Using anki to learn names and people

Anki changed my life in a lot of way. But the most obvious one is that now, I do recall people's name[1] !


[1] Actually, it's still a little bit complicated because of my trans friend who change their first name. But appart from this case, I actually do remember names now.

I'm really bad at remembering faces and names. With anki, it did change a lot. I started a new job in september. In august, I went on the website of the laboratory I was joining, and I red the list of my future colleagues. I then created a card with their picture, first-name, last name. If the picture were not on their professionnal webpage, I did try to find them on the web and in social media. In september, when I started my job, I already knew their name[1]. I see the difference very strongly, because the people whose name I forget are the ones without pictures on internet. In particular, the administrative staff are not listed on the web pages, and it was harder for me to learn their names (And I didn't want to ask them if I could take a picture to add in my database, I believe it would have sound strange).

One problem with this is that I do have new colleagues, people I meet in conferences, etc.. so I should do new cards often, and I don't necessarily think about it immediately, and finally I never do them.

Similarly, outside of works, when I meet friend of friend, I can't necessarily ask to take a picture of them. And if I met them at a queer event, a polyamory event, or a bdsm event, I think adding this information in a database would be a bad idea, even if its only a private database.

Using anki to learn name has a strange side-effect. When I see the face of a colleague, I need to recall to which picture of anki he looks like, and then I can recall his[2] name. So, it's still a costly process in my head, since using anki created an unusual indirection.

Famous people

Another thing which confused me a lot is the name of famous people. Usually, I can tell more or less why they are famous. For example, I do know Didier Leribon and Didier Lestrade wrote about homosexuality. I do know that Eric S Raymond and Paul Graham wrote texts which are considered to be important in hacker's culture, and the name of their texts use two words (Hacker and Painter, Bazar and Cathedral), while I never remembered which one is which one. So I currently try to use anki to learn the name, figure and achievement of a few great name of computer science. I may write a day about the result of this experience. Right now, my biggest problem is that I do not know who I must add.

Wikipedia has list of person important in computer science. However, this list contains Euclide, Turing, Torvalds, Knuth, Jobs... I tried to add them in chronological order. The first cards were easy, I already knew about Euclide, Al-Khwarizmi, etc... they are famous. But now I do realize that even if Frances E. Allen is a pionner in CS, the note I have about her does not really help me in any way. Ok, nowaday, if I meet her, I may recall her name. But I would not really know why she is famous. Well, I'd know she is famous for being the first woman to have a Turing prize, but it would not tell me what she did to deserve it. Or more exactly, I may know she worked on compiler, but I don't know what she did about them. Worse, I believe that the early work is CS is now so basic that it would not be clear to me that it was an important work in her time.

Note that I don't only consider real people. I'm currently also using anki to learn the name and principal description of characters of long books. I usually get lost in Discworld, for example. I now have a discworld deck with the name of the most important characters, and a short description of things which happened to them. I did the same thing with Atlas Shrugged's character. I also thought about doing the same thing with Tolkien's mythology, I then realized it would probably be far too much work. Especially since I don't yet know how successful this kind of deck will be.


I have a trouble with faces and names I do not usually have with anki. I forgot quicker than usual. Anki waits more and more before two successive occurrence of the same question. The main idea of anki is that, if you did remember successfully after 4 days, 16 days, 2 months, then you can wait 8 months before the next time anki ask you to recall this information. This is certainly true when knowledge are interrelated. For example, imagine I have just seen a mathematical concept. Imagine that anki tells me that I won't see it again for a full year. It's not really a problem, because I'll still use my knowledge to learn and work with more complicated concepts.

However, if I did not see the face of a colleague of my old laboratory during 6 months, I may totally have forgotten the name of this colleague. I never had any occasion to remember his name. It follows that I often fail the cards asking me the name of people I do not see anymore.


[1] In fact, it wast strange. Because, when I was introduced to them, they told me their name. I wanted to answer that I already knew. I didn't answer this, however, since I feared it would seems strange, and it was my first day at my new job.

[2] I have a single female colleague, whose name is Mary. Let's say that, in her case, I do not have any trouble recalling her name

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