I remember that as a child I was really good with names, but not that good with faces. I could remember all 30 names of the kids in my elementary class, and in the other classrooms, but I could not always remember a face to go with the name. This kept up through about high school, but at some point it switched, and I became better at remembering faces than names. I remember growing up hearing people say they remembered faces but not names, and thinking that I must have been different for being the opposite. I’m not sure exactly what caused the change, but I suspect that somewhere along the line I started paying less attention to people, especially people I would only know for a semester in college before moving on, and as a result I only vaguely remember faces and never really got their names down.
In general day to day life, this probably isn’t a big deal for me. But if I am trying to build meaningful relationships with people who will be bigger parts of my life than just someone I saw at a party once or someone who made my coffee one day, then remembering names is important. Dale Carnegie explains why in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People:
“We should be aware of the magic contained in a name and realize that this single item is wholly and completely owned by the person with whom we are dealing … and nobody else. The name sets the individual apart; it makes him or her unique among all others. The information we are imparting or the request we are making takes on a special importance when we approach the situation with the name of the individual.”
Part of the power in remembering a name is just signaling. It tells the other person that we actually paid attention to them when we interacted with them in the past, enough to where we at least remembered their name. Going back to my opening paragraph, part of my suspicion of why I forget names is because I stopped paying as much attention to other people, focusing instead on my studies or class discussion, or on other trivial things like what I was going to eat for dinner.
Remembering someone’s name signals to them that they are valuable enough to be remembered. That you truly listened to them in the past and cared enough about them to take them seriously. Forgetting their name shows that you instantly forgot them, and that you never really cared about them in the first place. Building relationships requires that you actually like the other person you want to build a relationship with, or minimally at least respect them, and remembering their name helps make a public display of your level of sincerity in terms of your relationship building.