How to Remember Names and Faces (Sep, 1954)

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How to Remember Names and Faces

Name-forgetting can be both embarrassing and frustrating. But you can train your mind to remember by association.

By Dr. Bruno Furst

Dr. Bruno Furst, lawyer and psychologist, is the director and founder of the School of Memory and Concentration with headquarters at 365 West End Ave. in New York and branches all over the country, South America, and Canada. Its Correspondence Course Division extends over five continents. Dr. Furst’s system is taught at many universities, colleges, adult education centers, business firms and trade associations. He is the author of several books dealing with memory improvement. The latest is Stop Forgetting, published by Doubleday & Co.

SINCE my School of Memory and Concentration was established 15 years ago I have been interested in finding out the reasons why people want to improve their memory. My students come from all walks of life and therefore it is obvious that they are prompted by various considerations: salesmen wish to remember their price catalogs, insurance people their rates, housewives their errands, actors and television performers their lines. But while all this varies with different people, there is one item in which nearly everybody seeks improvement: that is how to recognize people and to remember their names.

Everybody feels that an unreliable memory for names and faces is extremely annoying. A person whose memory for faces deserts him is often unpopular, for everybody is hurt at not being recognized. Not only will the forgetful man be morti- fied and find himself in an awkward position. but he may even suffer financially.

The doctor, for instance, who fails to recognize a lady patient on her second visit may perhaps lose her as a patient because she interprets his poor memory for faces as a lack of interest in her case. This is equally true of the merchant who fails to recognize a customer who has patronized his store several times.

It is not altogether unreasonable for people to confuse a poor memory with a lack of interest, for interest in a person or a thing is one of the most important factors of memory. Nor is it a coincidence that many great men of history and literature were famous for their excellent memory for names and faces. That faculty, indeed, helps to explain in part how they attained their prominence.

It is said that Themistocles knew the 21,000 citizens of Athens by sight and by name. Napoleon, Wallenstein and many other famous commanders knew all their officers and were acquainted with their personal histories.

Many people assume that this is an inborn gift but they are definitely wrong. The faculty for remembering names and faces can be improved like everything else once we have found the right way to do it. In my own memory classes at Steinway Hall, New York, I introduce 30 to 40 strangers at one time, and my students remember their names not only the same evening but weeks and months later.

In order to achieve these results I devised six steps which help to remember the face and the appearance of a person and six additional steps to remember the names.

The six steps for face and appearance are: 1, Observe the face;
2, Apply the chart;
3, Look for outstanding features;
4, Draw the face (actually or mentally);
5, Compare your drawing with the person;
6, Redraw the face.

I will explain this in detail:

1. The first step needs hardly any explanation. Whenever we meet a person for the first time we must observe his features as thoroughly as possible.

2. People who have difficulty in recognizing others frequently do not know what to observe. Therefore I constructed several charts which help to overcome such a handicap. (See example on page 102.)

3. If you apply such a chart to new acquaintances you will always find some outstanding features which distinguish each particular face from all the other faces in the world.

In the beginning such scrutiny must be done very slowly. We should look at the person and run through the entire chart in order to decide on an accurate description. This may take five or ten minutes, but the more accustomed we get to using the chart, the easier it becomes to skip features which are commonplace and to regard those which are outstanding and which can be observed in split seconds.

Here are three examples:

No. 1

Age: about 60.

Face: rectangular.

Hair: straight, graying. Thinning at high widow’s peak, brushed back sharply to top of head. Sides thinned toward top of head but full and growing over temples, where it is long and brushed backward past ears.

Eyes: large, light, deep-set. Many deep laugh wrinkles from comers to hairline, and under eyes spreading out toward ears.

Eyebrows: overhang eyes near nose, go sharply upward and out over eyes, then arch down near corners.

Forehead: wide and very high because of receding hairline. Deep horizontal wrinkle arches over eyes with several straight horizontal wrinkles over it. At bridge of nose, a deep wrinkle from left eye slants horizontally to center of nose, then goes straight up vertically.

Nose: long, slightly bent, nostrils begin to flare out shortly below bridge.

Lips: thin, tight, long, lines from nose past mouth and to jaw line.

Chin: square.

Ears: large, close to head.

No. 2

Age: about 22.

Face: triangular, narrow.

Hair: fine, blonde, softly waved, bangs dipping over forehead, the rest pulled back softly to crown, then down to barrette at nape of neck; hanging loose curls.

Eyes: large.

Eyebrows: well-trained arch, probably artificially raised at corners.

Forehead: medium, with fine horizontal wrinkles.

Nose: pert, straight.

Lips: lower lip full; upper lip flares forward.

Cheeks: cheekbones high, rounded.

Neck: long, arched.

Ears: long.

No. 3

Age: about 70.

Face: square, wide toward ears.

Hair: fine, white, full and wavy. Softly waved in pompadour back from face to soft halo roll.

Eyes: large and deep-set, dark.

Eyebrows: arched sharply down over eyes at outer corners.

Forehead: medium-high, with indentations at temples. Vertical, widely spaced frown wrinkles at nose bridge and horizontal wrinkle on bridge.

Nose: wide, nostrils flaring; deep lines from nose to mouth.

Lips: long, teeth even.

Neck: below chin, muscles break down in numerous loose wrinkles.

While these descriptions use the above-mentioned charts, your observation should extend to the way a person walks, moves and talks.

For example, one day when I was on an excursion in the Adirondacks I met a stranger and was quite surprised when he addressed me correctly by name. I had not the slightest recollection of him, felt quite embarrassed and asked him where we had met. Fortunately, he assured me that I could not know him since he had been in the audience when I delivered a lecture at Rochester Tech. I exclaimed: “That was four years ago! If you remember me after four years, especially in my mountain-climbing outfit, you certainly do not need that part of my course which deals with names and faces.” Where upon he replied: “To tell the truth, Doctor, I did not remember your face, but I recognized your accent.”

4. After having taken these three steps (observed the face, applied the chart, looked for outstanding features), sit down, concentrate, and see whether you can draw a mental picture of the person in question. Better still, draw an actual picture. You need not be an artist and your drawing need not have artistic merit. Its only purpose is to test yourself as to whether the outstanding features are clearly visible to your mental eye.

5. The drawing should never be made in the presence of the person involved; seize the first opportunity available to compare your drawing with the actual person or his photograph. Notice whether you came close to the truth, whether you made a few mistakes, or whether you were entirely wrong. But even if you were entirely wrong, don’t be discouraged; try again.

6. When you discover mistakes, redraw the face in the absence of the person in question. Discovering mistakes in itself means paying close attention to person and drawing and therefore brings you closer to the goal we have in mind.

If you are able to find the outstanding and distinguishing features in the faces of new acquaintances, you have made a decisive stride toward your goal. But, of course, it is only one step and the task still remains to remember the name that belongs to this face.

Most of us have more difficulty with names than we have with faces, and the reasons are quite obvious. If we meet Joe Smith for the first time, we see his face and “we hear his name. We know that most people are more eye-minded than ear-minded, which means the impressions received through the eyes are stronger than those received through the ears.

That is one good reason why the face remains longer in our memory than the name. However there is another explanation equally easy to understand: Let’s assume we meet Joe Smith for the first time and we have a five-minute conversation with him. During these five minutes while we are conversing with him we are looking continuously at his face, which means from the viewpoint of memory that the impression of his face is constantly repeated and sinks deeper and deeper into our brain cells. The name, however, was mentioned to us only once at the introduction and any repetition is lacking.

Fortunately, I can give you several rules which will help you definitely to overcome these disadvantages: 1, Get the name clearly; 2, Repeat the name immediately after the introduction; 3, See whether or not the name has a meaning in itself; 4, If it has no meaning, find a substitute; 5, Repeat the name several times; 6, Write the name down.

To explain again in detail:

1. Make sure that you understand the name clearly and accurately. People usually do not pay much attention to introductions and the names are mumbled and slurred. You cannot even blame the chairman of a large business meeting or the hostess of a big party if they get tired of introducing the same people over and over again. However, if the name of our new acquaintance is not clearly pronounced, we can never expect to remember it.

It is certainly better not to guess at all, but to ask the person to whom we are introduced for the correct pronunciation and—if there is any doubt—for the correct spelling of the name. Don’t ask the person who just did the introduction. He may not know it accurately, and therefore he may feel embarrassed. Furthermore, by asking your new acquaintance, you show him that you are interested in his name, which means in his person. Therefore, he feels flattered, and he will be happy to answer your question.

2. Repeat the name immediately after the introduction. Doing this fulfills a double purpose: In the first place, you make sure that you understood the name correctly. If you repeat it incorrectly saying, for instance, “Glad to meet you, Mr. Whibar,” whereas the name is Whiteborough, he will correct you and you have a chance to discuss the name. In addition, by repeating the name several times during the conversation, you hammer it more and more into your brain.

3. The next step must be to form an association between the person, that is his appearance, his features, his occupation (if we know this) and his name. We shall not have any difficulty as long as the name has a definite meaning. Such a meaning may be a color like Brown, Green, White; an occupation like Smith, Goldsmith, Taylor; a certain time of the year like Spring, Winter or November, or an adjective like Small, Strong or Strange. Also in this category belong names of famous people like Lincoln, Roosevelt, Shakespeare or Ford.

4. If the name has no meaning we cannot form an association since we cannot picture something that is meaningless. Therefore the next best thing to do is to find a substitute, that is a meaningful word that comes as close as possible in sound to the name that we have to remember. It is always possible to find such substitutes and it is advisable to leave the initial letter unchanged. Belly may sound similar to Kelly, but it is not a good substitute since the first letter is not the same. Here are some examples of good substitutes: Canatsey—canasta, canister, canary.

Altis—alto, altar, altitude.

Pickering—pickerel, pickled, picker, picket.

Cordia—cord, card, curd.

Kirtley—kirtle, curt, cutlery.

Gainor—gain, gunner.

Trimble—tremble, trim, trimming.

Visser—Vassar, visitor, visor.

To find good substitutes is easy if you use a dictionary. But you don’t carry dictionaries around when you attend parties or business meetings. Therefore it is necessary to find meaningful words without a dictionary and to find them quickly since we don’t have much time at the moment of introduction. That needs practice and the best way to practice is this: Look through a telephone directory or any other book that contains names of people, select those which have no meaning and try to find substitutes. After such preliminary training it will be easier to find appropriate substitutes when you are introduced to strangers with difficult names.

If you wish to gain a little more time, ask a question about this particular name like “what is its origin? To what language dogs it belong? Does the name have a meaning in that language?” Actually it does not make much difference what you say as long as your question or remark gives you the time you need to form a reliable association.

5. If you wish to be sure of a new name you must use it several times. The best opportunity is your first conversation with the new acquaintance. It is just as easy to say “I agree (or disagree) with you, Miss Leniec” as it is to utter agreement or disagreement without using the name. Repeating the name several times during the conversation does not require any effort and consumes practically no time. But every repetition fixes the name better and better in your mind, especially if you take the trouble to think of its meaning, its origin, its association, and the person you are talking to.

6. Finally, write down the name. This is very efficient with most people. Its advantage is that we become more conscious of the spelling since we see the name on paper, an important fact for all eye-minded persons.

Let us return for a moment to the three persons whom I described previously and give them some fictitious names.

1. The first gentleman is Mr. Towers. The obvious substitute is “tower.” He has an unusually high forehead which is easy to associate with tower. Tower will recall Towers.

2. The girl represented by the second picture is Miss Triana. Meaningful substitutes for Triana are trial, tribe, triangle, triceps, trifle, tried . . . etc. I would choose “triangle” because I can associate this easily with her triangular face. Triangle will recall Triana.

3. The lady represented by the third picture is Mrs. Whitehall. This name consists of two meaningful words: “white” and “hall.” White is easy to connect with her white hair. To add the “hall” I picture her in any hall which I know very well. I visualize her standing or sitting in that hall, and while doing this I emphasize her white hair so that it almost becomes a part of the imaginary hall.

All these rules have their advantage in the fact that you do not have to spend much time studying them. All you need is the firm resolution to pay more attention to names in the future than you did in the past. Of course I realize that it is not so easy to break, lifelong habits, but if you wish to recognize people and to remember their names, follow the steps which I advised and you will notice a marked improvement in a surprisingly short time. Your reward will be the joy and the admiration of nodding acquaintances whom you have not seen for quite a while and whom you can address by their correct names whenever and wherever you happen to meet them again. •

1 comment
  1. Hirudinea says: March 16, 201211:02 am

    I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll make an exception.

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