For example: If I was trying to recall the name Elaine but instead only the name Ellen could come to mind. It's as though I know 'where' the memory is, but since the memory is poor and so similar to another name with more associated memories, the more dominant, false memory is recalled instead.

I'm not really sure the proper way to describe my question but perhaps one of you can infer what a fool like me is trying to ask.


If you want a very technical term, you could use "paraphasia", but most people just call it a "speech error" or "naming error". These are usually categorized according to error type: such as semantic (cat --> dog), phonological or "formal" (cat --> mat), mixed (both semantic and phonological: cat --> rat), nonword (cat --> kag), unrelated (cat --> log), etc. Your example would probably be considered a mixed error because it was semantically similar (another common female name) and phonologically similar (shared at least 2 phonemes). Tip of the tongue refers to a more specific case where you have a strong sense of knowing the name and some aspects of it, but not being able to recall it.

If you're interested in the neural correlates of these errors, Myrna Schwartz, Gary Dell, and their colleagues have published a series of articles investigating naming errors in stroke patients with language deficits (aphasia). A recent paper mapped aspects of their computational model of word production onto lesion locations in the left hemisphere (Dell et al., 2013, Cognition, 128:3, 380-396).

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