This Is Why Mothers Mix Up Their Kids’ Names

If you’re an only child, you may never have experienced your mother’s frustration as she calls out every one of her childrens’ names except for yours. If you have siblings, you know this routine all too well. She’s staring right at you, yet somehow, she goes through the entire list of your family members before she finally spits out your name. “Judy!” she finally screams in frustration, followed by a shake of the head and a sigh of relief.

Every time it happens, you can’t help but laugh. But have you ever wondered what causes this phenomenon? According to science, it’s all about emotions.

The Misnaming Phenomenon

Members of the Noetics Laboratory at Duke University researched this event with one simple question in mind: “Why do we so often accidentally call the people we know by the wrong name?”

Researchers labeled the phenomenon as “misnaming.” They asked 1,700 people if they had ever been misnamed, or if they had ever misnamed someone else. Next, they asked what names were accidentally used and what the relationship was between the people.

The researchers found that the most common culprits were parents – usually moms! They often called their kids by the wrong sibling’s name or even a family pet’s name! The study showed that misnaming generally occurs within social groups. When a family member calls another family member by the wrong name, it’s usually the name of another person in the family. Friends misname using other friends’ names.


So why does it happen?

When we store information in our brains, we keep the information in a network, which means that related information is all stored together. Sometimes, when we try to retrieve information, we accidentally end up saying something else from that same grouping of information.

As Quartz explains it, “In this mind map, a mother likely associates her children with one another. When attempting to retrieve the name of her son, she is more likely to inadvertently select the name of her daughter than the name of a colleague due to the close connections between her children’s names in her semantic network.”

To put it more simply, if your mother calls you by your sibling’s name, there’s no need to get upset. It’s because she associates you with one another and loves you both. The next time this phenomenon happens in your home, you might look at it a bit differently. It’s simply a sign of love.

Quartz – Live Science – Memory Cognition – Redbook Mag

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