Teaching: Remembering Names

A name is important to everyone. Learning each student's name is crucial to being an effective leader. 

I don’t know what it is about youth workers, but it seems like most of us have a hard time remembering names. There’s nothing worse than meeting a kid for the third time and wondering to yourself, “what is this kid's name again?” I hope I’m not the only one who uses the words “buddy,” “man,” and “dude,” when I find myself talking to a young man who I know I should know the name of. Worse still, occasionally you meet a kid who knows you don’t know his name. He taunts you with pop quizzes. “What’s my name,” he asks with a smirk on his face. You stumble, you stutter, and you admit defeat.

What if you could remember every name every time?

I am not good with names. However, there are a few tricks I’ve learned over the years that I do find helpful. Try some of these tips next time you find yourself meeting a student you don’t want to forget.

1. Repetition
When I meet a student, I try to say his or her name as much as possible after the initial introduction. After I hear the student's name I say, “Nice to meet you, (student's name).” Then when we get to talking, I repeat it again. “Do you play any sports, (student's name)?” When we’re done talking, I say it again. “Nice to meet you, (student's name). Catch you later!” It’s simple, and who cares if he or she knows you’re doing it. At least then, the student will know that he or she is important to you.

2. Take Pictures
When you have a guest, take his or her picture. I’ve seen churches that used Polaroid’s as attendance cards. When a kid comes in, they take the picture, write his or her name on the back, and throw it in a basket or something as a way of checking in. That works great. What is also great is that during the week you can sit in your office or at home, flip through the pictures, and make sure you memorize names of new students.

3. Name Association
Dose the person have the same name as someone else you know well? Does he or she kind of resemble a celebrity? Does the student have an interest in something you can connect his or her name to? If you can make these kinds of associations, you are more likely to remember a name.

4. Ask Questions
If I am talking to a student and I don’t remember his or her name, I sometimes ask how it is spelled. Most names have a variety of spellings, so it’s not that odd of a question to ask. (If the name is Tom or Paul, you look pretty silly, but more often than not, it’s an acceptable question). Hannah/Hanna, Rene/Renee, Brantly/Brantley, Kari/Carrie/Cari/Karrie, etc.

5. You Get Once
I think most students will give you one free pass. They know you meet lots of people. They’re not going to give you a hard time if you forget. If you know you’ve met the student before, just ask for his or her name again. If you have to ask a third or fourth time, he or she might begin to take it more personally. But for the most part, once is no big deal.

6. Invite Them to Help You
If you are in a bigger church you may just need to recruit your students to help you. Let them know if they’re new, you’d love to get to know them better and part of that is knowing more about them. When you interact with students, invite them to share their names with you. Then, once you get it down, you can surprise them by beating them to the punch and calling them by their names.

A name is important to students. Learning their names is crucial to effectively leading them. Whether it’s remembering the name of a guest or just memorizing the names of all the students in a larger ministry, hopefully these six ideas will help you do a better job of knowing your flock.

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