Don’t Skip the Introductions
My name is hard to say – let’s just say you’ll never find it on a souvenir keychain. I was always the kid who knew when I was about to be called in attendance because my teachers would falter without fail. I went by a nickname for most of my childhood and even now I rarely correct people when they mispronounce my name. Which is silly, really. I once had a friend intervene when I was called “Caitlin” by mistake, and I was thoroughly embarrassed. Much to my surprise, instead of exasperation the reply was, “It’s okay, it’s your name, I want to get it right”.
Our names are important because they are a part of our identity and provide us a sense of self. One of my favorite scenes from the movie Ladybird (2017) is when she is asked by a teacher if Ladybird is her given name. She replies, “I gave it to myself. It’s given to me, by me”. Regardless of where our names come from, or what we go by, they are a unique part of who we are as individuals. In fact, studies show that our brains actually respond differently to hearing the sound of our own name as compared to the names of others. Our names have significance even at a physiological level!
That all being said, how many of us have ever said, “I’m sorry, I’m just really terrible with names”?
Well, I had a professor in college put that to the test, literally. We had to name all of our classmates as part of our final exam. While this could be seen as just another test question, this gesture actually had a huge impact on our classroom dynamics. We made an effort to learn each other’s names and then to use them in activities and discussions. Knowing each other’s names created opportunities for us to get to know each other better and to connect with each other. At the end of the semester, we all agreed that it was the closest we had ever felt with one of our college classes.
In a 2017 study of undergraduate students, 85.4% reported that the instructor knowing their name was important to them. There were nine distinct reasons that they believed it was important, but some of the most significant findings were that it made them feel valued, it demonstrated care, and that it helped to build relationships and community in the classroom. And it all starts with simply learning people’s names!
That college professor is actually the Executive Director of Leadership Inspirations and that philosophy of learning names is a huge part of our company culture. I can’t tell you how many times we hear our students say, “You remember my name?”. It’s a little thing that is actually kind of a big deal. We all have our own tips and tricks that we use to help us in the process, but I’ll say that the most important one is actually prioritizing learning names. I wholeheartedly believe that we’re not inherently bad at it, we just don’t put a lot of energy into it. If we begin with that intention, then these tools will be much more useful to us in practice:
- Repeat – after someone introduces themselves to you, make a point to repeat it back to them.
- Spell – asking someone to spell their name can help you to visualize it, making it easier to remember.
- Connect – maybe you know someone else who has the same or a similar name. Or you both went to the same school, have a mutual friend, or ordered the same coffee. Give context and meaning to their name to help remember it in the future.
- Mnemonics – use helpful mnemonics, like alliterations, to help remember people’s names – like Laughing Lindsay or Tyler from Texas.
- Use – at minimum I make sure to use someone’s name as we close out the conversation. This also gives me the chance to ask for their name again if for some reason I’ve forgotten.
- Name Tags – if they are available to you, use them. There is no shame in using these as a tool.
- Follow Up – if appropriate, take their card or connect with them on social media – this is a really easy way to solidify names and to network.
Name Games are another great way to get to know the names of everyone in your group. Try some of these the next time you meet together:
Name Olympics – create an alliteration for you name using your name and an action
Magic Box – introduce yourself while telling a story
Name Tag – a high energy name game
Group Juggle – a name game of catch
Fastest Name Game Ever – introduce the person to your left, yourself, and then the person to your right
*Meet the Author*
Caelan Cooney is another Millennial who wants ‘to make an impact’, a self-proclaimed movie critic, avid explorer, lifelong learner, and Chapman University graduate.