We’ve all been there, not as fatally as Ross in Friends, but still in an awkward situation when you get someone’s name wrong or they call you the wrong name.
Maybe you’ve noticed that your mum calls out every one of your siblings’ names before yours when she’s trying to get your attention.
Well it turns out that names don’t even need to sound similar for people to get muddled repeatedly because the confusion is based in categories not the similarities.
A new study by Duke University in North Carolina researched 1,7000 people to investigate why ‘misnaming’ occurs.
They found that ‘familiar individuals are often misnamed with the name of another member of the same semantic category’.
So the mind remembers names in a sort of filing cabinet with different folders for ‘grandchildren’ or ‘cousins’, with confusion likely to happen within those categories.
The phonetic similarity of names does also lead to misnaming but the semantic category effect was a bigger cause.
The report read:
Overall, our data suggested that dogs are grouped with other human) family members, much more so than other pets.
Although cats were owned by our participants about as often as dogs, they were rarely included in a string of incorrect names (of all of the naming strings that contained a pet’s name, only four non-dog names were used).
Given the scarcity of misnaming episodes involving the names of family pets other than dogs, our data suggest that dogs may be a central part of (at least some) families.
So next time your nan calls you by your hamster’s name, you can be a bit more understanding (and maybe offended) that you’re just in the same semantic category.