It's because of the way our brains store information.
We've all done it.
In a moment of multitasking, like putting away groceries, wrangling a toddler, and trying to plan dinner (or even just a brainless moment when you're not really doing anything), we yell a 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-Dillon-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 mixup 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.
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 pregnancy brain? Well, maybe a little, since it seems our brains turn to mush once we have kids.
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.
So why does this happen? It's not because we have a bad 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 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 crazy or getting early dementia. (Phew!) It just means you love them a lot—enough to put them in a special category in your heart, and brain.
Interesting note: 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. “…(O)ur 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.