Names matter. From the Bible we know that a lot of names have special meanings or prophetic consequences. That may not be the case for the students in our youth group (though I certainly believe in the power of either positive or negative nick names!), but their names matter nonetheless. It does something to you when people know your name.
When we lived in the US a while back, we attended a community church for the first time. When we walked in, we were immediately spotted by one of the ushers, a wonderful vibrant woman named Lucy. She talked to us for a bit, was delighted that we were from Europe and explained a little bit about the church. And she asked for our names.
The second time we were there, Lucy saw us come in. From across the room she greeted us with an enthusiastic “Hi Roger, hi Rachel, so glad to see you!” She had remembered our names. It was a small thing, but it meant a lot to us and it was one of the things that made us come back and ultimately commit to that church.
Names matter. When we call someone by their name, it communicates a lot of things. It says I know who you are. It says you are important enough to me to remember your name. It says I see you, I know you are here. It says I remember you, you’ve been here before and I noticed.
As youth leaders we should do everything we can to remember the names of our students. For some of us, that will be more of a challenge than for others, I know that. I can’t complain: I’ve got a really good, almost photographic memory and I’m good with names. But I have to make an effort to remember new names as well. I know there are people who simply state they’re really bad with names and use that as a reason for not even trying anymore. That’s just lazy. You may not have a natural knack for remembering names, but you can sure try , right?
A good starting point with new people is simply to ask for their name. “Hi, I’m Rachel and I don’t think I’ve seen you before. What’s your name?” Of course you run the risk that you have met the student before and that can be embarrassing. But if that’s the case, just apologize and be honest about it. If it happens once, most people won’t hold it against you because they can see you meet new students all the time.
If you want to remember the name you just heard, you’ll have to do something to make it memorable. I try different things to make a ‘mental picture’ of the name so I can ‘file it’. Repeating it is often a good first step, but be careful to do this naturally – if not it comes across as very studied. This could go like “Nice to meet you Rick.”
Writing a name down also works. Young people usually won’t find it strange if you just write down their name and email address. It helps me to see both first and last names, the combination of the two makes it easier to remember because you have more to associate it with.
You can also make a mental connection to link the name to someone you know. If you meet a ‘Kevin’ for instance and you have a brother named Kevin, link the two. Just remind yourself the kid has the same name as your brother and it will be easier to remind it next time.
Does the name remind you of something or someone? That works as well. On a camp I was introduced to a very sportive girl named Stefanie. I linked her name to the famous former tennis star Steffi Graf and remembered it easily.
Associations with something else work too. I met a girl called Ruth for instance who was invited by a friend of hers to our youth group. She had a lot of natural curls like me, so I joked to her that we could have been sisters with both our Biblical names and the same hair. It was very easy for me to remember her name after that.
Pray for ‘names’
But by far the easiest way to remember students’ names is by putting them on your prayer list. Every time I met a new student, for instance someone who came as a guest of one of our ‘own’ students, I’d put this teen on my prayer list. I would write it down like: ‘Amber, classmate of Susan’. It helped me to remember her name, her friend’s name and the connection between those two. And if you pray for people, you’re not likely to forget their names!