When Mama Makes a Name Salad

April Killian

Can anyone relate? When calling your name, does your mom or grandma go through a dozen or more names before she finally gets to YOUR name? Does she have "name dementia?" Why do they do this? Why do the women who are supposed to love us the MOST have trouble remembering our name? Do they think we're not special? Turns out, we may be more special than we realize - and when they do this it simply means that we are in their most special and loved group of people. Read on to find out why this happens and what may be going on in their brain that causes this "name salad phenomena."

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Name SaladApril Killian

Whenever my mom calls me by name, she has to go through a whole roster of names before she finally gets to mine. Mind you, this is the woman who NAMED me. The woman who signed my birth certificate! My sweet little southern mama just turned 89 - so, I realize her memory may be fading a bit - but THIS, she has ALWAYS done. Ever since I was little, there was no simple way of calling me by name. I learned early on that whenever I heard mama calling me that I was in for the wait. Here we go...again. I have often thought, "Does this woman seriously not know my name?" Am I THAT easily confused with everyone else? Before "landing" on my name, she literally goes through all of my siblings names, half my ancestor's names, cousins I've never met before names, the neighbor's names, her favorite baby names she wished she had named me names, the TV Guide "Names of Stars" crossword puzzle names, at least half of the names in the 1992 phone book (that she still has on her nightstand, by the way), the pet's names, the pets that died 20 years ago names, some odd bible names, at least 1/4 of the registered voter names in our county, some weird hybrid names bunched together from names she already mentioned, and then I'm pretty sure she probably throws a Chinese Restaurant menu in there as my attention fades...because I'm getting hungry at this point. After this loooong list of names with a "I mean...I mean..." thrown in between all those names... suddenly *boom* - she finally has a look of "gotcha!" on her face when my name comes around. She did it, by God! The eagle has landed! But, she also usually has this look of complete and total frustration that it took her so long. That look itself, from my mama after all, always makes me feel a little uncomfortable. I mean, the way she repeats my name while shaking her head just sort of heaps guilt on me that this must be all my fault. Im just not that memorable. Like it's MY fault she can't remember my name. Sometimes, though, Im just zoned out. By the time she DOES remember my name, it's very likely that I'm in a full blown adult ADD epsiode and my attention has literally gone out the window. "Hey, look! A squirrel!" Anyways...as I said, it's not "her age" or dementia. She's done this since I can remember. She's had 57 years to get this right....just saying...

Well, thanks to another night of perusing the internet during a bout with insomnia, I found out that not only is this "name salad" or "name scrambling" very common, it's most common among that special group of ladies known as "mom." It's also a sign that those of us who get tossed into their name salad are in a special group of our mother's and/or grandmother's most precious and loved people. It all has to do with the way some people's brains are wired and how they categorize things.

According to Samantha Deffler, a cognitive scientist at Rollins College, in Winter Park, Florida, "name scrambling" is very common and it happens because some people's brains are just wired to work that way. Deffler and her colleagues, Cassidy Fox, Christin Ogle, and senior researcher David Rubin did a study on this phenomena which was published in the journal, Memory and Cognition. Read the article, All my children: The roles of semantic category and phonetic similarity in the misnaming of familiar individuals for free here.

As a child, Deffler says that her mom would often call her by her siblings names and even their dog's name. (I feel your pain, Rover...I mean, Samantha). Anyway, that's what prompted Deffler to do the study. What she found was that such "name salads" were not related to dementia, aging, or bad memory - but to the way some people categorize things in the brain. It's as if their brain is a file cabinet and they have certain folders or files in which they categorize things. In a special file are all the names of the people they love the most. When reaching into that file, they may pull out many names before finally getting to the right one. It doesn't mean we are less special, it means that we are in their category of the MOST special and loved ones in their mind.

Although, many of us know about this "misnaming" and are used to it from a relative or loved one because they've always had this behavior, there are certain medical issues which can cause this to happen suddenly which can be a warning sign of a more serious medical matter. An unusual forgetfulness of names in an older person can signal alzheimers, dementia, a vitamin deficiency, thyroid problems, or even depression. Dr. Arash Tadbiri, a family and geriatric doctor at Emerald Physicians in Bourne, says that "Forgetting little things is normal for everyone, but if someone does not recognize a loved one or doesn’t remember the name of a close relative, that can be a red flag." If you see this issue arise, please take note and get medical advice. It could be a condition that is completely treatable and reversible.

In the case of my own mama, as I said, she has ALWAYS had trouble recalling my name. I bet a lot of you CAN relate. I've always wondered exactly why she did this - and now I know. I'm certainly relieved to know that it doesn't mean I'm less special at all. It simply means that her brain works a little differently than mine and I'm in her file of the people she cherishes the most.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I hear my mama calling me.....and this may take a while....

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Mom's Calling!Edu Carvalho (Pexels)

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April Killian is a native of Florence, Alabama and writes about her home state of Alabama and the Shoals area. She is the mom of many pets and 3 adult children. Along with writing, she sells vintage items online and conducts estate sales in her area. She is a lifelong supporter of charity work, loves life, and tries to be a positive force in this world in everything she does! Her writing passions include: family and social issues, nature, humor, the paranormal and anything interesting or weird! Click on "follow" to see more of her articles in the future!

Florence, AL
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