Monday, December 21, 2009

More Memory articles in January

I have been very quiet on this blog and the memory-masters blog since mid November.  I will start blogging again in January with topics including brain health, Mind Maps for faster recall and how to recall memories from your past.

In the meantime, spend a few minutes thinking about Christmas celebrations in your life. What have been your most vivid memories? What were the sounds, sights, tastes and feelings of Christmas? 

See you in 2010.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Oddbjørn By - Memory Champion and Author

I learnt about Oddbjørn By from Florian Dellé's Memory Sports web site.  Oddbjørn is from Norway and has been a World Memory champion. He published a book titled Memo which describes his various techniques and how these memory methods can be used in everyday life.

To give you an idea of the scope of the book, here is a condensed table of contents:

  • How your memory works
  • Numerical systems - single, double and triple digits
  • Tips for memorising effectively
  • Memo for general knowledge and in school - speed reading, history, dates, languages, geography, first aid, maths
  • Memo everyday - appointments, weekly agendas, birthdays, anniversaries, speeches, jokes, job interviews and parking the car
  • Names and Face
  • Memory tricks and competitions
  • Other memory methods - story method, link method, acronyms, mnemonic devices
  • Myths about memory
  • Profiles and World Records

The Memo method of remembering weekly schedules is to use a journey of seven steps, maybe rooms in the house. Convert the time into a key image using the number system of your choice and associate this with the room and the subject of your appointment. 

This book has some practical techniques which can be applied to many aspects of your life. I have already learnt a few number systems so I won't be learning more. However I am going to memorise more journeys for memorising birthdays, my schedule and a general 'to do' journey.

1. Read an interview at Memory Sports
2. Visit the website of Oddbjørn By where you can watch videos, order books and learn more.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I before e (except after c) - old school mnemonics

When you were at school, did you remember how to spell using mnemonics? My most-used rhyme was "I before E, except after C" used to spell words such as brief, receive and believe.

In this aptly named book "I before e (except after c)", Judy Parkinson has assembled a vast range of mnemonics under the title of "old-school ways to remember stuff".  The book was a delight to read, reminding me of some mnemonics from my school days.  The book is organised by subject and covers spelling, dates, history, science, music and much more. Here are some of my favorites:

Spelling - How do you spell committee ?  Remember Many Meetings Take Time - Everyon'e Exhausted. Diarrhoea is another tricky word to spell - Dash In A Real Rush, Hurry or Else Accident!

Numbers. Can you remember the metric prefixes? Here is an example of using the unit of length - metre (spelt meter in the USA). Kilometre (1000m), Hectometre (100m), Decametre (10m), Metre (base), Decimetre (0.1m), Centimetre (0.01m) and Millimetre (0.001m): King Henry Died Mightily Drinking Chocolate Milk.  Other mnemonics are offered: King Hector Died Miserable Death - Caught Measles.

Science - Taxonomy is the system or arranging animals into groups based on similarities of structure and origin. The classification starts with Kingdom, then continues with Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species and Variety. This can be remembered with Krakatoa Positively Casts Off Fumes Generating Sulphurous Vapours.

English History. From William the Conqueror to the current British moniarch, there have been eight major royal houses since 1066: Norman, Plantaganet, Lancaster, York, Tudor, Stuart, Hanover and Windsor. There are two mnemonics in popular use: No Plan Like Yours To Study History Wisely and No Point Letting Your Trousers Slip Half Way.

Music.  Piano students are sure to know the Every Good Boy Deserves Favour and All Cows Eat Grass mnemonics for remembering the notes on the treble clef and Good Boys Don't Fool Around on the bass clef. I'm not sure if a 7 year old music student would understand the expression of "fooling around". I

The Work Place.  This chapter offers a variety of acronyms for the workplace: KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!).  SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainbale, Relevant and Time bound). Advertisers should think of the opera AIDA (Attract attention, arouse Interest, create Desire, urge Action).

Miscellany. Do you play Snooker? Can you remember the sequence of colours in which to pot the six coloured balls after the red?  Remember the mnemonic You Go Brown Before Potting Black to remember Yello, green, brown, blue, pink and black.

More details on the book can be found on Amazon: i before e (except after c)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Memory Training Course in Brisbane, Queensland

Memory is a skill that can be taught. Memory improves with age. The decline of memory with age is a myth! Everyone has potentially a superb memory!
Jennifer Goddard, director of the Buzan Centre for Australia and New Zealand is running a one day Memory Workshop on Thursday, 19 November 2009 from 6:00pm - 8:00pm at the Press Club on 339 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley, Qld.

It is good to see that the skill of Memory is recognised  as important and capable of being trained.

Please visit this link to read more about this course.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Memorising the Chinese Zodiac using a story

In my previous article I introduced the Chinese Zodiac and showed how it was possible to remember the twelve animals and their corresponding years using the number peg system. 2008 is the year of the Rat, and the following years are Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.

Another way of remembering the twelve animals is to link them together using a story. Each animal is imagined doing some sort of memorable action. In addition, your image needs to trigger recall of the next animal in the series. Here is my story. 

  • A large RAT jumps on the head of an OX.
  • The OX gets really annoyed and charges into a TIGER.
  • The TIGER is trying to eat a large grey RABBIT.
  • The RABBIT runs back into his burrow and finds a Golden DRAGON hiding inside with his eyes glowing and breathing fire.
  • The DRAGON's tail is like a SNAKE, slithering out of the burrow.
  • The SNAKE wraps itself around the leg of a HORSE attempting to strangle the horse.
  • The HORSE shakes its leg and a GOAT runs to the horse dislodging the snake with its horns.
  • The GOAT tosses the snake up into a tree where it is caught by a golden MONKEY.
  • The MONKEY laughs and shrieks, imitating a ROOSTER.
  • Another ROOSTER is running in the farmyard chasing a DOG.
  • The DOG is chasing the PIGS and trying to eat from their trough.
Well, this story seems rather pointless and silly but I am able to recall it easily and identify the twelve animals in sequence. I have made the Dragon and the Monkey "Golden" as these represent the years for 2012 and 2016 for faster recall of the years in the story. After a few days of remembering my story I know that Dragon is 2012 and Monkey is 2016. I knew that the Rat is 2008 from the first time I memorised the story.

Converting a birth year into a Chinese sign is a process of adding multiples of 12 until 2008 or later is reached.  If I wanted to convert a birth year of 1990, I add 24 to get 2014. Recalling my story starting with with the Rat (2008), Ox (2009), Tiger (2010), Rabbit (2011), Dragon (2012), Snake (2013) then Horse (2014).

This process of recall takes time, compared to the Peg System. 2014 gives a peg word of Red Tyre, and my key image was a Red Tyre around a Horse's neck.  Once the "milestones" of Dragon and Monkey were remembered, I could recall Dragon (2012), Snake (2013) then Horse (2014).

We have now seen two memory systems in action to memorise the same set of information. Your choice of system depends on how you want to recall the information.  The story method is great for recalling the animals in sequence, and the peg system is faster for converting years into animal signs.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Memorising the Chinese horoscope

According to Chinese tradition, 2009 is the Year of the Ox. The City of Sydney as well as any city with a large Chinese population celebrates Chinese New Year with a big festival.

The Chinese Zodiac has a cycle of 12 years with each year having an assigned animal. Each sign represents a different personality. The Zodiac traditionally begins with the Rat, so here is the sequence starting with the rat and the corresponding years.

2008  Rat       
2009  Ox        
2010  Tiger     
2011  Rabbit    

2012  Dragon    
2013  Snake     
2014  Horse     
2015  Goat      

2016  Monkey    
2017  Rooster   
2018  Dog       
2019  Pig       

To work out your animal based on your birth year, take your birth year and continue to add 12 until the number is between 2008 and 2019.  For example if you were born in 1972, keep adding 12 and you will get 1984, 1996, then 2008. Therefore you were born in the Year of the Rat.

Asking someone for their animal sign is a useful method for deducing a person's age (to the nearest multiple of 12).  Chinese people often ask others for their animal sign to deduce who is the older among friends and acquaintances.

How to Memorise?

I wanted to memorise these twelve signs and their associated years using the memory techniques I have described in earlier articles.   First of all, what needs to be memorised?  There are two sets of information - the twelve animals in sequence, and their corresponding years.

A story could be created linking the animals together, starting in 2008. In Chinese culture, 8 is a lucky number so maybe a large pot of gold could be associated with the Rat, Dragon and Monkey since their years are multiples of 12. Converting a year to an animal would require recalling the sequence and counting the steps to find the year.

Can you devise a story starting with the Rat in the year 2008?  Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. Post your story in the comments and I will write a followup article next week.

Using the Peg System

I decided to use my Peg words for the numbers 8 to 19 and associate the peg word to the animal. I have included a link at the end of  this article if you are not familar with this system. Here is the list of years and my peg word.

2008  Rat        ivy
2009  Ox         bee
2010  Tiger      toes
2011  Rabbit     tot (baby)

2012  Dragon     ton
2013  Snake      dam
2014  Horse      tyre
2015  Goat       towel

2016  Monkey     tissue
2017  Rooster    tack
2018  Dog        dove
2019  Pig        tap

Since all of the years are in the 21st century I only need to use the last two digits of the year to create a peg word.

The number 8 is lucky in Chinese tradition and a good way to remember the start year for the animal sequence. Because the information being memorised is Chinese I have added the colour red to the imagery of my associations.

2008 ivy  Rat - a rat is climbing up a red ivy plant. The ivy is entwined in the rat' stail.
2009 bee - Ox - a giant red bee is swooping down on to the ox and stinging him on the behind.
2010 toes - Tiger - large red toes are walking quietly in the jungle. The toes belong to a tiger.
2011 tot - Rabbit - a red baby is cuddling a large soft toy rabbit
2012 ton - Dragon - a red one ton weight is being blasted by the flames from a dragon's mouth
2013 dam - Snake - a giant red snake is slithering up a river valley towards the dam
2014 tyre - Horse - a large red tyre is hanging around the horse's neck
2015 towel - Goat - a red goat is chewing a large red towel, ripping it to shreds
2016 tissue - Monkey - a monkey is blowing his nose with a large red tissue
2017 tack - Rooster - a rooster has large red tacks instead of claws, as well as a red tack protruding from his beak.
2018 dove - Dog - a dog is chasing a flock of red doves, and attempting to catch one of the birds.
2019 tap -Pig - a large red tap has been turned on and a thick sludge comes out into a trough for a pig.

Let's see the system in action for someone born in 1988. What is her Chinese sign? Adding 12 gives 2000. Adding 12 again gives 2012. This is greater than 2008, and the key image is a red TON, which is being blasted by a dragon.  This person was born in the Year of the Dragon.

More information:

Where is Montenegro?

Recently my wife and I were watching the James Bond film Casino Royale. A city appeared in shot with a sub-title of Montenegro. Where exactly is Montenegro? My country memorisation project helped me answer this question.

In an earlier article, I wrote how I used a set of memory pegs to remember the countries and capitals in a geographic sequence. This arrangement helps me recall the neighbouring countries. Here is a section of  my country (and capital city) memory pegs.

121    Croatia  -  Zagreb
122    Bosnia and Herzegovina  -  Sarajevo
123    Montenegro  -  Podgorica
124    Serbia  -  Belgrade
125    Albania  -  Tirana

So how did I recall the location of Montenegro?

First of all, I recall my mental image of a Negro the size of a Mountain (MONTENEGRO) with a red gnome sitting on his shoulder (the image of 123). I remembered the capital because the Gnome was listening to an iPod (PODgorica), shouting "Go, Ricky!". Maybe he was listening to Ricky Martin?

Now that I had the peg number of 123 for Montenegro, I can recall the countries for 122 (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and 123 (Serbia).  My image for 122 (which translates to Red Nun) is a Nun wearing a red cloak sitting in a hearse (Herzegovina) which reminds me of Bosnia Herzegovina. The Nun is eating a salad which reminds me of the capital city, Sarajevo.

My key image of 124 is a red Nero and he is serving (Serbia) a large bell (Belgrade) instead of a tennis ball, over the fence onto sloping ground (a steep grade) which further reinforces the image of Belgrade.

My mental images for the associations may seem confusing but they are personal and established in my memory. Your associations will be different, but most importantly they should be memorable.

Now that I know the neighbouring countries, I can imagine the location of the country of Montenegro.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Memorising the countries and capitals of the world - my reflection

Earlier this year I set myself the goal of being able to recall the names of all the countries of the world and their capitals. There are two parts of this project.  The first is to be able to recite the names of the countries in sequence, and the second is to recall the capital of a given country. In addition, I should be able to recall the country when given a capital city.

My approach to memorising this project and the lessons learnt are described in this article.

1. I created a list of country names and capitals in an Excel spreadsheet. This information was sourced from the World Guide reference book.

2. I made a rough division of the world into continents and regions. This created problems as not every reference book classifies the counties so neatly. What are the borders of Europe?  Which countries are in Asia?  I made some mistakes on my virtual journey around Africa as I missed some islands in both the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic ocean.

3. Using a map, I worked out a journey starting in the United Kingom, and hopping from country to country in turn. I then assigned each country a sequence number for the order of memorisation.

4. I used the number peg system to associate a number to a country. Because there are over 200 countries, and my peg system consists of 100 pegs, I added colour to my pegs to create a new set of number pegs from 100 to 999. The first 100 pegs are red, the second 100 are green, the third hundred are blue.

In hindsight, the colours were sometimes difficult to recall and I should have used more action or involving the senses for example, icy cold, windy, and burning hot.

5. Now I had a list of coloured peg numbers, countries and capitals to learn. The list begins with the United Kingdom:
  • 101    United Kingdom - London
  • 102    Ireland - Dublin
  • 103    Portugal - Lisbon
  • 104    Spain - Madrid
  • 105    Andorra - Andorra la Vella
  • 106    France - Paris
  • 107    Luxembourg - Luxembourg
  • 108    Monaco - Monaco
  • 109    Belgium - Brussels
  • 110    Netherlands - Amsterdam
6. The memorisation process involves creating a strong mental image between the coloured peg word and the country. In addition I needed to create an association between the country and the capital.

I made small cardboard flashcards with the number on one side and the country and capital on the back. I took around 20 cards and a pencil with me on my daily walk to create vivid images.  Some of my early images were not too good but I got better as my imagination became wilder with practice.

Here are my first ten peg numbers (based on the Major System).
  1. tie
  2. Noah
  3. ma
  4. Ra
  5. law
  6. shoe
  7. key
  8. ivy
  9. bee
  10. toes
Mental images and associations can be wild, sexy, and maybe offensive to some people. Let your imagination go wild as you are under no obligation to explain your images to other people.  These are my images:

1 red tie -> United Kingdom - London A group of three KINGS have been tied up with a RED TIE but they are puffing up their lungs/chests (LONDON)

2 red Noah -> Ireland - Dublin a red faced Noah is drinking double-sized (DUBLIN) Guinness with a short leprechaun.  (This image is sufficient to prompt my recall of Ireland since I know that Dublin is the capital of Ireland)

3 red ma -> Portugal - Lisbon - a large black woman (Mama) is sitting on the Porch (PORTUGAL) of her house and cuddling her Lesbian (LISBON) lover.

4 red Ra -> Spain - Madrid. A red Pharaoh (my image of Ra) is sailing down the Nile waving a Spanner (SPAIN) and shouting loudly because he is MAD.

5 red law -> Andorra - Andorra la Vella. A red faced lawyer is banging the door (ANDORRA) which bursts open onto a large valley (Andorra La Vella)

6 red shoe -> France - Paris - a red shoe is kicking a soccer ball into the Arc de Triophe in Paris and hitting the red, white and blue French flag.

7 red key -> Luxembourg - Luxembourg. A large red key is pushed into a large cake of LUX soap (an Australian brand of soap) which is between two large hamburger buns (LUX + HAMBURGER). Because I didn't add any more imagery, I know that the capital city is the same name.

8 red ivy -> Monaco - Monaco. A large piece of red ivy is draped around the neck of a MONK.

9 red bee -> Belgium - Brussels. An enormous red bee is stinging a luscious Belgiuan chocolate which is surrounded by Brussel Sprouts (BRUSSELS).

10 red toes -> Netherlands - Amsterdam. A foot with red painted toes is pushing into a wooden clog which in turn is kicking a hamster (Amsterdam) into a large net (Netherlands) draped over water (next to a dyke).

7. Testing and Review

I used the Mnemosyne Spaced Repetion flashcard software (Mnemosyne is free software and runs on Windows, Mac and Linux) to test my recall. The program displays a card with the number, I recall the country and capital, then show the answer.  The program schedules the card for future review based on how I rated my recall.

Once I remembered a country I removed the card from the paper card collection and added more cards.

8. Countries and Territories.

As I memorised the islands of Africa and South America I encounted territories of other countries. Do I memorise these or not?  I decided to remember most of the territories and to identify them I included the image of a terrier dog.  For example, Montserrat is a British Territory with capital of Plymouth. The peg number is 302 which is a Blue Noah. My memory image is a blue-faced Noah chasing a Monster Rat (Montserrat) who is also being chased by a terrier dog with a plum in its mouth (Plymouth).

9. Continents to Country link

Towards the end of my memorisation project I realised I didn't have a means to recall the first country in my sequence for a particular continent.

I created a list of continents with the peg number for the first country in sequence. I converted the number into an image using the Major system then built an association.

Europe - 100 - Daisies
Eastern Europe - 145 - Trolley / Trowel
Middle East - 150 Tiles
Asia - 164 Teacher (in an indian classroom)
SE Asia 177 - hat cock (rooster)
ASia Pacific - 194  - toe bar
Africa - 216 - Ant - Ouch! bitten by ants
North and Central America - 269 -  nacho bee
South America - 279 - knee cap 
Caribbean - 293 - napalm

If I want to recall the countries of Africa, I think of the ants biting (ouch!), convert this to 216 which is green tissue. My key image is the pyramids (Egypt) covered in green tissue paper with cars (Cairo) driving down the sides of the pyramids. I can now continue in sequence, recalling the country associated with 217, 218 and so on.

10. Mistakes

After I memorised the countries of Africa it was pointed out to me I had omitted two islands. I had to add these countries on to the existing peg. For example, I omitted Seychelle (capital Victoria) so I added it to the peg for Comoros (Moroni). Now my mental image was a cormorant with a green mace (key word for 230) in its beak with a moron hanging on to mace. The moron is wearing a necklace of sea-shells with a picture of Queen Victoria.

11. Capitals to Countries.

Since I had the country and capital information in a spreadsheet, I imported the capital to country data into Mnemosyne for additional testing. I found this is a good way to confim my knowledge of the countries.

12. Lessons learnt

I use Mnemosyne daily to review my Country/Capital cards. My recall of some countries is still weak but I do know the information and Mnemosyne is helping me push the information into long term memory. It is important to review daily and Mnemosyne is the most time efficient method.

When preparing to memorise a large amount of information, I learnt how important it is to compile and check all the details. Then the memorising process can proceed.

Some of my 100 peg words didnt have strong images and these got changed during the course of this project. For example, ball is not a strong image for 95, but bull is more memorable. I used to use FAB (the washing powder) for 89 but I also use vibe (vibraphone). I have found it is possible to remember multiple keywords for the number pegs without becoming confusing.

Mnemosyne (when used daily) is a great way to assess how fast it is possible to memorise a lot of information. I only worked on creating associations on my weekends or an occasional lunchbreak, but I used Mnemosyne almost daily for review. Often I would be frustrated at how I had forgotten things, and sometimes I would refine the image to help my recall.

I also learnt how to convert very difficult words into something memorable. For example:
  • Equatorial Guinea - A guinea pig running around the Earth's equator
  • Burkina Farso - a fat lady wearing a bikini (Bikini Fatso)
  • Liberia (capital Monrovia) used the image of a group of choir boys from Libera driving the Moon Rover. 
  • Senegal (Dakar) - a man waving his pants ("Daks") at a flock of seagulls.
Click on the picture below to show the information I have memorised.

More information:

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Announcing the Memory Masters web site

I am pleased to announce the launch of the Memory Masters web site - the creation of Florian Dellé, webmaster of Memory-Sports and regular Memory Sports athlete.

Each week Florian is adding content  on one aspect of memory and I am writing on another topic. Currently I am exploring different systems for memorising numbers.

I am looking forward to contributing to Memory Masters and being part of the global community of people interested in developing memory skills. The site has a forum where you can discuss all aspects of memory.

Now let's travel to  Memory Masters!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

How does a teacher learn all the names of the students?

Photo from Flicky by smr+lsh

This is a guest post by Bob Madigan who has written previously on this blog. Bob is a teacher and describes how he remembers the names of his students.

Remembering the names of people in a group can be made easier if the names are available beforehand. I am a teacher and I have this situation when a class starts. Typically there are 30 to 40 people in a new group, and I like to try to learn their names as early as possible. Usually I have them by the end of the second class. Here is my approach.

Before the first class, I study the computer listing of names and put them in a journey with one name at each locus. I use the standard techniques that Charles has described in earlier posts for encoding names. I practice the journey enough so that by the day of class I can rattle off the list of names forward or backward, but more importantly, when I look at one of the names I can easily visualize the place where it is located on the journey.

This preparation greatly simplifies the task. I don't have to learn the names since I know them. I just have to associate a distinguishing feature of each person with the locus where his or her name is stored.

I get there early on the day of the first class and as the students assemble I steal a look at each to identify a feature I will later associate with their place on the journey. When it comes time for introductions, I move to each person in turn so I face them as they say their names. I ask them to not only give their names but also some information about themselves - typically their major area of study and their year in school. I don't try to retain these facts, but by moving around and by asking for extra information, I slow the process down a little so I have more time to associate the feature I have identified with the place in the journey where the name is.

Usually I do the introductions toward the end of class, and as I am walking away afterward, I run back through the journey and visualize the feature of each person I have placed at each locus. This immediate rehearsal helps lock down the information. Almost always I will find there are a couple of names where the features are too fuzzy to be helpful, usually because I let my concentration slip during the introduction. In the next class, I make it a point to get those names. I also make sure I can mentally name each of the others as they assemble on the second day. If not, I go over to the student and reintroduce myself.

Learning names is a highly desirable social move that pays dividends by facilitating rewarding interactions. When I learn the names of my students, I turn a sea of faces into a collection of interesting individuals with whom I now have an important connection. It completely changes the experience from the front of the room.

First day of a new job - name overload!

A challenging time for remembering names is when a new employee, contractor or consultant joins an organisation. In my company I meet new employees being given a tour of the floor and being introduced to many people in a short space of time.

How can this process be improved for the new starter? In this article I write about some resources can you use when settling in to a new environment?

The new person may be overloaded with an abundance of new names, but often the reverse situation can occur. Managers can help pave the way for new staff introductions by sending an introductory email BEFORE the start date. Information to include should include the name, role and some useful background information.

Name plates. Usually you can find name plates on partitions next to the desks. These are particularly useful to reinforce the name when you meet people.

Office Floor Plans. This is useful for finding people as well as building up a mental picture of where people work. You can also use it a checklist to tick off the names once you have been introduced.

Phone List. The office phone list is another useful checklist of names and spellings. Challenge yourself to meet everyone on the list, or at least to associate the face with the name.

Organization Chart. This document shows reporting structures and team members. Usually known as "org-charts" they are usually out of date when published but still a useful resource. Ideally these charts should be annotated with photos of the people as this would be a great way to memorise names and faces.

Newsletters and Annual Reports. Look for publications that include labelled photos of staff. Annual Reports are particularly useful to help you identify members of the management team and board of directors. Imagine what an impression you can make when you greet a director by name and you have yet to be introduced!

Intranet. Does your company have an intranet or online directory? Some organisations have an online directory with a photo. The intranet is often a source of new staff announcements and you should read these carefully. In my company, these announcements are often published a week after the person has started. This is a pity as the power of the introductory article has been lost.

Use all these resources and you will become a corporate name guru. This skill will help you in the work place and your career.

Good luck! Do you have some stories to share? Please add these to the comments.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The DOMINIC system for remembering numbers

Arnold Schwarzenegger - helps me remember the number 16

This article is about a system for remembering numbers devised by Dominic O'Brien - a past World Memory Champion and author of several books on memory.

The technique assigns a person and an action to two digit number pairs. The picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger flexing his muscles is my image for 16. How Schwarzenegger represents 16 will be explained later in the article.

O'Brien light-heartedly named the system the DOMINIC system (Decipherment of Mnemonically Interpreted Numbers Into Characters). I will use this acronym to refer to the technique and the two digit numbers.

How the System Works

The DOMINIC system works by breaking longer numbers into pairs of digits with each pair representing a person performing some action. Numbers are replaced with letters for numbers using the following rules which are easy to remember.
  • The number 0 (zero) becomes O
  • The first five digits (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) become A, B, C, D and E.
  • The number 6 becomes S because the sound is similar and more names begin with S than F.
  • The 7th and 8th letters of the alphabet are G and H (which has some resemblance to 8)
  • The number 9 becomes N because of the similar sound.
It won't take long to learn these substitutions.
  • 0 O
  • 1 A
  • 2 B
  • 3 C
  • 4 D
  • 5 E
  • 6 S
  • 7 G
  • 8 H
  • 9 N
Once you have memorised this list you can proceed to the next step.

Finding Names for Digit Pairs

Write a list from 0 to 99 and review each number in turn after mentally translating the numbers into the DOMINIC letters. Do the initials suggest something to you? The number 20 is BO and this suggested Buddha sitting under the Bo tree. It could also suggest Little Bo Peep minding her sheep.

Usually the number pairs have no meeting or associations. Some exceptions are 07 (James Bond 007), 13 (unlucky- black cat), 21 (21st birthday party), 100 (a century).

Use the first association that comes to mind as this will prove more effective in the long term. The number 11 translates to AA which suggests Andre Agassi hitting tennis balls.

Assigning an Action to the Name

The person you have chosen needs to have an action that is unique on your list of 100 names. Therefore, now you have chosen Andre Agassi for 11, don't use Bjorn Borg for number 22. We don't want two tennis players competing on the list!

The DOMINIC technique separates actions from the person for remembering longer numbers, so your action should be capable of being performed by other people. Choose an action that is distinctive and obvious for the person. What sort of name should you use?

For maximum effectiveness you should use a mixture of famous people as well as your friends and family. Some letters have obvious suggestions such as HO suggesting Santa Claus saying 'Ho Ho Ho!' as he rides his sleigh. I know some Chinese people with the surname of Ho, and I could have used one of them instead with a unique action.

You will probably get stuck trying to think of names for some numbers so have a look at my list for ideas. Only use this as a last resort as my suggestions probably don't have as much meaning for you, unless the name is a public figure with whom you are familar.

Here is a selection of my names and actions.

  • 02 (OB) Obi-Wan Kenobi - Waving light sabre
  • 03 (OC) Oliver Cromwell - Loading musket
  • 09 (ON) Oliver North - Testifying in Court
  • 14 (AD) Jesus - Preaching a sermon
  • 15 (AE) Albert Einstein - writing on a blackboard
  • 16 (AS) Arnold Schwarzenegger - Flexing muscles
  • 22 (BB) Bugs Bunny - Eating a carrot
  • 33 (CC) Charlie Chaplin - swinging the cane and walking
  • 40 (DO) Homer Simpson - Eating donuts
  • 56 (ES) Edward Scissorhands - snipping the bushes with his scissor hands

How to Memorise Two Digits

Imagine you want to remember that your friend lives at number 86. I use the image of Hans Solo (played by Harrison Ford) navigating his space ship to remember the house number, by remembering Hans Solo flying his spaceship into my friend's house. Maybe there is a big crash, the sound of laser cannons or his side-kick Chewbacca.

How to Memorise Three Digit Numbers

Three digit numbers can be remembered by combining the image for the first two digits with the number shape (or number rhyme) for the third digit. For example, the number 224 is a combination of Bugs Bunny eating a carrot and a sailing boat. Imagine Bugs Bunny sailing the boat and eating a carrot. Maybe Bugs Bunny is throwing carrots over the side of the boat.

How to Memorise Four Digit Numbers

A four digit number can be remembered by splitting the number into a pair of two digits. Use the person image for the first number and the action for the second number. For example, if you want to remember 8094, use the DOMINIC numbers 80 (Santa Claus) and (Neil Diamond). My image would be Santa Claus on stage wearing a diamond crusted guitar singing 'Crunchy Granola Suite'.

How to Remember Longer Numbers

Longer numbers can be broken down into a series of two digit numbers and a single digit after decomposing odd numbers. Use a sequence of person, action, person action and make a story from these images.

For example, here is the technique for remembering the phone number 9788 1656 of your local French restaurant. The number becomes 97-88-16-56, Nigella (97 person), tickled by Playboy Bunnies (88 action), Arnold Schwarzenegger (16 person) and cutting bushes with scissorhands (56 action).

Now create a story using these images and associate with the restaurant. For example, Nigella Lawson is seated in the restarant being tickled by Playboy Bunnies. Arnold Schwarzenegger arrives at the restaurant and his arms are like those of Edward Scissorhands. Arnold thumps his way around the restaurant cutting all the flowers with his scissorhands.

I think this story is vivid and easy to remember, compared to the dull sequence of 9788-1656. What do you think?

For more information and examples:

World Memory Championships

For many years I have been interested in developing my memory to remember numbers, facts, names and faces and language.

Lately I have become aware of a sporting event with a difference - a Memory Championship. At first I thought this event would be only of interest to geniuses and geeks, but the "sports" utilise the various memory skills I have written about on this blog.

I first heard of these Memory events through the work of Tony Buzan. You can read more on the World Memory Championships web site. Tony has written many books on Memory as well as Mind Maps.

Jennifer Goddard of the Buzan Centre in Australia has prepared a series of 10 videos to provide insight into how a National Memory Championships is run. These 3-4 minute on-line presentations are suitable for people interested in competing in a memory event, volunteers who help adjudicate and journalists and other people interested in how a memory championships is run.
  1. Random Words
  2. Binary Numbers
  3. Names and Faces
  4. 15 Minute Numbers
  5. 10 Minute Cards
  6. Speed Numbers
  7. Abstract Images
  8. Historical Dates
  9. Spoken Numbers
  10. Speed Cards
Watch the videos here.

Memory Championships held in Europe and you can read about these on the Memory Sports web site run by Florian Delle. Florian recently competed in the Swedish Memory championships.

You may think Memory Championships are for the elite memorizers however the "sports" must be a good way to give the brain a workout. I have never competed in such an event but I am going to have a go at practicing Names and Faces and 10 Minute Cards (memorising the sequence of a shuffled deck of cards).

Friday, September 25, 2009

Can you name everyone on the bus?

Photo by Daryl Fritz on Flickr

Many years ago I spent 21 days on a bus/camping trip in Europe with Contiki tours. There were approximately 40 people in the group from Australia, South Africa, USA, Israel, England and Hong Kong.

Our tour guide had issued a challenge. Whoever could stand up at the front of the bus and name everyone by first name would get a prize. I thought this was a wonderful icebreaker activity to motivate people to make an effort and get to know their fellow travellers. Unfortunately someone else beat me to the prize.

How often have you joined a class, club or social group and been worried about meeting everyone? Are you interested in getting to know everyone there or do you try and avoid social encounters? You will never know if you have something in common with a stranger until you start a conversation and introduce yourself.

Become the kind of person who initiates conversations and gets to know others in a group. After you have spoken with someone and remembered the name you now have something you can build on for future interactions. You may have decided you don't have anything in common but at least you made the effort to speak and make a connection.

There are countless situations where you join a group where you are going to see the people on a regular basis - daily, weekly or monthly. University students starting a new tutorial class, starting work at a new job, joining a Toastmasters club or sporting club. Maybe you have enrolled in a personal enrichment course -- there are many friendships to be made by getting to know other people.

Go on. Don't be shy.

Introduce yourself to others in a group and see if you can name everyone in the group.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How to remember a deck of cards

If you were given a pack of 52 shuffled playing cards, could you remember the sequence of cards? Does this sound impossible?

Memorising a card deck is part of Memory Sports and you could do it as well. There are two main skills required - developing a strong mental image for each card, then memorising the sequence of cards using a journey of 52 stages.

A playing card belongs to one of the four suits - Clubs, Hearts, Spades and Diamonds and is going to be a number between 2 and 10 or a Jack, King, Queen or Ace.

We explored the Journey method in an earlier article, but how can we make cards memorable? I chose the method described by Harry Lorayne in his book "How to Develop a Super Power Memory".

Each card is converted into a key image (known as a 'peg word') based on the suit and the value according to a pattern.

Every peg word begins with the initial letter of the card suit. Therefore all the words for the Spades suit begin with S, Diamonds with D, Clubs with C and Hearts with H.

Each word ends with a consonant sound based on the phonetic value of the card. The phonetic system converts 1 to T or D, 2 to N, 3 to M, 4 to R, 5 to L, 6 to G or SH, 7 to K or hard G, 8 to F or V and 9 to P or B.

The Ace is given the number 1 and the 10 card is turned into 0. The peg word for the Ace of Spades would begin with S and end in T or D - "suit". The peg word for the 10 of clubs begins with C and ends with S - "case".

The peg words for the Jack is the suit itself, so the Jack of Diamonds is a "diamond".

The peg word for the King is a word that sounds like King and starts with the first letter of the suit, so we have King, Hinge, Sing and Drink.

The peg word for the Queen is a word that sounds like Queen and starst with the first letter of the suit, so we have Cram, Queen, Steam and Dream.

A mnemonic for remembering the four suits is CHaSeD (Clubs, Hearts, Spades and Diamonds).

Here are my peg words which I based originally on Lorayne's list, then I modified to my own preference.

  • 2 Clubs - Coin (large gold coin)
  • 3 Clubs - Comb
  • 4 Clubs - car
  • 5 Clubs - Coal
  • 6 Clubs - Cash (pile of $100 bills)
  • 7 Clubs - Coke can
  • 8 Clubs - Cuff (of a shirt sleeve)
  • 9 Clubs - Cap
  • 10 Clubs - Case
  • Jack of Clubs - Club (golf club)
  • King of Clubs - King (fat man with a crown)
  • Queen of Clubs - Cream (pile of whipped cream)
  • Ace Clubs -cat
  • 2 Hearts - hen
  • 3 Hearts - Ham
  • 4 Hearts - Hare
  • 5 Hearts - Hail
  • 6 Hearts - Hash
  • 7 Hearts - Hog (a large pig)
  • 8 Hearts - Hive (bee hive)
  • 9 Hearts - Hub (car hub-cap)
  • 10 Hearts - Hose (green garden hose)
  • Jack of Hearts - Heart
  • King of Hearts - Hinge
  • Queen of Hearts - Queen
  • Ace Hearts - hat (Fedora hat)
  • 2 Spades - sun
  • 3 Spades - sum (Sigma sign)
  • 4 Spades - sewer (pipe)
  • 5 Spades - sail
  • 6 Spades - sushi
  • 7 Spades - sock
  • 8 Spades - sieve
  • 9 Spades - soap
  • 10 Spades - suds
  • Jack of Spades - Spade
  • King of Spades - Sing
  • Queen of Spades - Steam
  • Ace Spades - suit
  • 2 Diamonds - dune
  • 3 Diamonds - dummy (pacifier)
  • 4 Diamonds - door
  • 5 Diamonds - doll
  • 6 Diamonds - dish
  • 7 Diamonds - deck (of cards)
  • 8 Diamonds - dove
  • 9 Diamonds - DEB mashed potato
  • 10 Diamonds - dice
  • Jack of Diamonds - diamond
  • King of Diamonds - drink (tray of)
  • Queen of Diamonds - dream
  • Ace Diamonds - date
Now you will need a Journey of 52 stages to locate the cards in turn.

Shuffle the playing cards then reveal the first card. What is the peg word image? Create an association with the first stage of your journey. Draw the next card, recall the peg word and create an association with the second stage of your journey.

Practice using one suit of cards, then two and work your way up to the full deck. By the way, the world record for memorising a deck of cards is under a minute! With practice you should be able to memorise a deck of cards in under five minutes.

Now that you memorised peg words for the playing cards, you can use these images for other card games. In a later article I will write about "Memory" - a game of matching pairs of cards.
Read more about remembering cards at the Memory Sports web site.

Mind Your Mind - Alzheimer's Disease Awareness

Last Friday, schoolboys were selling fund-raising badges and toys. I noticed the toys included yellow elephants and squeezable brains. How could I resist buying these items with my interest in memory and brain skills?

The fund-raising was for Alzheimer's Australia research projects.

What is Alzheimer's disease and how can it be prevented?

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia in the elderly and may start as early as mid-fifties. The cause is faster than normal loss of nerve cells in the brain, the cause of which is unknown.

Alzheimer's symptoms include recent loss of memory, loss of initiative and reduced physical activity. There is no cure and treatments are aimed at keeping the patient content. From diagnosis to eventual death takes seven years on average.

Dementia is a mental disorder in which the patient develops confusion, irrational behaviour. inappropriate reactions, poor or jumbled speech patterns, hallucinations and loss of short term memory. It is a permanent condition and unfortunately there is no cure for most causes.

How can you minimise the risk of degeneration of your brain? The Alzheimer's institute has some recommendations for brain fitness. Their campaign is called "Mind Your Mind" and is based on research that shows adopting a 'brain healthy' lifestyle may reduce the risk of developing dementia.

The Mind Your Mind signposts are:
  1. Mind Your Brain
  2. Mind Your Diet
  3. Mind Your Body
  4. Mind Your Health Checks
  5. Mind Your Social Life
  6. Mind Your Habits
  7. Mind Your Head
A good way to exercise the Brain is to develop memory skills. Learn memory technqiues and challenge the brain each day. Crossword puzzles, word and puzzles, board games, thinking games like chess and Go.

Read more at the Alzheimers Australia web site where you can download posters and brochures.

Definitions from "The Complete Family Medical Guide" - Dr Warwick Carter - (c) 2003 Hinkle Books

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Remembering 20 items with the Journey method

How would you go about remembering these twenty items?

In the previous article I described the Journey method. Now let's see the method in action.

1. Use your Journey

First of all, I need to explain the steps of my journey. The journey starts in my bedroom then visits every room, going out the front door, along the driveway then down the street past my neighbouring houses.

You won't be able to visualise all my steps so I stopped the journey at the letter box. This should be sufficient to explain the process.

- Bedroom
- Ensuite bathroom
- Entertainment area (TV, sofa)
- Bookshelf out the back
- Toilet
- Laundry
- Kitchen
- Dining Room
- Lounge Room
- Front Hall
- Out on the porch (entrance lobby)
- On the driveway
- At the letter box

2. Assign each object to a stage and create a strong image

Bedroom - Lightbulb - Huge lightbulb lying on the bed shining brightly

Ensuite bathroom - Easter Egg - The bathtub is filled with easter eggs. The eggs are overflowing onto the bathroom floor.

Entertainment area - Saucepan - A large saucepan is on the television set. A cooking program is being shown with the saucepan bubbling and overflowing on to the floor/

Laundry - Wineglass - A large wineglass on the washing machine is filled with washing powder and overflowing on to the floor

Kitchen - bicycle - A bicycle has been parked in the kitchen and a chef is seated on the bicycle but still able to reach the bench to chop up vegetables and stir the pots.

Dining Room - Car - A small car is parked in the diniing room and the dining table is balanced on the roof the car. Guests are sitting around the table using very high chairs

Lounge Room - Chair - A very large dining chair is balanced on the lounge suitee. Each dining chair leg is pushed into one of the lounge chairs making it very difficult to sit on the lounge.

Front Hall - Pencil - A large pencil is lying in the hallway very similar to a cannon about to be launched when the front door is opened.

Out on the porch - Postage Stamps - The front door has been wallpapered with stamps and the front doormat is a very large postage stamp.

On the driveway - Toothbrush - The toothbrushes are laid out on the driveway to make an articial grass covering.

At the letter box - Apple - An apple has been pushed into the letter box. An arrow has been fired in to the apple and holds a letter, probably sent by Robin Hood.

3. Review the list

Go back to the beginning of the journey, the bedroom, and recall what was happening there. A lightbulb! Go to the bathroom and what is there? Chocolate easter eggs. Continue the journey to recall the main items.

Review the list about an hour later and you will be surprised to see how much you can recall.

4. Conclusion

The Journey method is very powerful and I am now developing more journeys for remembering different things.

All images from

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Journey Method (revisited)

The Journey method is a means of remembering items in sequence. The method is based on a mental journey along which is a number of stages or locations. Each stage in the journey is used as an anchor for placing the information you want to remember.

The technique is relatively easy to use as the steps of the journey should be well established in your memory provided you have chosen a familiar mental route.

1. Creating The Journey

Think about a journey you can recall easily. A good starting place is inside your home. Start in your bedroom and follow a path through each room in turn. You could leave your house and continue the journey through the garden all the way to the shopping centre, bus stop or train station.

2. Remembering Information

Information is stored by mentally walking the journey and placing the items at each stage. Pause at the location, then imagine the sights, sounds and smells of the location. Create a vivid mental image of the item you are memorising at this location.

Move on to the next stage of the journey then repeat the process with the next item. When you are finished placing all the items, review the journey and check the information at each stage

3. Recalling The Information

Recalling the items is now a matter of mentally walking the journey and pausing at each location. What is happening at this stage? Use all your senses to help recall the association you made earlier. Once you have recalled the information, move on to the next stage.

What Can You Remember With The Journey Method?

This is a great method of remembering longer lists of items. For example, if you were shown a set of 20 items and asked to remember them all, you could mentally place the items on the stages of your journey.

A deck of cards (52 in total) can be remembered using a longer journey of 52 stages.

Many Journeys

Just using one journey can be confusing for memorising multiple sets of information. Typically you could use the same journey for remembering things that can be forgotten after a while.

Dominic O'Brien (author of Quantum Memory Power and many other books on memory) recommends using different journeys for different purposes. A journey of 31 stages can be used as a mental appointment book. Another journey can he used as a mental intray.


I created a mental journey of 52 stages from my bedroom up to the footbridge of the Wahroonga railway station. I created a mental milestone every 10 steps to allow rapid access to different parts of the list. The image I use is of numbers 20 feet high glowing brightly like beacons. The milestones are useful for checking that I haven't forgotten one of the stages.

This journey is going to be used for remembering the sequence of a deck of playing cards. I won't list the stages of my journey in this article as it won't make sense, but I have a printed copy which I used to check my recall when first establishing the journey.

Practice Using The Journey

Use the journey for remembering lists of items. Gradually increase the number of items remembered. For example, remember this list of 10 items: teacup, chess set, milk, light globe, soccer ball, car keys, tape measure, mobile phone, compact disc and postage stamps.

Happy travelling on your mental journeys of memory!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Number Shape System

In an earlier post I wrote about the Number Rhyme system for converting numbers into memorable images. This required thinking of a word that rhymes with the numbers from zero to ten.

The Number Shape system requires you to think of something that looks like the number.

Look at each number in turn and think what it looks like. This is my list which I have attempted to illustrate above.

0 - soccer ball (football in the UK)
1 - candlestick
2 - swan
3 - handcuffs
4 - sail boat
5 - hook
6 - elephant trunk
7 - axe
8 - hourglass
9 - balloon and string
10 - stick and hoop

The numbers can be used as pegs for associating information just as I described in an earlier article on Number rhymes. A useful application of the Number shapes is explained in Dominic O'Brien's Quantum Memory Power CD set.

When you need to remember numerical information, use the Number Shape image. For example, to remember that Mars has 2 moons, imagine a swan flying gracefully around the planet Mars.

To remember there are 4 horses on a polo team, imagine a sailboat sailing around the polo field with the players hitting the boat.

To remember that Santa Claus's sled is pulled by 8 reindeer you could imagine Santa holding the hourglass shouting out "We're running late!". If you had used a snowman as an image for the number 8, then your mental image would be much easier.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

How do I pronounce your name? Just ask the person!

When presented with a list of names, some people feel challenged by the task of saying the names out loud. Naturally there is a fear of making a mistake and offending the person by saying the name correctly.

So what is the secret? It is quite simple! The best way to learn how to pronounce a name is to Ask the Person! You can do this tactfully without offence. If the person's name is unusual or difficult, do you think you will be the first person to seek clarification?

If you are unsure, ASK the person for clarification, LISTEN CAREFULLY to hear the pronunciation, then REPEAT it back for clarification. I am amazed to see people ask for confirmation then ignore what they heard.

I recently attended a Toastmasters speech contest. During the speaker briefing, the contest chairman reviewed the list of contestants and confirmed the pronunciation of the names.
I was surprised at the difficulty this person showed in mastering the pronunciation. Why was this?

Take the first name of Megan. The owner of this name likes to pronounce it Meg-an, not Mee-gan. This is a common variation. But the chairman didn't really listen and said it wrong. We chimed in "It's Megan.. not Meegan!".

The second incident was with the surname of Dokulil. When you see it written you may wonder about the pronounciation. But it is quite simple. The owner of the name said "It is pronounced as it is written - Dock - oo - Lill". Quite simple.

The third name was a Greek surname of Sofatzis. Once again, let the owner of the name pronounce - So - far - tsis. Easy! Hear it, then repeat to confirm your understanding.

Confirming the pronunciation of a name shows respect to the person and shows you were listening. There are many ways to ask tactfully. Ladies named Karen sometimes prounce it Kar-ren. Sarah is sometimes pronounced Sar-ra. Make sure you use the name as its owner pronounced it to you.

"Do you pronounce your name Karen or Kar-rin". And if you make a blunder with the name when reading out loud, the person will probably tell you the correct way. So listen carefully.

A final reminder of the technique:
  1. Ask the person to say their name
  2. Listen carefully
  3. Repeat the name for confirmation.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Chinese Names

I grew up in a culture where people had a surname, a "Christian" name (a term no longer used for various reasons) and a middle name. In my primary school days, boys used to call each other by their surname or a nickname.

Over the years I have strived to learn how names are used in other cultures. The first culture and country I am going to write about in this series of names from around the world is China. This will include names from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

A lot of informaton in this article was taken from Wikipedia, but I have added stories of my own experience. I look forward to feedback from my Chinese friends on how you use your name, particularly in regard to your Chinese and "Western" names.


Several different conventions are followed by Chinese in the use of names.

First of all, the Chinese name is written with the family name first, followed by the given name. For instance, Lee Ming is "Mr Lee" not "Mr Ming". The family name of Chinese leader Mao Zedong is Mao and his given name is Zedong.


When Chinese people emigrate or do business with Western countries they often adapt their name by adding a Western first name to their surname, for example Fred Lee.

Other variations include combining a Western name with Chinese surname and given name, for example, Fred Lee Ming. Another variation is to follow the Western name with Chinese given name then surname, for example, Fred Ming Lee.


An interesting variation on adapting Chinese names is to use the initials of given names. I know a few Chinese men with two given names. Their "Western" name is their initials. For example, I have worked with "KK" Lam in Singapore and "KK" Leung from Hong Kong. The father of one of my daughter's classmates is "CC" Cheung, and another father is "CP" Chan.

I am curious about these abbreviations but I haven't always got the information. KK Leung was Kin Kwong Leung which always made me think of "King Kong".


Chinese names are written (not surprisingly) in Chinese characters. When translated to English, the Western spelling can vary. For example, on the list of 100 most common Chinese surnames published in 2006, the character for Li () is also shown as Lee. Spellings will be different depending on whether Mandarin or Cantonese pronunciation is used.

Consider these Mandarin/Cantonese pairs: Zhang and Chang, Zhao and Chiu, Zhu and Chu, Wu and Ng, and Liang and Leung.

The spelling of these names can be your clue to indentify where the person is from. For example, I have a colleague with surname of Li and he is from China, but another fellow named Lee is from Singapore. I used to work with a Helen Lee whose accent was so Australian, that after a telephone call to a customer, she received a fax sent to Helen Leigh.


Although there are thousands of Chinese family names, the 100 most common surnames are shared by 85% of the population. The top 10 surnames account for about 40% of Chinese people in the world: Li/Lee, Wang/Wong, Zhang/Chang, Zhao/Chao , Chen/Chan, Yang/Young , Wu/Woo/Ng , Liu/Lau , Huang/Wong , Zhou/Chow.

Commit those names to memory and you will have a great conversation starter: "Did you know that you have one of the ten most popular Chinese names in the world? And 40% of Chinese have one of these names?".


I have two stories to share about marriages of a Chinese person and an Australian.

I used to work with an ABC (Australian Born Chinese) named Karen Chong. She was married and I naively assumed her husband was Chinese. I later found out that her husband was an Australian named Bruce. I asked her why she didn't use her married surname and she replied "When people hear the name Chong, they know what to expect".

I encountered the reverse situation at a client. I was studying a document which referred to a Denise Wong. I happened to be working with a Caucasian lady named Denise, so I asked her where I could find Denise Wong to ask some questions. She said, "Oh, that's me. My husband is Chinese!". This led to an interesting conversation and she said that bank tellers were always suspicious when she withdrew money.

The moral of these two tales is that you should never assume too much about a person, just looking at the surname!

Learn more about Chinese names and you will learn about the long history of China and its fascinating culture.

Suggested Wikipedia reading:
Chinese Name,
Chinese Surname
Chinese Given Name

A history of Australian names

Learning the history of migration in your home city, state and country gives you a useful background for talking to people about their names. This knowledge can be a great conversation starter when discussing a person's name. You can approach the topic by saying "My hobby is researching my family tree. What is the history of your name?".

I live in Sydney in the state of New South Wales, Australia. Sydney has become a multi-cultured society with over one quarter of the state's residents born overseas. My surname of Cave goes back to England and has been traced back to 12th Century France.

Here is a brief summary of Australia's immigration in the last two hundred years.

The colonisation of Sydney started in 1788 with the arrival of over 160,000 convicts from England and Ireland. From the early 1790s, free immigrants came to Australia fueled by the rapid growth of the wool industry in the 1820s. Many people migrated from the United Kingdom to take advantage of the jobs and opportunities in rural Australia.

The Gold Rush era of 1851 to 1860 attracted up to 50,000 migrants each year. The Chinese immigrants were the largest non-British group. Other events in the 19th Century attracted particular groups of migrants.

During the 1840s, a large number of Irish immigrants settled in Australia to escape famine in ther homeland. Labourers from Melanesia were recruited in the 1860s to work on Queensland plantations. Japanese fishers helped build the pearling industry in the late 19th Century.

A large influx of migrants occurred after World War II. Australia negotiated agreements with other governments to bring more people to Australia. British people could migrate to Australia for the princely sum of 10 pounds, earning the nickname of a "Ten pound Pom". Migrants from Hungary and Czechoslovakia (as it was then known) arrived in 1956 and 1967 following unrest in their countiries

At the end of World War II (145), Australia's population was just over 7 million with around 90 percent born in Australia. In 2006, the population had risen to nearly 20 million with neary 25 percent born oversears. 43 percent of the population were born overseas or have a parent born overseas, the most popular countries being United Kingdom, New Zealand, China and Italy.

New South Wales is a good example of multiculturalism. In 2006, twenty five percent of residents were born overseas. The top 12 countries of birth are United Kingdom, China, New Zealand, Vietnam, Philippines, India, Lebanon, Italy, Hong Kong, Greece, Korea and South Africa.

The highest rate of growth in absolute numbers in the last five years has been from China, India, Philippines, Korea and Iraq. I will be writing articles on names from these countries.

Understanding the history of migration in your part of the world, and a knowledge of names from different cultures will help greatly in your new interest in names.

Australian information from : and NSW Information from NSW Department of Health:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Nominating Facial Features, Morphing Names

In an earlier article, I described Benjamin Levy's NAME method of remembering names. NAME stands for Nominate, Articulate, Morph and Entwine.

In other words, you Nominate a memorable facial feature, say it (Articulate) quietly to yourself, Morph the name into something memorable, then create a strong active association between the facial feature and the morphed name. In this article I elaborate on the Nominate and Morph phases.


First of all, let's explore the challenge of closely looking at a person's face and identifying a key feature.

Levy writes, "There are a couple of ways to really examine a face.

One is to look at it and mentally draw the letter Z across it: start at the eyes and eyebrows on the left, zip across to the right, diagonally across the nose, then left to right across the mouth.

Another is to mentally draw a figure eight, circling down from the eyes to the mouth and back up again."

Practice this skill when looking at people when you are out, or on television or pictures in newspapers and magazines. As you practice this study of faces, you will develop your facial vocabulary for describing a person's features.

Morphing Names

How can you convert names (with no intrinsic meaning) into something memorable?

1. Add vowels. For example, Scott could be transformed into Scoott with the addition of an "o" and your morphed name could be Scooter. Try adding a vowel or two (A, E, I, O or U) tothe name.

2. Build your wordpower! Morphing names is going to depend on your personal history, backround, education and the associations you have build up in your life. Use wordplay to transform the name. Ask youself "What does sound like, or remind me of?".

"A great way to build your wordpower is to do Crossword Puzzles. This keeps your mind nimble and alive to new ways of looking at language" (Levy).


Here is Levy's summary of making effective Name morphs.

1. Begin with the same letter of the name you are Morphing.
2. Try to choose sound-alike jobjects, rather than verbs or adjectives.
3. Choose distinctive objects.
4. When necessary, you can make an effective Morph by using an image inspired by the name. Maybe ruby slippers remind you of Dorothy (in the land of Oz).
5. Be imaginative - what does the name sound like?
6. If the name seems overwhelming, break it down into one-syllable components.

Morphs enable you to see names that normally you only hear.

More interest in names leads to a better chance of remembering them.

Create your own list of Morphed Names and review it regularly. It is a good idea to have the same morph for the same name, as this is your personal collection of name images. Links to my personal list can be found in an earlier blog article.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Nicknames - good and bad

Nicknames can be a useful technique for remembering people's names but inappropriate nicknames can be embarrasing. This leads to the story of why there is a picture of Brad Pitt at the top of this article.

In my workplace there is an employee named Brook who looks a little bit like Brad Pitt. It didn't help that our office nickname fanatic decided to call this fellow "Brooke Shields". Soon after, the feminine nickname transformed into "Brad Pitt".

Now that Brook was being called Brad, and all knowledge of his real surname was lost, meeting "Brad" in the kitchen required several seconds of thinking to remember his name.

The moral of the story is that if you are going to give someone a nickname, use a variation of the real name. For example, Larry can be Leisure Suit Larry, and Bob can be Bob the Builder.


I was reading on Wikipedia how George W. Bush ("Dubya") used nicknames to refer to fellow politicians and White House staff. Vladimir Putin was "Pootie-Poot", and Condoleezza Rice was "Condi".

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Associating a Name with a Facial Feature

Nominate Articulate Morph Entwine

In the previous blog post I wrote about the FACE method which has the goal of ensuring you get a person's name and remember it after the meeting.

But what happens when you are introduced to groups of people? This is a common scenario in business meetings or at a cocktail party. You won't have time to use the FACE method. This article describes Benjamin Levy's NAME method for associating a person's name with a facial feature. When you next see the person, the face will remind you immediately of the name!

A big challenging of remembering names is they are not inherently memorable. What images come to mind when you try to memorise Dave, Steve, Sue, Jenny, Louis, and Alan? The challenge then is to make names become memorable. This is done by morphing the name into something memorable. But more about that later.

The basis of the NAME method is converting the name to something memorable, then associating it with a prominent facial feature.

The four steps of NAME are Nominate, Articulate, Morph and Entwine:

1. Nominate

When you meet someone for the first time, look carefully at the face and pick out a feature. Maybe it is the feature that grabbed your attention when you first saw the person. But make sure you don't pick a feature that could change such as hair, glasses or jewellery.

Become aware of facial features. Look at the person's eyes, eyebrows, nose, lips, facial structure, ears, and chin.

2. Articulate

Once you have identified the feature, silently Articular precisely what you observed. This confirms your full devotion and attention to the feature you have nominated.

Over time you will develop an awareness of the structure and appearance of the human face, and a useful vocabulary for describing faces. As you observe people in public places, practice identifying a feature and describing it silently to yourself.

3. Morph

Names have no inherent meaning which makes then difficult to remember. In this stage we morph, or transform the name into something which sounds similar but memorable. For example, "Sam" sounds like "SPAM". "Geoff" sounds like "Chef". Now you can visualise a can of SPAM for Sam, and Chef's hat for Geoff.

It is important to morph the name into a word that has a strong, memorable image, usually a noun.

4. Entwine

Now that we have a strong mental image of the name, and a nominated facial feature, we need to create a memorable association between them. The goal is to create an unforgettable assocation with lots of exaggeration and action. Levy recommends including violent images, and possibly obscene or ludicrous. The mental image is only known to you, so there are no limits to your imagination.

An example of using this system is if you meet a man named David. He has a high forehead. You morph the name David into an image of a STAR OF DAVID. The star is entwined in the forehead maybe the star is very hot and burning into the forehead.

The mother of one of my daughter's classmates is named Ann. I imagined an ant walking across a particular feature of her forehead.


Now you know the NAME method:
  1. Nominate - survey the face, then choose a feature
  2. Articulate - describe the feature so you know it
  3. Morph - names don't have meaning, so change them into something similar with meaning
  4. Entwine - the facial feature and and the morphed name
You will need to practice the NAME method by regularly studying faces. Look at people in shopping centres, restaurants, public transport. Practice face studying at every opportunity! Observe faces closely and be amazed by everyone's uniqueness.

You should use the same morphs for names. I created lists of over 200 male names and 200 female names. These can be downloaded and used as the basis of your own personal name morph list:

Boys names with morph words
Girls names with morph words