“Matt! . . . . Mark! . . . . Max! . . . Oh, you know who you are!” If you grew up in a family with multiple children, this scenario may seem familiar. Your mom called out the name of every person in the house before getting to yours. Maybe you wondered, does she even know who I am? Perhaps you’ve recently found yourself in the same situation. You attempt to call your spouse’s name but rather you call out the name of (gasp!) the family dog. What’s going on here? Does your mom suffer from memory loss? Are you suffering from memory loss? Are you going to be sleeping on the couch for calling your spouse the dog’s name? Turns out, naming mistakes are extremely common and new research shows that most everyone occasionally mixes up the names of family and friends. And most interestingly to this veterinarian, when we do so we sometimes throw out the name of the family dog, but not the family cat!
I first heard about this phenomenon while listening to the radio on my way into work. My first thought was “I totally do that!”. As a wife, a mom to two small (human) children, and owner of two dogs and two cats, it’s a relatively rare occurrence for me to conjure up the correct name of one of my family members on the first try. I previously chalked these little mistakes up to lack of sleep, but it turns out there is something more interesting at play.
As humans we essentially place the names of people and animals who we love into a special “folder” in our brains. When we need to quickly say the name of a loved one our brain rapidly scans this special “folder” and retrieves a name.. Sometimes the brain gets it right and sometimes we wind up calling our spouse “Fido”. This implies that psychologically, we categorize the dog’s name along with our family member’s names. Unfortunately for the cat lovers out there, it turns out we don’t do the same thing with the name of the family cat (or hamster or rabbit).
So the next time your mom looks you right in the eyes and calls you “Barkley”, just remember it means she loves you AND the dog. And then go get her a cup of coffee because she is probably also sleep deprived.
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