One of my least
favorite childhood memories is that of my mother accidently calling me by my
brother's name—a reoccurring blunder that was blamed on old age. (She was in her twenties.) But then I noticed something peculiar: Mom wasn't
the ONLY ONE in the family who couldn't get our names right.
Now—thanks, science!—we know
In a recent
study of 1,700 participants, researchers figured out key factors in this misnaming
phenomenon. Phonics were to blame for some of it, but the
majority of mix-ups were due to something entirely different and often as a
result of being tired, frustrated or angry.
According to an article published in the journal Memory & Cognition, mixing up names has nothing at all to do with memory loss or old age. Rather, it's because of the way the brain categorizes information—primarily as it relates to those welove.
Think of your
brain as a poorly catalogued filing cabinet where you store your most treasured
thoughts. Believe it or not, this is an actual thing that scientists refer to
as the “semantic network" and, surprisingly, moms aren't the only ones
using them for storage.
memories. However, not all of us are proficient when it comes to organizational
skills. When filing, we tend to attach the names of our loved ones with each
memory and smash them together into one ginormously vague folder that we can
whip out whenever needed. This might explain how a mother can be staring her
son in the eye while calling him by his sister's name and vice versa.
But what about
the rest of the world? What happens to the memories of those who we don't hold
Turns out, the
reason we rarely mix-ups the names of our acquaintances is because they have
their own drawer (in a much smaller section—possibly in a faraway basement or
the study concludes, "the misnaming of familiar individuals is driven by
the relationship between the misnamer, misnamed and named.” In other words, if
shit happens, it's probably going to happen to you and everyone you love
because the closer you become, the more likely you are to screw up their name—and
this includes one slightly insulting (or is it sweet?) misnaming. Several
participants in the study reported that they frequently call their family
members by the name of their dog.
"I'll preface this by saying I have cats and
I love them. But our study does seem to add to evidence about the special
relationship between people and dogs,” says Samantha Deffler, a PhD student at
So, what does this mean for moms?
It means you're not old or showing early signs of dementia and that you shouldn't
stress whenever you slip up and accidently scream the dog's name when calling
your child to dinner. Instead, tell them to consider it a compliment because
if you didn't truly love them, you'd probably say something a whole lot worse.