Kirk

    4897 days ago

    High praise indeed – thank you :)

  • Piotr

    4896 days ago

    Oh, come on! I know you took more photos than that. And you surely have one of myself (I saw you taking it, so don’t you dare you say you didn’t!).

    Btw, I have exactly the same problem when it comes to remembering names. I think everybody has! Especially when getting to know so many people in just a couple of days so you shouldn’t feel bad about it, mate.

    See you next year I guess.

  • Tim Van Damme

    4896 days ago

    @Piotr: I took about 350 pictures in total at dConstruct, but am very strict about which ones I keep. The one from you was either out of focus, too dark or too light. Looking forward seeing you again next year too, my Italian/Polish friend :)

  • Sigurdur Armannsson

    4896 days ago

    My panic when people change their avatar is probably because I rely more on pictures than names.

  • glen brammel

    4893 days ago

    The fact that you can remember what people were talking about is much more important to me than a name! Don’t sweat it!

  • Oleg

    4891 days ago

    Hi, nice posts there thank’s for the interesting information.

  • Christoph

    4885 days ago

    I think it’s kind of normal to forget names, at least it is exactly the same for me (which means it’s normal ;). Every now and than I meet people and say »Hi!« and ask »I know you from somewhere, but I don’t know wherefrom«. It’s always an annoying situation (for both of us) and I start contemplating. Remembering faces seems to be so much easier.

    It gets even worse when I get introduced to a group of people. Five minutes later I can’t remember half of the names.

    I think, more important than remembering names is to go to someone and say: »Hi«, although you forgot the name. That’s a gesture of friendship which means: Hey, I indeed forgot your name, but I still want to know it, I care about :-)

  • Jim Myhrberg

    4881 days ago

    I have the exact same problem. Except I’ve only got semi-photographic memory :)

    But I have found a method that seems to work in most cases, and which also explains why you can remember people’s Twitter usernames more easily.

    To remember someone name, I have to spell and visualize their name in written text, so I can see how it looks written. Forget textual storage, this is all about the visual shape of their name in text. Once I have an image of their name, I “file” it away right under the image of their face.

    Sometimes this image of their name is clear enough for me to actually read it even if I technically didn’t “remember” their name. Other times it’s not perfectly clear, but it’s enough to give me a start, which generally makes me recall the name from some other unknown area of my mind. And sometimes it just miserably fails, so I have to go through the whole “I can’t remember names to save my life, so what’s your’s again?” process.

    And like you said about Twitter usernames, I also find them extremely easy to remember, as I don’t have to render their name to text in my head, the computer has already done it for me.

    My only problem now is that a few years ago I got worse at recalling people’s faces. I believe it was cause I was working in an Internet Café at the time, and I saw over 50 new faces everyday, and about 200 regulars on a weekly basis. Information overload. I haven’t come up with a solution to that yet though, heh :)

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