The Most Important Word in Someone's Vocabulary

“What is the most important word in someone’s vocabulary?” was the question a leader who I greatly admire asked me. Trying to be funny in the moment I answered “yes”. He quickly responded “no”. We had a good laugh, but after it died down, the silence lingered. He could tell I was not coming up with any intelligent answer so he politely gave it to me.

The most important word in any persons vocabulary is their name.

I was slightly caught off guard. I had never considered a name to be in someone’s vocabulary. The more I thought on it, the more it became true. My son is four. He has a backpack with his name embroidered on the back in big bold letters. The other day when we were getting off a plane one of the stewardesses said, “Have a great day. Owen!”. Now, my wife and I knew that his name was on his backpack, but you should have seen his face when he heard his name come from someone he had never met. It was as if she had handed him a fistful of gold and told him to go spend it on candy!

Are you using people’s names often enough?

When you come into a new leadership role, your first task is to ask and memorize as many names as possible. When you get to the office, say, “Good morning, <insert name>”. When you are getting waited on at a restaurant, ask for the persons name and use it! You will be amazed at the extra service and attention that you receive.

Here are 3 ways to help remember names:

  1. Focus on them when they tell you their name.

    • The number one reason we forget names is that we are not listening when they tell us.

  2. Repeat the name multiple times after you hear it.

    • When you are getting waited on, say, “Thanks <name>,” before they leave.

    • If it is an interesting name, ask them to spell it. This will give you time to say it again.

  3. Focus on one particular feature of a person’s face.

    • Make a mental note that they have glasses.

    • Notice the color and style of their hair.


I once went to a large church were the pastor greeted people by name. If he had never met you before, he would ask for your name and then, after you walked away, he would write it down on an index card to go through at the end of the day. That is a person who understands the most important word in someone’s vocabulary is… their name.


Have you stepped into a new leadership position and are in the process of learning people’s names? If so, we understand that there is a lot going on in your world. A professional leadership coach can help focus your leadership and set a defined path for growth in your new role going forward. Click the link below to learn more!