11 Surprising Things It Means If You Can’t Remember People’s Names

Hannah Burton/Bustle

Are you the type who blanks on a person's name, before you've even finished shaking their hand? Do you spot acquaintances in the grocery store, and run the other way because you can't quite remember who they are? If you have trouble remembering names, and have moments like these happen to you on the regular, join the club.

Name recall isn't a strong suit for everyone, and it can be kind of embarrassing when a familiar face approaches, and your brain lets you down. But don't feel bad. "Some people are very good at it, while others are more challenged by it," says Dr. Jared Brosch, a neurologist at IU Health tells Bustle. He says it's often just a matter of what your brain is good at, the same way some people are really great at remembering directions, while others get lost one street over from their apartment.

Everyone's brain has a shortcoming or two. However, this whole name issue can be improved over time — if you're willing to try some tricks. "There are several mindfulness games you can play when trying to remember a name," Mike Dow, PsyD, PhD, author of Heal Your Drained Brain, tells Bustle. "Try to use their name in conversation. Make associations that are visual. If there's a Carol, see that person in your mind's eye with a Carol that you know. See them together." Little mind games like these can make their name stick.

That said, there are a few interesting reasons why you might not be able to remember names, apart from your brain's innate ability. Health issues, medications, and even how much the person means to you all play a role. Read on for more info below.


They May Not Have Been Important To You In The Moment

Many of us who are supposedly "bad with names" can recall them, if we have a good enough reason to. But let's be honest... that's not always the case. "If you think back to people that have changed your life or someone you fell in love with, you remembered that person’s name. Why? They were important to you," says Dr. Joe Bates, author of Making Your Brain Hum. You'll likely always remember your first boss, or your first crush. But the name of that random guy who lives down the street? Might not stick.


You Haven't Been Getting Enough Sleep

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Sleep deprivation can take quite a toll on memory, so if you've been forgetting things — names included — this may be your issue. "You really need to be getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night in order to make memories stick," Chris Brantner, founder of, tells Bustle. "Not only does sleep help us organize and consolidate information and deposit it into our memory banks, but it also helps us be clear-headed and focused during the day. Without enough sleep, it's probable that lots of information will go in one ear and out the other — like people's names."


You Weren't Actually Paying Attention

Even though it may have felt like you were paying attention whilst being introduced to someone new — you were looking at them, shaking their hand, etc. — you likely weren't actually listening to what was being said. "You were looking at them, observing them, noticing them, and your visual senses were overriding your auditory senses," says clinical psychologist and host of The Web Radio Show Dr. Josh Klapow. "You heard the name but it didn't commit to memory the way the person's facial features, height etc. did."


Your Brain Was Too Busy

In a similar vein, it's easy for the brain to get bogged down by too much information, leaving nothing leftover for name recall. "We are often distracted by our own memory reserves," Klapow says. "We may have too much on our mind and as a result, their name simply doesn't have room in our memory storage." Again, this is even more likely to be the case when someone doesn't register as important to you.


Their Name Was Incredibly Common

How many people do you know who have the exact same name? If the answer is a lot, it's no wonder you can't remember anyone's name. "We may know several Johns and several Nancys, for example," says Klapow. "If we hear a common name, it isn't as salient and we are less likely to commit it to memory." So the next time you forget a name that was "so easy to remember," give yourself a break.


You Secretly Really, Really Didn't Like Them

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If you instantly forgot someone's name upon meeting them, it could be that you secretly didn't like them very much, Beverly Hills-based psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish tells Bustle, or even that you wished them gone from your life altogether. She explains that this has a lot to do with your superego and your unconscious mind, which will help you to forget the names of people your brain has deemed an "enemy" — for whatever reason. Interesting, right?


You've Been Anxious Or Depressed

As Dow explains, untreated mental illnesses like anxiety and depression can take a toll on your memory, making it very difficult to remember names. And that makes sense, doesn't it? If you're feeling super anxious when meeting someone, most of your brain will be focused on your mild panic and discomfort, and a lot less focused on remembering their name.


Your Medications Are Affecting Your Memory

If you've recently started taking a new medication, or have been taking one for some time and have felt "out of it" ever since, it might explain why you're having trouble with names. "This brain fog may also be the side effect of a medication you're taking, so your prescriber may be able to adjust your dose, the timing, or the medication," Dow says. Talk to him or her about readjusting your dose, so you can feel less fuzzy.


You Didn't Give Your Brain A Chance

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Ever run into your neighbor, blank on their name, then remember a few minutes later — often after they've already walked away? "Many times we cannot recall a person's name immediately, but after a minute you do remember it," says Brosch. "This is often reassuring and can simply be related to the speed with which we access the information stored in the brain."


You've Had Some Sort Of Illness Or Injury

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Getting into the more serious stuff now, memory problems may sometimes be a sign of an underlying health problem. If you think your memory is on the fritz, be your own advocate and ask your doctor to check for underlying health issues. Klapow tells me head injuries can play a role in memory loss, as well as thyroid problems, and issues like insomnia. Start there, and hopefully you'll be able to get to the bottom of this annoying issue.


You May Have Early Signs Of Dementia

It's never a good idea to jump to conclusions when it comes to big health issues like dementia, but if your memory issues have become a problem, don't be afraid to ask your doctor about ways to improve the health of your brain.

"While there is no cure for the 'worst case scenario' Alzheimer's, there are activities and foods that slow it down," Dow says. "And, when it comes to the brain — an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Thus, be sure to eat a brain-healthy diet."

There's some truth to the old saying "use it or lose it." And that can help when it comes to remembering names, too. So take care of your brain, and pay attention when meeting someone new. You might just remember them the next time you meet.