The one impressionable childhood memory I have of my mother is the fact that she never got my name right.
Anytime she needed something from one of us, she would end up shouting all three of her daughters’ names — and sometimes a few of her sisters’ names for good measure. It would always come out as a jumbled mix of syllables that would blend together and then circle back to the beginning in one frustrated loop.
“Shelb-Meag-Maryanne-Meag-Chaunie!” she would yell.
As a child, being the one she was usually calling for (that’s right, #firstchild problems), I used to laugh at her apparent inability to recall the names her offspring. I mean, she’s the one who chose our names, right? Is it really that hard to keep them all straight?
Well, I chuckled at her only until I had four kids of my own. At that point, I had unknowingly been handed down the torch to continue the time-honored motherhood tradition of completely and utterly screwing up my kids’ names.
So, why do we all do it? Well, it turns out that it’s solely because we’re damn good moms who love their kids. Don’t believe me? There’s finally some much-awaited scientific proof.
A 2016 review in Memory and Cognition studied the phenomenon of misnaming over five studies and including over 1,700 participants. Most frequently, those in the study were called the wrong name by (surprise!) their mothers. However, naming mishaps also occurred with almost all family members and friends. The individuals who were actually doing the misnaming reported that, at times, it was related to the fact that the two names sounded alike. But, more often than not, the misnaming was due to an entirely different reason altogether: Love.
Yes, I know you’ve always wondered if your mom can’t keep her kids’ names straight because you and your sister look alike or you and your brother share the same annoying habits. You may have even worried that your mother was showing signs of early on-set dementia. But, alas, the review assures us that when someone who knows you (i.e., is not a stranger and may have even given birth to you) calls you by the wrong name, it’s just a direct result of their close relationship to you.
“Overall, the misnaming of familiar individuals is driven by the relationship between the misnamer, misnamed, and named,” the study states.
In other words, the closer you are to someone, the more likely it is you’ll mix up their name.
The reason this happens, explains Quartz, boils down to the way our brain works. Our brain organizes information into related groups with a mental filing system called the semantic network. (Side note: Is anyone else getting a visual of Inside Out right now? No? Just me?) The semantic network groups this information together to commit it to our memory so we can retrieve it at a later time.
So moms, the next time your child’s name comes out as one big jumbled mix — know that it’s just because you love them so much. Your brain has literally filed all of your children’s names in a “The People I Love So Much My Heart Could Burst” file. When you try to recall one name, you are more likely to run through the list of them all.
Oh, and one more aside, the study also found that names of pets may also be mistaken for your children’s names. So, yeah, that guilt over calling your kid the dog’s name? Let it go. Just remember, love knows no bounds — especially in our brains.