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What Was Your Name Again?

Start ministering to others by remembering their name

By Dale A. Robbins

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” (Philippians 1:3)

I often hesitate in offering tips or advice on matters that I'm not the best at myself. But the way I look at it, I need the encouragement as much as as anyone else... so here's another tidbit that is helping my skills grow stronger... and that I think you may also find helpful in your ministry, business or personal life.

To begin with, I've often heard it said by persons in public ministry or leadership, that they can't remember the "names" of the people they meet. One would naturally assume this only comes from those who meet vast numbers of people, such as a politician, celebrity or perhaps the pastor or leader of a large membership. However, while these personalities will frequently cite such challenges, I've also heard the same thing from those who deal with relatively small numbers of people. One dear friend says he can't even remember all the names of his grandchildren! Yikes!


Needless to say, when others can't remember who we are, any of us can feel insignificant, unimportant. Imagine how you would feel if even your own grandpa can't remember your name. What about your insurance agent, your Avon lady, your doctor, lawyer, pastor... or even your barber? For ten years I went to the same hair cutter who could never remember my name. Because he was good and consistent at trimming my hair, I just chuckled about it and overlooked his poor memory... but after several years of this, it became so annoying I was tempted to seek the services of someone else.

The book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, was one of the first and best-selling self-help books ever published. Written by the famed author and lecturer, Dale Carnegie, and first published in 1936, it was a world-wide best seller. For decades was considered the primer for every successful businessman and leader of people. Although a secular composition, next to the Bible it may be the best textbook on interpersonal skills ever written, and for many years I made it required reading for all my associate pastors and staff members.

In Carnagie's book, he laid out common-sense concepts how to win people over to your way of thinking, or how to influence their behavior by changing your behavior toward them. Among the most important principles Carnegie taught, was how to show genuine interest in other people by remembering their names. He said that a person's name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language. How true this is, and how needful for us to remember.


Obviously the capacity for memory is not necessarily equal for everyone. Some simply have a greater ability to remember things than others. One of our former church members has a recollection of events that is... well, almost scary. She can remember the dates and titles of scores of sermons that I preached more than twenty years ago. Although we've not been in close contact for years, she still can recall all of my immediate family's birthdays, anniversaries, other special events... and can remember dates, places and times of events, or things I said or did decades ago, with near perfect accuracy. This is of course, an anomaly... far above an average sense of memory.

For most of us, we may not be able to recall things with such detail, however we probably have a better ability to remember than we think. For whatever reason, we simply don't bother to "apply" or "practice" basic methods of memorization that we learned back in grammar school. And even for those who have larger numbers of names and things to remember, there are remarkable methods and techniques that can greatly improve our memory... that is, if we can first acknowledge that there is a "need" for us to better remember the names of people... and if we are willing to "apply the work" necessary to make such improvements. If so, the following things I'll share can make a dramatic difference in your ability to remember names.


My personal interest in improving my own memory of names came during my early years in ministry. While visiting a distant city one weekend, I attended a large church where I had opportunity to meet their pastor for the first time. This was nothing more than the typical greeting at the door, and other than providing my name and a couple questions and compliments about his ministry, I offered nothing unique that could make this moment memorable. Considering the fact that he had nearly nine-thousand church members and hundreds of similar visitors on any given Sunday, I gave no further thought to the possibility he might ever remember me... until another chance meeting some years later when I was visiting another city. I was walking along the street one day and looked up to see his smiling face, walking in the opposite direction. And to my astonishment, he remembered me and greeted me enthusiastically. How could this be... from one brief greeting years earlier?

The thing that impressed me most about this pastor and his apparent memory skill, was his fervent love for people and his passion to win the lost to Christ. Believing that it was important to his mission, he had long become a student of "name memorization," and had trained himself with methods to remember. And even if or when he was unable to remember a name, he never let on that he couldn't. He was so outgoing and personable, that he gave the "impression" that he knew someone, even if he didn't.

Was it no wonder that he pastored one of the largest and fastest growing churches in America? And not only did he practice remembering names, but he taught the folks of his congregation to do the same thing. The members were instructed to reach out during every service and get to know EACH of the people seated within twenty-five feet of their pew... to offer friendly conversation, learn and share details about life and family, memorize their name... and look for and greet them in each service. It was the pastor's goal to duplicate his outgoing, soul-winning passion through every church member... and it appeared that it was working.

This inspired me greatly to find ways to improve my own memory and personableness... which I did, and eventually served me well through my subsequent years as a pastor. While certainly not perfect in recalling names, during a time that I served as associate pastor in a church of nearly two-thousand, I was able to utilize methods that helped me remember the names of "most" of our (ever revolving) regular attenders... as well as a significant percentage of our first-time visitors whom I met. I can attest that it "is" possible to remember more that we sometimes think... and certainly, if we want to make a greater impression on people, to assure them that they are meaningful and important to us, we can put forth the effort to sharpen our skills, to remember their names.


During my research for better memory skills, I found several long-established methods used successfully by many leaders who work with large numbers of people. Several of these have very useful to me, along with a few added discoveries of my own I stumbled upon. I'll share briefly about three of these name memorization methods, which I refer to as: (1) Recitation, (2) Association, (3) Memorialization.

1. Recitation - When you meet a person, repeat their name aloud (or at the least, silently) several times... perhaps during your conversation if possible. Ask for the correct spelling if possible. "So nice to meet you, John. John Smith is a very a common name, but I imagine it's special to share a Bible name such as John, isn't it? Is that spelled the traditional way, J-O-H-N, or the short version J-O-N?" The concept is that we are more likely remember names that we recite with repetition. Our memory tends to be most impressionable by this means... similar to the input of a computer. The rule of thumb is to orally repeat the name at least three to seven times, the latter which works best for me.

2. Association - Years ago, I became familiar with memorization techniques that involve associating mental visual images with things we want to remember. As silly as this may seem, it works... and has helped me remember names on many occasions. For an example, for whatever reason I sometimes have difficulty remembering certain kinds of names... and in the past found it tough to recall the last name of a person named "Cowan". For the life of me, their last name kept slipping my memory... until I tried associating a mental image of something that reminded of their name. In this case (don't laugh!) I came up with the mind picture of a "cow" with a "hand" (instead of all hoofs). Thereafter when I saw this person, I was able to pull up this mind picture... and could successfully remember Cowan. In another instance, I was trying to recall the name "Hamby", and (you guessed it) I came up with the image of a ham on a plate, being circled by a bee! Ham-bee!

3. Memorialization - This is something said, done or a special interaction that can help make a person and their name memorable. Perhaps making a comment about the day's weather, the kind of car they drive, the great-looking watch they're wearing... anything that helps make the person and their name "stand out" in your memory. One pastor and his wife stood at the church exit on Mother's Day and gave a flower to each mother as she departed... but not just any flower. As the pastor greeted the mothers and families who had visited, he asked each for their name and then picked out a gift flower from an assortment of different varieties. "Since you are unique, Jane Smith" he said... "so is this flower, selected just for you. Happy Mother's Day, Jane!" This way, he tried to make each greeting and gift unique and special... so he could remember each mother's name.

Memory is an interesting thing. We may pass hundreds of cars on the highway each day, but the one we remember was the one with a dog's head and slobbering tongue protruding from the passenger-side window! Or maybe the one with smoke and fire coming from beneath the hood! Obviously, the more unique and distinct our brief visit with any person may be, the more that person and related details will stand out in our memory.


Regardless of your memory abilities, God's detailed knowledge and memory of each person's life is infinite. He even knows the number of hairs on your head (Luke 12:7). A phenomenal thing since the average person has a crop of 100,000 or more, a total that changes by the hour since we lose as many as 100 hairs per day (WebMD). Yet he knows everything about each of us... and knows all of us by name.

Therefore, if within the abilities that God has given us, let us place value on the names of those around us, to esteem them worthy of the effort of memorization… even as God loves, treasures and remembers each of us. "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1).


This article (VL-620) is copyrighted © by Dr. Dale A. Robbins, 1990-2023 and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA - Nashville, TN. Unless otherwise stated, scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. In some references to real persons, pseudonyms may have been used to preserve their privacy. You may download this article for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple use permission form. Many of our writings are also available as free pdf tri-fold pamphlets, which can be downloaded for reproduction from our Online Catalog. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain quantities of this title in other formats, email us. If you have appreciated these online materials, help us reach the world with the Gospel by considering a monthly or one-time tax-deductable donation.