Why Do You Mix Up Your Kids' Names?

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 name comes out, and another, circling back around in a confused muddle of words until you maybe arrive at the right one.

And the dog too

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.

A scientific review published in Memory & Cognition examined five studies involving more than 1,700 participants to get to the bottom of this name-calling nemesis.

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” her name.

So why does this happen?

It’s not because we have a lousy 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.


LJ Kunkel is a Pennsylvania-based freelance writer.

Categories: Parenting