Saturday, August 15, 2009

Remembering Surnames

The long term remembering of people's names first requires making the name memorable then associating it with the face. In case you are wondering about the picture of a salmon ... it is my key memory image of a fellow I worked with whose surname is Salmon.

In this article I talk about remembering surnames, and in the next article I show you how to associate the key image with the face.

Surnames can be grouped into two broad categories: Names that mean something and those that don't.

Traditional English names derive from occupations (Baker, Cook, Cooper, Carpenter and Smith), animals (Fish, Fox, Salmon), directions (North, South, East and West) or English words (Ash, Brown, Black, King and Queen). It is quite easy to think of a key image for each of these surnames.

There are names that by themselves don't have meaning but they suggest a strong mental picture. Maybe it is the surname of someone famous or notorious. For example, Todd (I went to school with an Alan Todd) suggests Sweeny Todd (Tim Burton's recent film of Sweeny Todd). Lincoln suggests American president Abraham Lincoln and Keating suggest a former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating.

The surnames that don't suggest an image require you to use your imagination to make the surname mean something to you. The technique is to convert the name into something memorable by using substitute words.

No matter how strange the name may sound upon first hearing it, it can be broken down into a substitute word or thought. Simply think of a word or phrase that sounds as much like the name as possible. For example, I used to work with an Indian gentleman with the surname of Venkataraman. This reminded me of the song Day-O by Harry Belafonte: "Come Mister Tallyman, tally me banana". The tally-man reminded me of taraman. After 5 years, I still remember this fellow's name.

Break long names into syllables and see what thoughts and ideas you get. Use whatever you think of first as this is the most memorable image. You can be as silly or as rude as you want. You don't have to tell the person your mental image if you are complemented on your skill at recalling names.

Names such as Cameron suggest a camera, Renard reminds me of a fox, Heath reminds me of the vegetation on the moors of Scotland. McCulloch suggest a brand name of chain saw. The surname of Corneil (not to be confused with Cornell!) suggests a corn cob and a slippery eel.

So what do you do with this key memory image? The next step is associating with something memorable about the face.

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