There's finally a name that identifies a problem that the women in my family have. It's "misnaming." You're probably familiar with it. A person, often a mom, goes to say the name of a child or close family member or friend and the wrong name comes out, or worse, the dog's name.
According to a new study, if you're a misnamer, you have nothing to feel bad about, and you're in good company. It's a normal cognitive glitch, and in fact, it's a sign that you love the person you're misnaming, says NPR.
I'm a misnamer. My mother is one, too. So was her mother.
When I was a young girl, I don't think my grandmother ever got my name right on the first try. Nan, as I called her, and her two sisters raised their children basically as siblings. When Nan would attempt to address me by name, she had a long list to go through, starting with my mom's name, her cousin's names, my brother's names, and a few dogs (both dead and alive) before she ever got to Dobber, which is what she called me.
It went something like this, "Patsy, Todd, Jean, Ron, Mel, Ricky, Toto, Gussy, Mark ... Dobber."
My mom was better. She usually mixed up my two brother's names but got mine correct.
I thought I had broken the generational call-the-kids-by-the-wrong-name habit. I never mixed up my boys' names until two years ago when we got a dog. It wasn't long until I started interchanging my youngest son's name and the dog's name.
I attributed it to getting older. Or, maybe it was the stress that was going on in my family around that time. Or maybe it was because my son and the dog have the same energetic personality. But this morning, I found out it's none of those. It's just that my brain has a glitch when it comes to the people, and the animals, I love.
Misnaming: It's commonly a mom thing
NPR reports that Samantha Deffler, a cognitive scientist at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, had the same experience with her mother that I had with my grandmother. She was called by her siblings' names and even the dog's name before she was called her own name. She wanted to find out why.
Deffler surveyed 1,700 men and women and found out that misnaming is a common brain glitch, and it's most common among moms.
What causes the brain glitch? It's related to how the brain categorizes names. Deffler explains it like having special folders in the brain for family names and friend names, and when you call someone the wrong name, it's almost always a name from the corresponding folder. That's why it's usually siblings names that get mixed up or close friend's names.
Cognitive scientist Neil Mulligan told NPR that when you're preparing to utter a family member's name, "you're activating not just their name, but competing names." As you go through the folder of names, "sometimes a competing name wins."
Dog's names are often put in those folders, but usually not the names of cats, leading to the conclusion that dogs are often thought of as family members more so than cats or other pets.
This didn't quite give me a reason as to why I never mixed up names until we got the dog, though, so I dug a little deeper into the study, "All my children: The roles of semantic category and phonetic similarity in the misnaming of familiar individuals." The study was published in the journal Memory & Cognition.
It turns out most people misname semantically. The study found that "familiar individuals are often misnamed with the name of another member of the same semantic category; family members are misnamed with another family member's name and friends are misnamed with another friend's name."
A much smaller number of people mix up names that are phonetically similar. I must fall into that category. My youngest son's name and my dog's name are phonetically similar. They are both two-syllable names that end in the "e" sound.
So if the study is correct, I have my boys' names and my dog's names in my brain's family name folder, and if we had named the dog something different, I probably wouldn't be mixing up names, even though I love the boys — and apparently the dog — very much.