We've all done it: used the wrong name when we know the right one perfectly well. And we all know when it's most likely to happen. But here's a study come to reassure us that it's okay, this is just how we roll.
The study, based on five separate surveys of more than 1,700 respondents, finds that these naming errors (when you call someone you know very well by the wrong name) follow a particular pattern that tells us something about how our memory is organized.
Usually the wrong name comes from the same relationship category. So I call one son by the name of the other; on a bad day (e.g. when there's a lot going on, perhaps a lot of people around, and I'm thinking of many other things — say, at Christmas), I might run through both sons, my partner, and my father!
Not just family, you can mix up friends' names too. And the bit that's really enlightening: family members might also be called by the name of the family dog! Interestingly, only the dog; cat owners don't make such slips of the tongue. (Yes, dogs are family; cats not so much.)
Unsurprisingly, phonetic similarity between names is also a factor, although it's less important than relational category. Names with the same beginning or ending sounds, or with shared phonemes (e.g., John and Bob), are more likely to be muddled.
But it's not affected by physical similarity between people — not even by gender (which surprised me, but then, in my household I'm the only female).
More importantly, it's not a function of age. Misnaming errors are common across the board.
(2016). All my children: The roles of semantic category and phonetic similarity in the misnaming of familiar individuals.
Memory & Cognition. 1 - 11.