What's in a Name? Struggles with Word Recall

Last updated: January 2023

I'm going to admit it. It bothered me when Daddy stopped calling me by name. I don't know why. He had lost so much of his language ability by that time I was lucky if he addressed me at all. If he managed to pull words like "daughter" or "kid" or "baby" or whatever from his word soup slurry, it was a good day. It still stung.

Struggles with word recall

After a conversation about this very thing yesterday, I woke up with it on my mind.

The more I thought about it, the sillier it seemed. I got hung up on something that I don't even enjoy in my everyday life. People call me by my name at work. That's expected. It is unavoidable and accepted. Professionally, it's fine. In everyday, normal, daily conversation, though, with the people closest to me, I don't love it. "Amy" feels like I'm in trouble even when I'm not.

A couple of friends always call me "Ames." My youngest nieces call me "Didda." That was a nickname that came out of a toddler's mouth and never made any sense, but it stuck. It still sticks over a decade later. I think one old friend still calls me "Myami." My best friend calls me "B." I even had a small circle of friends in which everyone called everyone else "Ethel" for a while. Sometimes we still do.

Shelly and Sally

Daddy called me "Shelly" when I was little in reference to my middle name, Michelle. He called every girl in the family "Sally" at some point or another because that was just one of the things he liked to say. After Daddy's dementia diagnosis and the onset of aphasia, it could be a real head-scratcher to decipher what he was saying at all.

He once referred to my nephew as "old goop with the gimp leg." We still guffaw at that one, but we knew who he meant. He was referencing a wreck in which my nephew had sustained a leg injury.

Badges of honor

The bestowing of nicknames is kind of our thing. I feel like it's a thing that is woven into the very fabric of our family. The practice has been handed down. My great aunt, Sis (not her real name), had a nickname for everyone, and we adored her for it. In her list of monikers were names like "Jughead" for an old uncle of ours and "Willie Nelson" for my little sister. She had her reasons, and we wore silly titles like badges of honor. The nicknames were never about semantics. The nicknames were about affection. They were born from inside jokes and common experiences.

Your memories are still there

When someone thinks of Alzheimer's Disease or dementia, loss of name recall is one of the first things that comes to mind. And, it is frightening. To walk into a room and see someone who has known you since birth struggle with remembering your name is not something anyone wants to experience. Just because your name tags may fall off, or the ink may run, and labels may shift, not all is lost. Your common experience is still intact. You will always tell the inside jokes. Your lifetime of memories is still there. No one erases the events of your life you shared with your loved ones with something as simple as forgetting a word. Calling you a specific name doesn't make you - you, and it never did.

It's what you answer to

There is a quote that goes something like, "It's not what they call you. It's what you answer to." As I recall, the quote was made in response to someone being bad-mouthed, but I'm going to bend it here to fit.

As long as someone is referring to you in a loving or positive way, what difference does it make? A word mix-up is just that. It isn't an insult, and it doesn't mean that you are no longer important. Your role in a loved one's life is not encompassed by the few letters and sounds that make up your name. It isn't lost with the inability to recall it. Even if someone doesn't verbalize at all, the spark in their eyes can speak volumes.

Recognition does not always amount to name recall. Daddy knew we were his, at least most of the time. The vast majority of the time, he lit up and flew into babbling, disjointed conversation the moment we walked in. He might not have always had the words to express who we were, but who really has the words to express what family means anyway?

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