Screen actress Hilarie Burton is naturally unforgettable. If you’ve caught her as a VJ on MTV or in recurring roles on One Tree Hill and Grey’s Anatomy, her stunning looks probably drew you in. In person, she is just as captivating, full of colorful stories about her acting work as well as her childhood in Virginia. We met at random at a coffeehouse in upstate New York.
Hilarie: OK, you know what I do. What about you?
Brent: I’m a memorization coach and teach people how to remember names and faces.
Hilarie: I’m terrible with names! What’s the secret?
Brent: You’re in the vast majority. When people tell you where they grew up, what kind of food they love, or what breed of dog they have, your imagination conjures up images, or even sounds and smells, making these anecdotes stick. Names don’t often have the same impact. So, one of the first things you should do is ask someone a question about their name.
Hilarie: It’s funny you mention dogs.
Brent: How come?
Hilarie: My mom liked the name “Hilary” because there was a “Hilary” living next door to our house before I was born. She thought it would be perfect for her little girl. The other “Hilary,” though, was a Golden Retriever. My mom didn’t think it was right to spell her child’s name the same way as the dog’s, so that’s why my name has an “ie” instead of a “y” at the end. Isn’t that the craziest story you’ve ever heard?
Brent: It’s a wonderful story, and spectacularly memorable! Most people have a surprising back story to tell about their name: why it’s spelled a certain way, who they were named for, or what other names people confuse theirs with—even though they may sound nothing alike.
Hilarie: It’s good to know I’m not alone. I thought it was because I was raised in Virginia!
Brent: Ha! Wear it as a badge of honor. Be sure you hear a person’s name clearly from the outset, and make it part of the exchange. That’s a start.
Hilarie: Thank you. What an unexpected conversation!
Brent: I won’t forget it!
Now it’s your turn. Next time you meet someone, remember this mantra: Meet, Greet, and Repeat:
1. MEET—Make eye contact and listen carefully. Learn the name from the get-go.
2. GREET—Repeat the name back. Reinforce the memory by speaking it aloud.
3. REPEAT—Use the name in conversation as naturally as possible. Asking a question is often the easiest way.
You can go deeper by reading or listening for free to media interviews on this site, or by ordering my book How Could I Forget You! A Creative Way to Remember Names and Faces.
Attention, literature buffs! An interesting behind-the-name story came to light in the February 20, 2016, New York Times obituary of author Harper Lee:
“Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926, in the poky little town of Monroeville, in southern Alabama, the youngest of four children. ‘Nelle’ was a backward spelling of her maternal grandmother’s first name, and Ms. Lee dropped it when To Kill a Mockingbird was published, out of fear that readers would pronounce it Nellie, which she hated.”