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News / Health / Health Wire

Mixing up names is much more common than you think

By Avery Newmark, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published: May 11, 2024, 6:05am

As a parent, you’ve likely experienced the frustration and embarrassment of calling your child by their sibling’s or your pet’s name. You’re not alone, and you’re not losing your mind. In fact, a recent TikTok video has brought a 2016 Duke University study back into the spotlight, revealing this phenomenon is extremely common.

The researchers analyzed more than 1,700 participants across five studies and found that more than 95 percent of participants reported being called the wrong name by a family member at some point. The findings suggest mixing up names is a natural cognitive glitch and not a sign of memory loss or cognitive decline.

So, why does this happen? According to Good Housekeeping, it’s all about automatic processes. When we’re stressed out or multitasking, our brains rely on these automatic responses to quickly retrieve the information we need.

“The brain is a magnificent computer network,” Julie Dumas, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry, told the lifestyle brand, “and information is organized within an interconnected semantic network of stored data.”

Almost half the participants in the Duke University study reported the person doing the misnaming was distracted, tired or frustrated at the time. This is why you might find yourself calling your spouse by your child’s name when you’re racing around the house.

“When you’re rushed, stressed or multitasking, you rely on these automatic responses to spit out the information you need — in this case, your child’s name,” Dumas explained. “For example, my son Emmett’s name is on speed dial in my brain, so I often call my husband and even our cat by that name if I’m racing around the house.”

Although mixing up names is not necessarily a sign of forgetfulness or aging, it’s understandable to worry. However, if you don’t realize you’ve used the wrong moniker, or if others start noticing significant memory problems, it may be worth seeking medical advice, Good Housekeeping noted.

In the meantime, take comfort in knowing that mixing up your kids’ names is a normal and natural occurrence.