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Why You Slip Up and Call Your Kid by The Dog's Name

Why You Slip Up and Call Your Kid by The Dog’s Name

If you’ve ever called your kids by their sibling’s name or even the dog’s name, don’t feel too badly. It’s not because you can’t tell them apart or have a preference for one over the other.

According to a new study by Duke researchers, “misnaming” is a simple cognitive mistake that happens very often among members of the same social group, especially families.

Misnaming is “a cognitive mistake we make, which reveals something about who we consider to be in our group,” said Dr. David Rubin, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and the senior author on the study.

Calling a person by the wrong name is a very common slip-up, say the researchers. It happens all the time in families and friend groups. In fact, your mom might even go through all of your siblings’ names before actually getting around to your real name. Similarly, friends may call each other by the name of another friend in the group.

Another contributing factor of misnaming is when two names in the same social group sound very similar. So if you have two children named Bobby and Billy, the slip-up will probably occur more often.

For the study, the researchers conducted five surveys of more than 1,700 people. All of the participants who were included in the findings had reported being the recipient of a wrong name or had misnamed someone else. In all instances, the respondents knew the person they were misnaming well, or were misnamed by someone they knew well.

Physical appearance was found to have very little influence on misnaming. Furthermore, a person’s age did not appear to have any significant influence on how often they misnamed others. In fact, the researchers included college students in the survey as well as older people and found that misnamings occur just as often in the younger groups.

Pet names were also included in the surveys. In 42 instances, a participant reported that he or she had either been called a pet’s name or had called someone else by a pet’s name. In all of the cases except one, a family member was called by the pet’s name, rather than the pet being called a family member’s name.

Furthermore, calling a family member by the dog’s name was much more common than calling a family member by the name of the cat. This may suggest that dogs are grouped with other family members more often than other pets, the researchers wrote. Or perhaps dogs are simply called to more often, allowing for more chances of a mix-up.

“Dogs will respond to their names much more than cats, so those names are used more often,” said Samantha Deffler, a Ph.D. student at Duke and the lead author on the study. “Perhaps because of that, the dog’s name seems to become more integrated with people’s conceptions of their families,” she said.

The findings are published in the journal Memory & Cognition.

Source: Duke University

Brothers laughing photo by shutterstock.

Why You Slip Up and Call Your Kid by The Dog’s Name

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Why You Slip Up and Call Your Kid by The Dog’s Name. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 9 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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