In the play, “Romeo and Juliet,” Juliet shares, “What’s in a name?” and goes on to suggest that a name is artificial and meaningless. But I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree with Juliet (look at what happens to her!). Names are important, and knowing someone’s name is truly the highest form of respect. Let me tell you about my name. In 3rd grade, for homework, we were to find out our “name story” or how we got our name. I’m sure that Mrs. Johnson expected interesting or humorous or even sentimental stories, not my very boring one. When I asked my mom, she replied, “After you were born, your dad and Dr. Webb (my dad’s friend from high school) were in another room watching a baseball game. When they walked back into my room, I said, ‘Let’s name her Julie,’ and your dad said, ‘Ok.’” Wow! What a great story! Not! At least my boys have better “name stories.” After searching a baby name book for weeks, we decided on the name Austin, but after he was born (3 days of labor and an emergency C-section), the doctor asked, “Why Austin? I thought you would name him Bryan.” Let me explain his comment. My husband and I are Aggies (we attended Texas A&M University), and our rival (that “other” big school in Texas) is located in Austin. A&M is located in College Station which is right next to Bryan. See why the doctor was confused. But I loved the name Austin, and his middle name is after Scott’s grandfather (who passed away shortly before Austin was born). So Austin Steele was named (and I always thought he could use the name if he became a country singer or male stripper!). Hayden’s name came from that TV show, Coach. I distinctly remember hearing the main character’s name, Hayden Fox, and thinking what a cool name! Scott voted for Armistead (yep - that’s the same reaction I had) but Austin (with a little coaching from mom) voted with me, and Hayden Scott (my husband’s middle name) was named. So why am I sharing all of our “name stories”?
If we compare effective communication to one of Shakespeare’s plays, knowing and using someone’s name sets the stage for the experience. There is actual scientific research showing that hearing your own name (as compared to hearing other names) causes a unique response in the brain. Yep - your brain “lights up” when you hear your name. Because of this response, using someone’s name will help improve focus, promote your credibility and competence, create positivity, and instill loyalty. Wow … all that by just using someone’s name!! But if you are anything like me, learning and remembering someone’s name can be super difficult. Don’t despair! (Do I sound a bit like Shakespeare??) Here are some tips to help you out.
1. In the excitement or even in the stress of first meeting someone, research also shows that we don’t remember names because we are not paying attention when someone shares his or her name. So work to focus your complete attention when meeting someone, and repeat the name. “It’s so nice to meet you, Julie.” “Julie? I’m glad to meet you.”
2. Immediately try to associate the name with something. I tend to associate names with other people I know with the same name. My super cute new neighbors are Morgan and Jeff, names I can associate with a family from my past. As I learned students’ names each year, I connected the name with former students. You can also associate the name with a celebrity or a place or a thing: Melinda - Melinda Gates; Brian - Bryan, Texas; Scott - a pot. By visualizing the connection, you will make the association even stronger as we remember pictures even better than words.
3. Use it or lose it! Work to use the name during the conversation (but don’t overuse!). Say the name over and over in your head. If taking notes during the communication experience (and I hope you are), write the name down at the top of the page. After the initial meeting, write the name down again (maybe this time in a calendar). Send a thank you note or email and use the person’s name in the greeting. In all future correspondence, use the person’s name. But always make sure you are pronouncing or spelling the name correctly!
There are many, many other “hacks” for learning and using names, but etc Strategies believes that there is really only one thing to remember: motivation drives behaviors. If you understand the positive impact knowing someone’s name can have on a communication experience and ultimately on a professional or personal relationship, you will find ways to learn and remember a name. Sorry Juliet! There is a lot in a name!