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The Art of Memorizing Names

December 18, 2009 Leave a comment

With finals week finally coming to a close, I can’t help pondering the memorization abilities of the college student species. An entire semester’s worth of information is crammed in the brain until that glorious moment when the exam paper is handed from student to teacher, like the passing of an Olympic torch. This is all accomplished during the duration of one week or less, and multiplied by five or six classes–all within that same week. How is so much information sorted and retained in such a short period of time?

To address this question, I thought about how other information is memorized by the college student species. Specifically, I reflected upon the praxis of name memorization. Every day, college students meet at least one new person–a classmate who needs to borrow a pen, a peer sharing your table in the overcrowded dining hall, a housemate’s cute friend she brought home… We constantly pass new faces, and are constantly bombarded with new names to match those faces–names which we are expected to remember. (After all, how else can we look them up to add on Facebook)? Sorting and retaining all these names can be challenging, especially when these new faces are only encountered occassionally: that is when the art of memorizing names comes in.

Personally, I have this terrible habit of making nicknames for new people I meet based on my initial impressions of them. I’ll be conversing with some new person and miss the “My name is ________” part because my brain is too busy thinking something like “Wow, this girl’s fake tan has an impressively orange pigment. She looks like she’s borderline legal midget too…makes me feel 6′. Shit, what did she just say her name is? Katie? No, no–You’re only thinking that because her phone just rang with a Katy Perry ringtone. Man, I guess I’ll just call her Ooompa Loompa Girl…” (Of course, these nicknames are never used to vocally address the person to his or her face).

So, the nickname is remembered due to the blatant association (e.g. “Ooompa Loompa Girl” matches an incredibly short girl with incredibly orange skin).  However, the actual name is never retained and therefore cannot be remembered. Even when a casual, “I’m sorry, what did you say your name is again?” is thrown into the conversation and it is discovered that Oompa Loompa Girl’s name is in fact “Melinda,” the likelihood of remembering that her name is “Melinda” is slim to none: but “Oompa Loompa Girl” will not be forgotten.

Later, with friends, these nicknamed faces will be mentioned in conversation; everyone will immediately understand which person is being described based on the associated nickname. Some may even already have the same or similar nickname for that person. Evidently, the college student species’ brains similarly process  information in this way.

The art of memorizing names emerged upon accidental coincidence that fortunately solved this error in brain processing. As usual, I missed the “My name is _______” part of the conversation because my brain was too busy mentally exclaiming the degree of resemblance this guy had to Charmander, the Pokemon. When I pulled the “I’m sorry, what did you say your name is again?” card, my eyes widened with good fortune when he responded, “Charlie.” At that very moment, he officially was titled “Charlie the Charmander.” I would therefore successfully remember to address him as “Charlie,” although I’d still refer to him as “Charlie the Charmander” with friends in order to properly identify him and distinguish him from any other Charlies they may know. Alas, a revelation occurred: create nicknames for people that are not only associated with initial impressions of them, but also with their actual names.

Since then, I have encountered new faces and successfully remembered their names due to nicknames such as Lazy-Eye Liz, Ghetto-Fab Greg, Commuter Chris, Trackie Chris, and Richy Chris. Sometimes, mnemonic devices based on associated thought trains are used instead. For example, I met these guys Louis and Chad, but my brain somehow insisted on replacing “Chad” with “Brad.” So, I sorted and properly retained their names by thinking of Louis and Clark from the Louis and Clark Expedition, and applied the “C” from the “Clark” to the “ad” from the “Brad” that I remembered, successfully resulting in “Louis and Chad.” Similarly, I had difficulty remembering that a face nicknamed “College McDude” by my friends is actually called “Jake.” So, I associated “College McDude” with the segment of Nickelodeon’s The Amanda Show called “Totally Kyle,” in which the main character, Kyle, saturates his sentences with the word “dude” in excess, the same way ditsy girls saturate their sentences with the word “like” in excess.

These tactics of the art of memorizing names may seem complicated, but they effectively accommodate the somewhat handicap  brain processes of the college student species.

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