You’ve probably heard it said that everyone’s favorite sound is their own name. Folks just like to hear their own name, and using people’s names is a powerful way to connect for portraits. I shot a wedding the other day with about 30 people attending, and when I made a portrait of the whole group, I called on each person individually to get them into the right position. Not only is this more effective than saying, “You in the red tie, move over,” but it’s also a bit entertaining and distracts the others from being miserable while I’m getting everyone in place.

I’ve never taken a class on how to remember names, but I’ve noticed there are several things I do while remembering names that might help you, too. You can also google “How to remember names.” It’s a very important skill and I suggest you spend at least as much time practicing remembering names as you spend practicing pictures.

Visualize the Name

When someone gives you their name, imagine how it looks typed or written on a post-it note. I’ve been experimenting with imagining different fonts, but it may be more distracting than useful ;)

Ask How to Spell It

Asking how to spell it helps me visualize it the first time I hear it, but it’s also a great trick when reviewing names if you’ve forgotten one. Say, “Please tell me how to spell your name,” and now you’ve gotten a reminder that will help visualize and you haven’t admitted to forgetting in the first place.

Ask Again

I frequently forget a name in the first few minutes, and that’s fine with me. I simply ask kindly, “Please give me your name again.” Asking again isn’t offensive, but pretending that you didn’t forget becomes evident, and that could be a little rude.

Pay Attention

Paying attention when people give their names may be the most important thing you do to remember them. I’m changing my vocabulary to say “give” and “share” more often when I’m talking about names because it’s a person’s most precious item, and giving it to me is a big deal, and I ought to treat it as such–just like making pictures instead of taking them. You ought to give them your full attention when they share their names with you.

When I speak with Chinese, I say, “May I humbly ask your most honorable surname?” this catches people a little off guard and after a flattered chuckle they respond, “My humble surname is Chen, ” and I respond similarly with my name. The way I ask their name forces them to pay attention to my name as well.

Make Associations

This is a common trick many people use. When you get a new name, associate it something and that will help you remember it. “Nice to meet you, Steve! Stupendous Steve.” “My name is Levi, like the jeans.” Associating with a song is common. Again, conversing in Chinese is full of associations.

My surname in Chinese is the same as the founder of the Republic of China, but it’s also the same as a mythical character who is a monkey king, and it’s the character for grandson. Depending on the mood of things and who I’m speaking to, I can associate my name with various things and affect the mood of the introduction–they always laugh if I bring up the monkey king. The point is, be aware of how your association may be interpreted by the person you meet.

Remember in Order/Place

Your grade school teacher used this trick. She memorized who sat where, and if someone was in the wrong spot she had a hard time remembering their name at first. It’s easy for me to memorize a new set of students in a row in class, but when we go out to shoot they are no longer in order. Using the trick of visualizing their names, I visualize where they were sitting in the class when I first learned their names. This method also helps me keep track of everyone as we photowalk because I realize that the person who was standing next to Megan during introductions isn’t here.

What’s Your Last Name?

Here’s a trick I learned from Vanelli to help people feel valued when you’re at a bar or party or convention. Simply ask, “What’s your name again?” and when they respond with the first name say, “I know your first name is Megan, but what’s your last name?” See how that works?

Use a Wingman

I’m spilling all the beans here. When Vanelli and I are walking around a convention together, we constantly run into people we’ve met before and had a terrific experience with at the last convention, but the first name is just eluding Vanelli or me. So we have a code: If he doesn’t introduce me to someone by name it means I need to introduce myself so we both get the first name. It goes like this:

Acquaintance: “Hi, Levi! How have you been? Your pictures with your kids on Facebook are sure fun.”

Levi: “I’m glad to see you! Thanks so much. This is my pal, Vanelli.”

Vanelli: “It’s nice to meet you. Please give me your name.”

Acquaintance: “I’m John Jingleheimer, it’s nice to meet you, too.”

Levi: “I’m sorry, V, this is John, he’s a terrific photographer in Texas…”

Whoever you’re with, make a plan to use this method when you’re meeting people again you haven’t seen in a long time.


When you meet me, you’ll see that I wear a name tag with my logo and name. Not only does it get me a lot of business while waiting in lines, but it also gets me a lot of repeat business. I’m good with names, so in six months I’ll bump into a client at the grocery store and say, “Hi Steve! How’re Megan and the kids?” Steve’ll realize that he’s met me, but he didn’t spend two hours editing my family’s pictures on the computer, so he probably doesn’t remember my name. But he’ll glance at my name tag and say, “Hi…Levi!” It puts us on equal ground, and I like it. I’m not saying you should wear a name tag, but I am saying you should remember names. Try these tricks and find others that work for you and get to work remembering the most essential fact about each person you meet.