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:


  1. Huge muscles they have also huge memory?

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  2. Do you have any issues with multiple of the same actions/verbs? I noticed you have both Homer and Bugs Bunny eating. Does this cause you any confusion?