"Where did you get that cute dress, Gordon ... Dave ... Trey ... uh ... Jill?"
That's what Jillian Kaiser, author of "Lessons in Our (Early) '30s," hears from her grandma on a frequent basis. Gordon and Dave? Those are the names of Kaiser's uncles. Trey? That's the name of the family dog. (And the dog died almost 10 years ago.)
Kaiser's grandma certainly isn't the first person to call her child or grandchild by the wrong name. And it has nothing to do with her advancing years. A new study from researchers at Duke University has found that "misnaming," or calling a person by the name of a sibling, pet or other family member — is more common than you might think. And we shouldn't take it personally.
According to the study, researchers found that our brain has a way of "filing" different names according to groups. We might have a friend group, a work group and a family group. On occasion, when we're reaching for a name, our brains may come back with a different name from the same file folder.
"It's a cognitive mistake we make, which reveals something about who we consider to be in our group," said David Rubin, a psychology and neuroscience professor at Duke and one of the authors of the study.
Rubin's team conducted five separate studies with their 1,700 participants to learn about the different ways people mess up another person's name. What they found is that it's anything but random. Especially when it comes to family, people tend to grasp for any name within that family group — even that of the family dog.
Interestingly, when it came to calling a family member by a pet's name, researchers found that it almost exclusively happened with dogs — not with cats, regardless of how much people loved their cats. One theory is that because dog's respond to their names more readily than cats, people tend to use those names more frequently.
Researchers also found that while names that sound alike — such as Michael and Mitchell — may be confused more regularly, it really didn't matter if the kids in question looked alike or were even the same gender. So Michelle and Mitchell would be mixed up just as readily.
The most important idea coming out of the study is that misnaming happens to everybody. So if your parent or grandparent gets your name wrong, it doesn't mean they love you any less. And it doesn't mean that they're losing their minds. It just means you're all family.