This morning, somewhere between sleeping and being awake, I was trying to remember Dolly Parton’s name. I could see her in my mind’s eye, but I couldn’t recall her name. I knew the shape of her first name and that it had two syllables and that it probably ended in “y”, but I couldn’t remember the sound of it.
I thought of Molly, Buddy, Maddy, Bridey, and other variations on that theme, but none of them felt right. So, I decided to go alphabetically. Annie, Bailey, Cooky, … Dolly! That’s it! I knew I had it in my memory somewhere. It just took a while to find it.
I have always had a problem remembering names, but it has become worse as I have gotten older. When I was a teacher I would sometimes draw up a seating plan for each of my classes with the students’ names in the squares. That helped, but it was a little clunky to use and occasionally the students would decide to sit in different places. Often, I would start the course by telling the students that if I failed to remember any of their names, it wasn’t personal. I just had a bad memory. I know that it matters to people that you know their name, but try as I might, I have often failed to meet that expectation.
One name I repeatedly have a problem with is Tom Cruise. I don’t know why, but his name escapes me. A couple of times now I have been telling a story about him or a movie he is in only to hit a blank wall when I was about to say his name. Then, I have looked at my eldest son and said “Top Gun” and he has replied, “Tom Cruise.” My son is very familiar with my problem. It’s odd, though, that I can remember the name of one of Tom Cruise’s movies, but not his name.
I have tried all the customary methods for recalling names; repeating them back in conversation two or three times, writing them down, attaching them to photos, and so on. I still try the repetition technique and it works for a while, but if there is a long interval between the first meeting and the second, the name is usually gone from my memory by then.
Until today I just thought of this as a personal failing made worse by aging, but then I came across a name for this particular malady; it is anomic aphasia. It’s an actual thing! According to Wikipedia, “Subjects often use circumlocutions (speaking in a roundabout way) to avoid a name they cannot recall or to express a certain word they cannot remember. Sometimes, the subject can recall the name when given clues.” That is definitely me. They could have added, “Sometimes the subject relies on family members to read their mind”.
Even though there seems to be no cure for this problem, I feel much better about it now that I know it isn’t just a personal shortcoming. When I forget someone’s name in future I will just explain that I suffer from anomic aphasia, … if I can remember its name.