Despite knowing a familiar individual (such as a daughter) well, anecdotal evidence suggests that naming errors can occur among very familiar individuals. Here, we investigate the conditions surrounding these types of errors, or misnamings, in which a person (the misnamer) incorrectly calls a familiar individual (the misnamed) by someone else's name (the named). Across 5 studies including over 1,700 participants, we investigated the prevalence of the phenomenon of misnaming, identified factors underlying why it may occur, and tested potential mechanisms. We included undergraduates and MTurk workers and asked questions of both the misnamed and the misnamer. We find that familiar individuals are often misnamed with the name of another member of the same semantic category; family members are misnamed with another family member's name and friends are misnamed with another friend's name. Phonetic similarity between names also leads to misnamings; however, the size of this effect was smaller than that of the semantic category effect. Overall, the misnaming of familiar individuals is driven by the relationship between the misnamer, misnamed, and named; phonetic similarity between the incorrect name used by the misnamer and the correct name also plays a role in misnaming.
Keywords: Memory; Memory errors; Recall; Semantic memory.