not me sitting with my three daughters

but hired meercat models looking very similar

after i’ve just called each of them by one or more of their sibling’s names once again

since for some reason i thought it was a good idea to name all of them with the same first letter 

(i’m a fan of alliteration)

and with two syllables

and rarely have called them by the correct name on the first try since birth

so they each pretty much answer to all of them. 

According to Quartz Magazine, if you’re in a particularly bad mood, getting called by your sibling’s name might make you feel like the offending parent doesn’t care enough to keep their kids straight. But according to a 2016 study published in the journal Memory and Cognition, your parents might actually mistake you for your siblings because they care about you.

A team of students in Duke University’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience conducted a series of surveys to find out who gets misnamed, who misnames them, and why it happens. Some instances appeared to have been caused by phonetic similarities between names—e.g. you accidentally called your boss “Katherine” (your cousin’s name) instead of “Kathleen.” But the survey results also pointed to strong semantic trends. In other words, family members are often called other family members’ names, friends are often called other friends’ names, and people outside those two categories are often mistaken for other people outside them.

Basically, as the researchers explained, we build semantic networks in our brains where we can group similar information together and recall it easily. Facts about your immediate family members, for example, may be stored in one semantic network; while details about friends might go in another one. In your mom’s mind, then, your and your sister’s names are essentially in the same basket, and your mom might unwittingly grab your sister’s when she meant to grab yours. What the researchers argue is that it’s a little less about the mistake and more about the basket: Parents love their kids, so they put you all in the same top-tier basket.

The results also suggest that some family member baskets aren’t just reserved for humans. A staggering 41 of the 42 pet-related misnaming incidents involved calling pets by family members’ names or vice versa, rather than mixing up two pets’ names. And most of those incidents involved dogs, specifically.

“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 … as human-like members, whereas cats and other pets, although they may be part of the family, are not categorized as human-like,” the authors wrote in the study.

If you’re about to get defensive on behalf of your cat, whom you very much consider a human-like part of your family, keep in mind that 42 is a small sample size. And the whole study only included about 1700 participants, who were all reporting misnaming episodes remembered from their past—leaving plenty of room for human error. In short, as is so often the case with scientific studies, more research is needed. That said, try not to take it personally if your dad mistakes you for the dog.


“i cannot tell what the dickens his name is.”

-william shakespeare

Story credits: Quartz Magazine -By Samantha A. Deffler, Christin M. Ogle, Cassidy Fox, and David C. Rubin

Current and former members of the Noetics Laboratory at Duke University

84 responses »

  1. Love those meercats. My mum used to use the wrong names all the time and we laughed it off. I do it with my children all the time and call it ‘Mum syndrome’. It just happens when you give birth to the second child…. it mixes up your braincells. No big deal as long as your children are not offended. We ususally laugh.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My name was never Dale, it was LisaTracyDale (or some variation) as it was for my sisters! I remember one year my sister’s sister-in-law was all insulted that her father-in-law called her hubby by his brother’s name. “He doesn’t know his own children?” she huffed… I looked at her and said: “You’re an only child aren’t you?” LOL… She had never been the recipient of the misnaming.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Haha .. my mum used to get our names mixed up all the time(there was 4 of us), but we knew who she meant !! .. or we were supposed to know who she meant … but being called the dog’s name, ,’Goldie’ was confusing …and I often got called my sister’s name ‘Miffy’ … not even close to Ivor !!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I grew up with my mom who often messed up our names enough she would just call all three of us and hoped the one she really needed would show up lol also.. My husband’s aunts mom and their family dog have a similar name and ALWAYS ALWAYS I am so scared to mix up their names! Imagine calling someone a known dog’s name!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Super interesting! All my kids names start with the same letter (M) too… I end up pointing at the one I want and just going Mmmmmmm and hoping they’ll get the idea in the time it takes for me to actually remember their name! Haha! But my grandkids do not start with M (although all of their middle names do, in ode to the family tradition) and I can’t get their names right half the time either. I feel better now- it’s because I love them all sooo much! I can’t wait to tell them, whoever they are! Haha!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My dad frequently messed up the names of his four sons. I never took offense to it because I knew he loved us. It’s just that sometimes our mouths start talking before we’re ready to complete our thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great research! 😆
    Nobody got misnamed in our family, but thankfully I never felt my brother Justin, or me (Kristin – fairly close, don’t you think?) or even the family dog Shauna, was not loved.


  8. This is so interesting. For years my mom called my little brother Tony, who was her little brother. And when I had my son, I often call him Richie, who was my little brother. (My son is an only child so I can’t call him a sibling name…lol). Mom and I thought we were a little daft…turns out we just really liked those little brothers!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. My mom does this all the time with my sister Becky and me. Yeah, Becky and Betsy. No wonder, right? She named us like you named yours. 🙂 I sent this post to my mom and Becky with the subject like: Vindication for Mom!

    Liked by 3 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s