S1E16. The Name Game

No…not the Shirley Ellis 1964 version (“Nick, Nick, bo-Bick, bo-na-na fanna fo Fick…).

I created a new version after noticing I was blocking on names in everyday conversation. Although I clearly knew who I was talking about, when it came time to say their name, I would blank out and it would take me 5-10 seconds to retrieve it.

That got me thinking about remembering names in general. There are plenty of articles on the web about how to better remember names when you are first introduced, but I couldn’t find anything about how to recall names of people who were well known to you.

So I decided to test myself by trying to remember names of people who I hadn’t seen in years.

I started in 1972 (the year I graduated from Brown) and tried to recall names up to about 2011 when I left North Carolina to move to Pennsylvania to be with Sally. 

I had no trouble at all conjuring up mental images of their faces. After all, these were people with whom I had long-term relationships, like professors, co-workers and neighbors.

A few names appeared right away. For the most part, though, I had to work hard to find them. I would often get the first name fairly quickly, but it might take me 15 minutes or more to find their last name. Having done this for a week, I’ve successfully recalled dozens of names from my past, with only 2 remaining unidentified.

All of which got me wondering about what was going on in my brain. 

Memories of faces and memories of names are stored in different places in our brains. Designing and implementing a strategy for finding both and linking them takes place in another area altogether. And then there are the pathways that connect all three regions.

So what did I learn about myself by playing the game? First, I can recall a lot of faces. More accurately, I can recall important faces. There are hundreds of patients I saw as a psychologist and guests I hosted at our B&B who didn’t leave retrievable memory traces.

Second, although they are hard to find, my memory for names is pretty good, too. The memory of the name is intact as is the pathway connecting it to its face.

Third, my ability to create a task, develop a strategy and implement it is also working well. I tried multiple approaches when my initial search failed: going through the alphabet to test first letters (similar to how knowing the first letter of an answer in a crossword puzzle makes it easier to solve), trying to recall how many syllables were in the last name, replaying memories of my interactions with the person instead of just viewing their face in my mind’s eye. And then there were the times when I just gave up…and the name popped into my head ten minutes later!

But it wasn’t like I could go straight to the file folder where I knew the answer was. Most of the time I was staring into empty space, knowing that the answer was not where I was looking. I could feel when I was wrong and also when I was on the right path. When I did unearth the correct name, it was as if all the associated circuits lit up simultaneously and I instantly knew for certain that I was right.

So if I had to guess, I would say that my weakest link might be the pathways connecting the involved modules. It would make sense (to me, anyway) that they had atrophied over the years for lack of use.

But is this normal aging? I have no clue! In my brief web search, I couldn’t find any published research about this subject. The failure to connect faces with names and identities is well-documented in Alzheimer’s Dementia, but I couldn’t find anything about difficulty making those connections earlier in life being a risk factor.

So if you decide to play the game, please let me know how you make out. I’d love to hear about your experience.

In the meantime, feel free to reminisce a bit with Shirley Ellis’ memorable  lyrics:

The name game. Shirley! Shirley, Shirley

Bo-ber-ley, bo-na-na fanna

Fo-fer-ley. fee fi mo-mer-ley, Shirley!

Lincoln! Lincoln, Lincoln. bo-bin-coln

Bo-na-na fanna, fo-fin-coln

Fee fi mo-min-coln, Lincoln!

Come on ev’rybody, I say now let’s play a game

I betcha I can make a rhyme out of anybody’s name

The first letter of the name

I treat it like it wasn’t there

But a “B” or an “F” or an “M” will appear

And then I say “Bo” add a “B” then I say the name

Then “Bo-na-na fanna” and “fo”

And then I say the name again with an “”f” very plain

Then “fee fi” and a “mo”

And then I say the name again with an “M” this time

And there isn’t any name that I can’t rhyme

Arnold! Arnold, Arnold bo-bar-nold

Bo-na-na, fanna fo-far-nold

Fee fi mo-mar-nold. Arnold!

But if the first two letters are ever the same

Crop them both, then say the name

Like Bob, Bob, drop the “B’s”, Bo-ob

Or Fred, Fred, drop the “F’s”, Fo-red

Or Mary, Mary, drop the “M’s”, Mo-ary

That’s the only rule that is contrary

And then I say “Bo” add a “B” then I say the name

Then “Bo-na-na fanna” and “fo”

And then I say the name again with an “”f” very plain

Then “fee fi” and a “mo”

And then I say the name again with an “M” this time

And there isn’t any name that I can’t rhyme!

________________

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–Wayne

4 Comments

  1. Zella Felzenberg says:

    I think I will have more luck remembering the person’s name than remembering how to make the rhyme!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. kzhop52 says:

    In my 55+ neighborhood, we often meet up while walking our dogs. We rarely forget dog names. However, we often struggle with remembering the owner’s name. In conversation we might not be able to recall someone’s name, so we revert to …..”Oh, you know…..Pumpkin’s mom”, or “Whose that guy? His dog is Phoenix.” What’s with that?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. fredstrath says:

    This resonates with me. I’ve actually had a lifelong struggle with names the way you describe it, but it seems to be getting worse in recent years. I’ve learned to be patient with myself and work around what is almost always a temporary blanking, but I’m worried about the trend of late. Thanks for all of this!

    Liked by 1 person

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