Nine Secrets of a Name Knowing Ninja

It’s the worst.  The student walking up to you has been coming to youth group on and off for about a year…and you just completely blanked out on her name.

“Hi, you! How’s it going?” you say awkwardly.

“You forgot my name, didn’t you?”

Gah!  Busted. (her name was Monica, by the way, and I didn’t forget it after that.)

Have trouble remembering names?  Relax, you’re in good company.  Remembering people’s names is a tough skill to master – but getting a handle on it will set you apart from the crowd and win people over.  You don’t have to ever say, “I’m sorry, I’m terrible at remembering names,” if you really commit to work at it.  Youth ministry is about building community and knowing each other, that starts with everyone being able to call each other by their name.  Want a second time guest to feel special?  Call them by name when they walk in the door!

Here are 9 tricks that –if you commit to make them work – will help you remember anyone’s names:

  1. Know how your brain works.  Sound simple enough?  Some of us are visual learners who need pictures and names put together.  Some learn better by word association.  Alliteration is always awesome.  Like the “Name Knowing Ninja” title for this piece, use alliteration tricks like “Monica the Marvelous” or “Blake the blonde.” Bam! Onomatopoeia is an option.  Try different methods of name studying until you figure out what is most effective for you.
  2. Nametags.  I am a huge fan of nametags, no matter the size of your youth group.  Yes, the youth will complain and say things like, “Everybody knows who I am!”  Nametags are an act of love for anyone else who is bad at names.  A nametag on everyone makes it easy for a first time visitor to feel comfortable.  I learn my best by associating written first & last names with faces, so I put myself in charge of making a nametag for each person who walks in the door.  For the adult who volunteers occasionally, it is a blessing to be able to casually glance down at a nametag to recall a name.  Why do I fill them out?  Selfishly, it reinforces name memory for me but also it keeps things legible and keeps the youth to their real names.
  3. Information sheets.  I have all my youth fill out this simple and fun youth information sheet at the beginning of the year.  It includes their name, contact info and favorite things, plus bits of information about them.  It even includes a spot for the youth to draw a self portrait.  The important next step is to study the information sheets to get names down and to also get insights on people.  Every first time visitor fills out the same form.
  4. Facebook/Social Media creeping.  Okay, don’t really be a creeper, but use social media to learn names.  In the old days, we only had a dated church directory for associating names and faces – but now people who learn best by associating pictures and names can study names on the web.  I know there are mixed feelings about adult–youth contact on the internet, so make sure you’ve got an okay from whomever needs to okay things first.  The internet is a very public place – it offers a place for you to learn names and faces.  Always be beyond reproach – keep everything you say or do on the web in the public forum (not private messages with youth) and keep things always appropriate.
  5. Name games.  Some of them are cheesy, but they’re effective.   The most effective one I seen I call Name Toss Across.  Participants stand in a circle.   The first person has the ball and says their own name plus the name of someone across the circle.  Then person 1 tosses the ball across to the person 2 and begins walking toward that second person’s spot.  The second person catches the ball, says their own name and the name of a third person across the circle, tossing the ball to person 3 & starting to walk to person 3’s spot before person 1 gets to person 2’s spot.  Start over and regroup if not successful.  The game goes on until everyone has had their name said a few times – the goal is to work together.   (If I’ve totally confused you, send an email and I’ll try again.)  I do a lot of name games at the beginning of a school year or when new youth have joined, and I also do them occasionally throughout the year to mix it up.
  6. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.  As soon as you meet a person, try to use their name.  “Hi Tristan, nice to meet you.”  Obviously you don’t want to overdo it and make things seem awkward, but try to work the person’s name into conversation a few times to help you remember.  When they leave that day, “See you later, Tristan!”  Write their name down as soon as they leave to help you remember.
  7. Link names to people you’ve known in the past.  “Kristen, it’s nice to meet you – I had a college roommate named Kristen.”  The more senses you can use to connect a person to a memory, the better.  For example, telling a person aloud what the name connection is will be more effective than just thinking it – you will be linking the name mentally, plus saying and hearing it.
  8. Get clear on the name.  Sometimes we don’t hear a name right the first time, or it’s an unusual name, or it’s spelled a dozen different ways.  When you first meet someone, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification on the name.  “Nice to meet you Stephen, is that with a ‘v’ or a ‘ph’?”  It really is okay to ask someone to repeat his or her name with a “Sorry, I missed your name the first time.”  It is better to get clarification and reinforcement on a name earlier than later.
  9. Link people through their relationships.  For example, remember that Sarah is friends with Amanda.  Sarah’s brother is Chris and her parents are Dave and Susan.  If you can mentally make a chain connecting the person to others, you can reinforce the original name, plus learn names of connections.
  10. Bonus idea: take pictures at your youth group meetings.  (I know the article’s called “Nine Secrets of a Name-Knowing Ninja”, but that was just to reinforce the power of alliteration….)  Have a student leader be the official photographer.  After youth group, study the pictures as if they were flashcards when the names are fresh in your mind and see if you can get everyone’s names down.

After you’ve mastered the names in your youth group, begin working on their friends, parents and siblings.  Parents in particular trust you with part of their child’s faith development, so be able to call them by name.  Be visible at drop off and pick up and seek out parents whenever you can.

When you first meet someone, you are taking in a lot of information at once.  Quite often, we are a little distracted at the time so the name gets lost in the shuffle.  If you can concentrate on making name remembering a priority, you’ll be a name-knowing ninja in no time.

Be blessed,


Share your thoughts & ideas!

What other name tricks do you use?

Any suggestions for effective name games youth enjoy?




  1. I’d love to see a copy of that information sheet! 🙂

    • Hey Bryan, thanks for being part of YouthWorker Movement. You should be able to access a pdf by clicking on the text “this simple and fun information sheet.” If that doesn’t work (all computers are different it seems), drop me an email and I’ll be glad to send you the file.

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