8 ways to learn names of group members

What's in a name?

You are about to start a group. People start to arrive and you check them off your list. Apart from the person who came early while you are getting ready, other participants start to arrive in pairs or small groups. You know that you are going to have to remember their names but how?  You sit down and now have a group of 10 – 14 people that you are going to be working with in a group program. What do you do to remember all of those names so that you don’t appear to be rude?

I have a thing about using peoples proper names. Our names are our identity. They are the way we present ourselves to the world. Get my name wrong and I will notice.

Having worked for years with men who are abusive in their relationships, I also know the value in using proper names. In order to be abusive we need to emotionally disconnect. Did you know that? The best way to disconnect is to stop using a person’s proper name and replace this with a label (often a not very nice one). So Jane become a ‘bitch’. This allows for abuse to occur. When we model taking the time and energy to learn and use proper names, we are modelling respect and dignity for that person. The idea is that will rub off onto those we are working with and they will start a habit of respectful interaction.

There are heaps of name-games that you can use and these are written up in a lot of training books, so I will not replicate these here. These are my top techniques for learning and remembering names.

  1. Greet the person and ask them their name. Look them in the eye, repeat their name and ask them something about how they got to the group. For example, “How did you get to the group today John?” Then follow-up with a, “Thanks for coming John, where are you going to sit?”
  2. I have a piece of paper with the table set-out in the room. Wherever John is going to sit I write his name on my layout. People are generally creatures of habit so they tend to go to claim their space early and go back to it. This is about security and claiming space.
  3. When new members arrive introduce them by name to the new group members. This is good for you and for them. It gets away from those uncomfortable silences at the beginning of groups.
  4. Repetition. As you can see repetition is by far the best way to learn someone’s name. Try to use their name at least three or four times within the first 10-15 minutes of meeting them.
  5. Ask group members to say their names initially when they about to say something for the first 20 minutes. I’m Joan and I think … They won’t think this is naf as they  are likely to be more nervous that you.
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask if you have forgotten. We are human after all. A person would rather that we took the time to ask them their name than not. It is more personal. “I’m sorry but I am having a blank about your name.”
  7. Ask the person for something significant about their name. Is there a story about their name? Was the name passed down from an ancestor? Did the name come from a popular figure at the time?
  8. Continue to use the person’s name when addressing them in the group. This is similar to the repetition but on an on-going basis.

Problem solved.

These are my ideas. Love to hear your strategies about what works for you in remembering peoples name when they come into your group.

Published on Wednesday, February 8th, 2012, under Learning & development, Practice tips and techniques

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