Remembering Students’ Names

Are you good at it, and do you have special tricks to do it?

I think I’m not bad. Maybe it’s because I’m a visual learner, but seeing people’s names on the attendance list helps a lot. I’ve found that in other contexts where I’m confronted with a bunch of new names, say, in a work setting or as a student in a class, it’s much harder for me. It’s also important for me to come up with the name myself: if I’m staring at a student and his name is on the tip of my tongue, if someone else jumps in with it, I will not learn, but if I have to think of it, I will (this influences my policy of letting students looking for a word struggle a bit to find it, too).

Once I’ve learned a name, I tend not to forget it. If I see a student on the street, I can generally remember his/her name. I don’t often confuse people, but when I do, I tend to do it repeatedly.

I don’t really have tricks for remembering – I just practice, maybe going around the room and naming people. I sometimes ask students to come up with a word beginning with the same letter as their name in the first class, but that doesn’t really help me. Occasionally, a student’s name sounds like something else, in that language or another one, and that helps. I got a little freaked out by a Korean student who called himself Dragon, because I’d had students with the name Dragan in Bosnia. It’s pronounced a little differently, but does in both cases make me think of, well, the large imaginary reptile-like creature with wings. (It actually means “dear” in Bosnian though). One student heckler had a name which, with one extra letter, would have been nearly identical to the local language word for ugly. That pleased me to no end.

I worked with a teacher who sometimes made two- or three-word notes about a student’s appearance to jar his memory…this is not a bad idea but can be sensitive if you make a bad choice of what to write and the student or other students see it. In one case, he wrote “orange hair”, and the student in question found out (when the other teacher told her) and actually changed the color of her hair because she was embarrassed that people thought it was orange. There was a lot more going on in that situation – between the teachers, or at least with the one who told the student – but it’s still a situation you probably want to avoid.