It happens to the best of us. You meet someone at a party, then three days later you run into them at the grocery store and can't remember their name. The Atlantic takes a look at why that is.
We all forget people's names sometimes. Whether we remember them or not is at least partially circumstantial. That said, your memory system has a lot to do with it too. Your brain likes to make connections between pieces of information, so it tends to remember the most when you can connect a fact about someone with something you actually know. For example, I met a person at a party this past weekend and could remember where he lived because it's right around the block from a Japanese restaurant I like. But I couldn't remember his name to save my life.
Whether you remember a name or not isn't just about making connections. Your basic working memory plays its role too. The Atlantic explains:
There are two types of storage in the brain: Long-term and short-term. The short-term variety is called "working memory," and it functions like a very leaky thermos. It doesn't hold much and it spills stuff out all the time. "You can hold just a little bit of information there and if you don't concentrate on it, it fades away rapidly," Paul Reber, a psychology professor at Northwestern University, told me in an email. "Information like a name needs to be transferred to a different brain system that creates long-term memories that persist over time."
Of course, that's not all. Sometimes, you'll forget a name because you're too busy dealing with the social pressures of meeting a new person. Other times, you simply don't care because you don't think the meeting will matter in the long run. Head over to The Atlantic for a few more explanations for why you can't seem to remember names, and be sure to work on a few tricks to actually remember them while you're at it.
Why Names Are So Easy to Forget [The Atlantic]