The Name Game with a New Twist

How to Play the Name Game (aka Fishbowl, aka Celebrity, aka Salad Bowl)

The Name Game is the best game to play with a large group of people – hands down.  I learned it from friends in college and later found other friends with Usborne Books & More who played it under a different name or with a twist.
Just this past weekend, we added a new rule!!!


□ A group of 4+ people, split into two teams.  Ideally, you’ll have 8-30.
□ Slips of paper
□ Pens
□ A timer or second hand on a watch
□ A large enough container to hold the slips of paper folded in half (hat, fishbowl, salad bowl, hotel room ice bucket, etc.)


Hand out the same number of slips of paper to each person and have pens available. Ask them to write down names of:
Names of people who are alive or dead or fictional characters that most of the people in the room should know.

The key word there is “should” because while most of the people in any given room in the U.S.A. should know the names of all our former Presidents, they may not…but they should.  Make sure you clarify this rule with everyone prior to playing, so there are no hard feelings. Also, please determine in your group what “most” will mean.  Is that a simple majority, or do you think it needs to be 75% of the room?

A final word on names – you may want to set your own particular parameters. While playing with business colleagues, for instance, you might want to eliminate certain people from being included so you don’t get their name written down ten times. At my Advanced Leadership Retreat for Usborne Books & More, we always eliminate certain names like Peter Usborne or Randall White (Founder/CEO)

Fold each slip of paper in half and place it in the container!


The Name Game is played in three rounds.  Each round is played with the same names on slips of paper, so don’t destroy them and pay attention even if your team isn’t taking its turn.

First round:  Traditional “old style” Name Game – verbal charades – pick up a slip of paper, open it, read the name to yourself, and begin giving verbal clues as to who the person/character is/was.  For example:  Theodore Roosevelt – clues: “One of our Presidents in the early 1900s…they named a toy bear after him….a golfer….the rough riders….set aside a ton of land as national parks….he’s the one with glasses at Mount Rushmore!”  You may NOT say, “T.R.” or “They named the Teddy bear after him” or “his last name starts with Rose” – nothing that points out his initials or name or variations of his name are disallowed.  You also cannot use “rhymes with” to get them to guess the name.
To get them to guess “Tom Hanks,” you cannot say, “Rhymes with banks!” You can say, “Rhymes with the place we put our money for safekeeping.”
Titles are okay, usually, except in situations where the character’s name includes the title and it’s a key component like “Doctor Doolittle” or “Colonel Sanders”.  You also must get your team to guess exactly what is written on the slip.  So, if someone has written down, “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart” you may not take “Mozart” as a correct answer and go on to the next name.

Another tip – when you get really stuck or when you don’t know the name, try at least saying whether it’s a man, a woman, how many names, that the first name starts with a letter near the end of the alphabet, etc.  You never know who put those names in the bowl and they may be on your team!

Second Round: Same as the first, but this time the clues are limited to one word only.  Yes – one word.  See how important it is to pay attention to the first round?  You can repeat the word over and over, you can say it to a rhythm, you can even sing it, but you cannot say another word or use any gestures at all.  Not even eye movements that are meant as clues can be used.  So, following the first example, to get your team to say Theodore Roosevelt, the clue might be, “President” or “bear” or “Rushmore”.

Third Round: Traditional Charades – no words at all!  This time, in order to get them to guess Theodore Roosevelt, you might motion to your face to indicate you are wearing glasses, you might make movements to indicate you are riding a horse or playing golf or you may just salute.  When all else fails, try the traditional “sounds like” or go to syllables.  First word…third syllable….door.  Get it?

Playing a turn:
On each turn, one person from one team gets up, takes the bowl, and gets 30 seconds to try to get their team to guess as many names as possible.  The opposing team times them.
When time is up, play stops and the other team takes their turn. If you’re in the middle of giving clues for a name and your team doesn’t get the answer, it gets put back in the bowl. Do not discuss it! None of this, “How did you not get Theodore Roosevelt!!?” Every member of each team should play at trying to get people to guess.  Sometimes you get folks who just won’t want to do that, but they’ll want to guess. That’s fine, but don’t let it be that the best clue givers are getting up each time. It’s easiest to keep a pile of your slips for each round, count them up, and put them back in at the end of rounds one and two, and then tally your score somewhere. The winner is the team with the highest score at the end of three rounds, but everyone is a winner because you’ll all have fun, laugh and maybe learn a little something!

New Rule!!!
At Advanced Leadership Retreat, 2016, we instituted a new rule!
Should your team find itself behind by 10+ points after any of the rounds, the team who is behind can yell, “Cutthroat,” and then, in the rest of the rounds, should the person playing their turn break any rules on a name, the slip
goes to the opposing team rather than back in the bowl!!!!

Let me know if you have questions! And post about where and when you’ve played and let us know about it!


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