We’ve all done it: in a moment of multitasking, like putting away groceries, wrangling a toddler, and trying to plan dinner — or just a brainless moment when you’re not really doing anything — you try to yell out a specific child’s name…and another one, and another, circling back around in a confused muddle of words until you maybe arrive at the right one.
“Riley-Col-Dil-Har…no…aaahh…YOU! Whatever your name is. Come here!”
If you’re like me, the dog makes an appearance in the list, as well.
This name mix-up habit is quite common, as parents everywhere can attest. If you had siblings growing up, you can probably recall your mother doing the same thing on a regular basis. “Sheez, Mom, you named me, why can’t you get it right?”
Of course, you now understand how hard this very simple thing actually is. What the heck is wrong with us? Could it be a case of permanent “mom brain?” Maybe a little, since it seems our brains turn to mush sometime during pregnancy and never quite go back to normal again.
Don’t worry — you’re not going crazy!
The more likely reason is that you’re simply full of love for them. Science says so. (Yes, there are studies on this.)
A scientific review published in “Memory & Cognition” examined five studies involving over 1,700 participants to get to the bottom of this phenomenon.
Researchers found that this misnaming phenomenon occurred when referring to family members and friends, but mostly happened with mothers calling their children the wrong names (no surprise there).
There is some evidence suggesting a mixup when the names sound alike (Jade, Kade, Wade). But more often, they found an association with their close relationship to each other.
“Overall, the misnaming of familiar individuals is driven by the relationship between the misnamer, misnamed and named,” the study reports. Basically, the closer emotionally you are to someone, the more likely you’ll “forget” their name.
Why does this happen?
It’s not because we have a terrible memory. It’s because of the way our brains store information.
The brain organizes information in a “semantic network” in which similar things are grouped together. It’s kind of like we have file folders for different categories of people, places, things and experiences.
The people you love most (i.e. family members) are all in one folder, so sometimes saying the right name, even if that person is right in front of you, is difficult. You have to shuffle through the items in the folder until you grab the right one.
So your lack of ability in such an easy task doesn’t mean you’re going insane or getting early dementia. (Phew!) It just means you love them enough to put them in a special category in your heart — and brain.
For the Love of Pets
The fact that we often include the dog in the rambling cycle of names goes to show that this creature is certainly an important part of the family. “…Our study does seem to add to evidence about the special relationship between people and dogs,” says Samantha Deffler, lead author of the study.
So you can stop asking, “What’s wrong with me!?” and rest assured it has more to do with your love for your family and pets than with your declining mental state.
LJ is a health/wellness writer, mom of three and fitness trainer. She keeps her head on straight by working out, dancing around shamelessly and hiding to eat all the chocolate (also shamelessly). Originally published on parent.com. See more from her at fitmixmom.com