Semi-GQ: My mind actively BLOCKS me from remember names

I’m curious why this has always happened to me, but I’m also interested to hear other people’s experiences so I’m putting it in IMHO (though I still hope for an GQ-type answer).

There are times that it seems my mind actively blocks me from remembering names. I feel like a stroke victim or something as I can describe perfectly who the person is, what they look like, and so on. But like my 90 year old grandmother used to do, I just cannot come up with that particular word because my mind keeps substituting something else.

I’ve always had this problem, though it seems to be getting a bit worse as I get older. I try to remember the name of, say, an actor. This is the internal dialogue I get:

Conscious self: Now, who was that actor in Dirty Dancing?

My mind’s response: Dennis Quaid.

No, Dennis Quaid reminds me of that guy, but that’s not him.

Dennis Quaid.

No, it’s not Dennis Quaid. Now let me see, he was also in that transvestite movie about Julie Newmar . . .

Dennis Quaid.
Dennis Quaid.
Dennis Quaid.

NO! NOT Dennis Quaid. I know who he is, I’ve said his name a thousand times. Hell, I can visualize his smug visage right now! His 80s hair! Just shut UP and let me think for a second. First name is Irish-sounding. Pa-, Pa- . . .?


Oh for cripes sake, I can remember this, I am not admitting defeat and going on Google for something this stupid. Now let’s see, Dirty Dancing, Julie Newmar, ugly mug and 80s hair, it’ll come to me . . .

Kurt Russell.


I have the same problem. And it doesn’t help that I’m terrible with names to start with.

I figure it’s similar to unscrambling word scrambles. If the letters are mixed up into something totally random, I can usually figure them out. But if the letters are mixed up into something that looks like a word, even though it’s a nonsense word, my brain will decide that they are in order and I can’t rearrange them. (I’m terrible at anagrams)
So my brain decides that it has a name, even if it’s the wrong one, and resists any attempt to find a correct name.

Although usually in my case I’ll think, "What’s that actor’s name. . . it starts with a W. . . I know it, it’s on the tip of my tongue. . . W-, W-. . . .Oh! Neil Patrick Harris!

When meeting new people my mind will substitute a similar name. Like I’ll be introduced so Sarah and my mind will record it as Susan. Then if I see the person again my mind will present the alternate name. I’ll sit there thinking, is it Susan? or Sarah? or Susan? or Sarah?

My wife has this same problem fairly often. She can describe them physically, list the movies or tv shows that she has seen them in, but just can’t seem to cough up the name. Ask her about Marlon Brando. Took her about fifteen minutes to come up with his name one time.

I’m usually a little better with names, but for some reason I always block on (and here we go again… I still can’t think of his name… the guy who was in “Children of Men”…) Clive Owen. I keep thinking it’s “Colin” something, then I will remember that it’s not Colin, but I can’t get past “Colin” anyway. It’s like someone telling you “Don’t think of a pink elephant.”