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Nominal Aphasia: Problems in Name Retrieval

Darlene Forde's picture

It happens to all of us occasionally. As you walk down the hallway you see a familiar face—someone you have recently met—you reach into your brain expecting a complicated series of synaptic firing to bring forth the name person in front of you only to be disappointed. Although you know it is there in the recesses of your mind, you cannot summon the name of your new acquaintance. You settle instead for the ubiquitous nod and the word “hello”.

Where failure to occasionally recall the name of new acquaintance may feel uncomfortable, it typically does not create huge difficulties. For me this scenario happens all too often. Names of acquaintances and friends of less than a year’s duration frequently elude me at pivotal movements. Although my problem with name recall is worse for personal names, I also occasionally experience difficulties recalling the name of specific objects or “common names”. Indeed my friends and colleagues are familiar with me using the most round-about ways to identify specific people or objects. Physicians and psychologists have several clinical terms to describe this word-finding problem. Anomia is one general term for problems with word finding or recall that occurs with no impairment of comprehension or the capacity to repeat the words; the terms anomic and nominal aphasia are also used. (1)

My problem recalling names, both of people and of things, led me on an investigation of the mechanisms by which the brain stores and retrieves this information, and how names are stored and summoned. I was also particularly interested in how malfunctions in the brain’s name retrieval system arise when there has been no physical trauma.

It is important to understand that articulating names is merely the final stage in a series of complex processes. Before names can be retrieved from the brain, they must be learned and stored. There are three different components of memory: immediate/sensory memory, short-term memory (including working memory—memory that consists of information held in the mind for a brief time for a specific purpose), or long-term memory. (2) Sensory memory is our “initial memory”. It lasts for approximately half a minute. It is during this critical stage that information must undergo additional processing in order for it to become fixed in the brain’s short-term memory. Attention is critical to facilitating the movement of information from sensory memory to short-term memory. (2) (4) (7) Once information is lodged in short-term memory several things may happen: it can be maintained in short-term memory; it may be encoded in long-term declarative memory by linking this newly acquired information to existing knowledge; or it may leave short-term memory and the brain altogether because of disuse and lack of attention.

Retrieving information or names from this process similarly involves a complex series of steps and pathways. Specialists characterize the following fundamental stages of the name retrieval process as conceptual preparation, followed by word generation proceeding through lexical selection, morphological and phonological encoding, followed by vocal articulation. More simply, the process of retrieval can be understood as a movement of information from long-term memory to short-term memory and subsequent articulation. The aid of neuroimaging tools makes it is clear that it is faulty to localize the retrieval of proper names to one portion of the brain. Like vision, proper name retrieval is better understood as a distributed system in which large portions of the left hemisphere are involved. In the same way that the ‘picture’ we hold in our heads is a result of a pattern of visual activity in the neocortex, we store proper names in the left hemisphere of our brain. (3)

With this sketch of name retrieval in mind, we can begin to anticipate where difficulties in name retrieval may arise. Anomia may arise from failure of information to progress from sensory memory to short-term or long-term memory. This explanation is consistent with the advice of popular memory improvement strategies to improve memory. For example, Harvard Medical Guide to Optimum Memory, Dr. Gary Small’s Memory Prescription, and the School of Phenomenal Memory’s GMS Manual, all emphasize strategies for fixing memories in the brain through the focusing of attention. (3) (4) (6) Attention, in this context, can be understood as a conscious decision to move information from sensory memory to more durable forms. Initially this emphasis on attention with regard to names may incorporate the I-function, as the individual knowingly keeps a name in working or short-term memory.

Difficulties may also arise in name retrieval if names have been improperly encoded in the long-term memory. The encoding of names into declarative (a type of long-term) memory may be particularly “tricky” in that this process may occur both intentionally—that is, with the I-function—or unintentionally—without the I-function. If connections and linkages have not been made between nearly learned names and existing knowledge, name retrieval will be difficult if not impossible. Therefore, the encoding of names in the long-term memory requires a retrieval of existing information in the long-term from which the brain makes connections and linkages. (2) The consolidation of names is facilitated by the hippocampus which allows for the rehearsal of information of names in a sequence of events that is mentally replayed and rehearsed in order to strengthen pathways of neuronal activity.(3)

"Blocking" is one difficulty that may arise in moving information from long-term declarative memory to working memory for recall. According to Dr. Aaron Nelson, author of the Harvard Medical School Guide to Achieving Optimum Memory, the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon can be attributed to this action. In blocking, Nelson argues, we are unable to recall a specific memory because another memory is standing in the way. The problem lies not in memory storage but in an intrusive obscuring memory. “The harder you try to peer around this interloper, the more insistent it becomes at forcing its way into your consciousness. You know it is the wrong answer and part of you knows the right answer, but you can’t think of it because the wrong answer is in the way”.

Understanding the mechanisms involved in name-finding, inspire us to localize the process by which proper and common names are stored. With this aim, researchers in the past have relied heavily on the examination of patients with lesions and other physical trauma to known portions of the brain who have suffered from nominal aphasia. However, many of these patients have also suffered a number of other neurological problems, reducing the ability to exclusively cause to nominal aphasia.

More recently researchers have taken advantage of the ready availability of imaging technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)—which enables researchers to map neuronal activity in the brain—and the measurement of event-related potentials (ERPs) from electrodes placed on the head of participants recognizing new faces and identifying familiar ones. Research suggests that when an individual views a recently learned face, a response is triggered in the brain that reactivates distributed cortical networks linked by hippocampal connections. (9) Specific regions in the left hemisphere such as the left hippocampus, and large medial temporal region demonstrate stronger associations with name memory. Yet, other regions of the brain also demonstrate an impact on name recall. For example, left-sided lesions in basal ganglia, the occipital lobe and the thalamus—all brain structures outside of the temporal lobe—have also been connected to proper name anomia. (3)

Ultimately, a definitive answer to the causes behind my anomic problems still eludes me, much as a name fails to appear on my lips. There is no easy explanation for why certain names are forgotten only at certain moments rather than others. Certainly factors which negatively impact health and well-being generally can affect memory. Genes, hormones, stress, sleep, alcohol, exercise, diet, and age for example can all impact name recall. Training my brain to participate in strategies that engage me and focus my attention on the names of recently acquainted individuals offers the best hope of improvement. Connecting new people to existing knowledge and categories in my brain offers the best prescription. If we compare the memory of names to a network of insulated cables—some perhaps more poorly insulated than others—we can forge news lines and associations that can remove those names from the tip of my tongue into the output signals my acquaintances recognize as their name.




(1), Health Cares

(2), System Learning Strategies Database—Muskingum College

(3) Semenza, Carlo. Retrieval Pathways for Common and Proper Names. Cortex, (2006) 42, 884-891

(4) Nelson, Aaron P and Susan Gilbert. Harvard Medical School Guide to Achieving Optimum Memory. New York McGraw Hill 2005.

(5) Small, Gary and Gigi Vorgan. The Memory Prescription: Dr. Gary Small’s 14-Day Plan to Keep Your Brain and Body Young. New York: Hyperion Books. 2004

(6), National Institute of Health article “Spaced Retrieval System of Anomia”

(7), GMS Manual: School of Phenomenal Memory

(8), Traumatic Brain Injury Survival Guide.

(9) Ferreira, Fernanda et al “A theory of lexical access in speech production.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences (1999) 22, 1-75.

(10), “Neural Correlates of Person Recognition” Learning and Memory.


Dave's picture

Lifetime condition

I have suffered this condition since I was a teenager, and have had it all my life I am now 55, I have not seen it get any worse. I would say it has held me back in many ways and definitely made many social situations and socialising awkward. It has definitely been the cause of numerous embarrassing incidents, at work, running a kids football team, even with relatives, the funny thing is I find some peoples names I can remember straight away and never forget but for some, no matter how hard I try, certain people I just cannot remember their names. At work I often feel incompetent though I am lucky to have had several great bosses of the years who have just acknowledged I am not good with names and be patient with me when I can't remember someone.

I have never seen a doctor about it or sort a diagnosis but have become more and more curious that it may actually be a recognised condition. Finding this article today has been a real breakthrough and I am so relieved I am not on my own.

Is it possible to have this condition diagnosed professionally ?


Aboo's picture

You are not alone


You are not alone. I dropped my plan to advance in leadership path because of this. As you stated, " I find some peoples names I can remember straight away and never forget but for some, no matter how hard I try, certain people I just cannot remember their names", I have similar experience. I consulted couple of doctors and they all did basic memory tests and I passed all of them. But one think I improved(or my memory deteriorated) is because of taking magnesium supplements. I am just posting here just for reference:

This helped me to calm and a better sleep.

Steve R's picture

Should I get a diagnosis?

This is me! The battle caused social anxiety on a large scale from teen to nearly 30. A managerial promotion forced me to confront the crippling anxiety and eventually CBT worked to control it. It would be a fair hypothesis to suppose the anxiety caused the memory problems but I am wholly convinced its the other way around. I am far less anxious now and have a lot to feel proud about but the memory issues have been a constant. I find ways around it to Foundation at work but can appear socially awkward which is inevitable when the back and forth of a conversation is regularly, inexplicably interrupted if I need to talk names or dates or describe recent events for that matter. I do feel I would benefit from a diagnosis so I it was understood and I didn't look rude. Its bizarre but having never needed to interview I've been promoted 3 times to Regional Manager and am now in charge of £4million Turnover and 100 staff. I have strengths clearly but everyday I feel its a matter of time before someone with power realises there is no depth to my knowledge, at least that is how it would seem when I can't remember so much basic stuff. That person that used to work with such and such at you know where. Its bad.

Is it possible to get a diagnosis? Is anyone studying this as I'd gladly let someone take pictures of my brain to work out what the heck is going on.

Ive been taking Ginko Biloba supplements a couple of months and do feel they helped with sharpness to an extent. Chamomile helps with keeping calm. Nothing helps with the memory with names and numbers though. I wish there was something.

John G's picture

"Nominal aphasia"

I won't take up your time by describing my own memory symptoms because they are largely in common with those discussed in the main article and in many of the comments below. However, it might help if mention a simple technique for dealing with the real life consequences, at least the social consequences of this type of problem. I simply apologise for not being able to remember a person's name, the name of a singer or film star or movie or whatever saying something like: "Oh sorry, I suffer from nominal aphasia and I can never remember [. . . .] ". This completely wards off any sense of social embarrassment and can even be a topic for an interesting change of conversation.

Once you give something a label, especially an official or medical label, people are a lot happier and are much less likely to think you are weird for not being able to remember something so obvious and so simple.

So aside from my nominal aphasia being annoying to me personally, it has never been a real problem for me socially.


Rapid Recall as the Standard for Intelligence

I'm very late to this post, but it was a joy to read, along with the comments. I can relate to them well.

At 44 yrs old, I was recently provided with all of my report cards, standardized test scores and letters from my teachers to my parents from K-12 from my parent's estate. I reviewed them all and my academic struggles were exactly as I recalled. I was twice as slow as the other kids to regurgitate names, dates and formulas, while also a slow writer and reader. I liked all topics and my teachers reported that my understanding of those topics was good. I was just easily overloaded when it came to homework and timed tests. I became very frustrated with myself.

I had average at best grades all through grade school and HS, in spite of much effort. I had an average at best ACT score and barely squeaked into a state college, due to absolutely no one's prompting. In college I continued to get killed on speed tests, especially those that required rapid regurgitation of names, dates, formulas, etc. At the same time I did very well in tasks that allowed for slow completion of complex problems. With much effort, it was enough to average out to a C across the board.

Then three years into my undergrad, I figured it out. I had to do everything with flashcards and repeat them many hundreds of times before a test in order to gain rapid recall. I know for a fact that it was far more effort than what the vast majority of my peers had to do, but what other option did have? Once I was able to add rapid name/date/equation recall to my skill set, I instantly became an A student for the first time in my life (let alone a B student). I carried that through a Masters degree in Zoology. Masters level classes often focus on slow complex processing. Suddenly I was blowing past those former honors students that held down the opposite end of the grading curve for the previous couple decades.

I get the feeling that there are many people like me that are geared toward slow deep processing over rapid recall. And unfortunately, rapid recall is the standard most often used to determine intelligence in the classroom. Deep thinkers are dumb and the game-show speedsters are intelligent.

For the fans of Malcolm Gladwell, he did a few episodes on the focus of American academics on rapid recall in his Revisionist History podcast, in which he used chess as an example. Regular chess rules are generally considered the gold standard and it is a game geared more toward the deep thinkers and slow processors. Alternatively, lightning chess is treated in much lower regard, but it is geared toward rapid simple recall. Different people excel at different kinds of chess, but to cram everyone into one box would be to suggest that only one kind has merit as a test of intelligence.

I still greatly struggle with rapid recall, especially for names and numbers. I fear not being able to rapidly respond with my birth date at the pharmacy, my zip code at the gas pump or my phone number when leaving a voice message. My wife and I have a method for getting people's names where I start offering to introduce her (to people I know well, but can't recall their names) and she jumps in and quickly makes the introduction herself. However, I no longer think of myself as deficient or at least any more deficient than anyone else. I know a lot of game show speedsters that have struggled to translate their quick recall academic success into success after academics. There are many different measures of intelligence and unfortunately for US academics, there is only one box for everyone.

Daniel Whitaker's picture

THANK YOU JARREN for your reply!

Eureka!!! It seems I've found my brain tribe -

Wow, Literal tears of joy while reading the reply's! I'm 52yrs old and have profoundly struggled my whole life with (rapid recall) deficiencies as it were - The ramifications of which have afflicted my daily life throughout. Particularly within my attempts with education, learning, working...just living at large if you will.

I too have worked out a similar introduction protocol with my wife. The necessity of doing so occurred early in our marriage as I would avoid the introduction phase when seeing old friends while accompanied by my wife as an example. As you likely know from experience, it only took a few of these awkward interactions to result in the discussion of my inability to remember names. My precious and loving wife, has helped me immensely and in many different ways over our 31yrs of marriage - but notably, this crafted introduction protocol has been something of our secret and I've never shared it with anyone. To say your articulation of the same protocol hit home is an understatement!

Certainly I related to essentially every reply to the article, but I'd be remiss had I not responded specifically to yours Jarren ...just sorta' liberating if you will, so Thanks again!


Wendy's picture

Now, if I can only remember it's name...

Wow. I never realized how many other people have these problems. I'm not alone! Ever since early childhood I have been unable to remember names of most people, places or things, as well as dates, and I could never get above beginning Algebra (in spite of taking Algebra II three times) because numbers simply do not mean anything to me. The teachers would go over the equations, and they would make perfect sense at the time, but when I tried to do the homework or a test, it was as if I had never seen it before. While I can count and do simple math, all numbers are confusing to me. If I have to leave at noon to get somewhere, I have to focus strongly on the clock to understand if 11:40 means I am early or late. I have to concentrate to remember which is larger, 1,500 or 15,000, and must double check my totals as the ability to rationalize if the total makes sense is not there. Oddly, fractions I understand.

I am so strongly right-handed that I sometimes wonder what I have a left one for, so it is not the left-right issue.

With names, it doesn't matter whether it is a person, place or thing. I may or may not remember it. Usually not. To cope, I also do the description routine: "You know, that--place--we went to where the--birds--were eating out of--our son's--hand," and "Quick, I need the...I have to clean up this mess, hand me the...p...paper...TOWELS!" Of course, by this time the counter spill is now a counter and floor spill. I have always found that stress increases the problem, though it is always there. By "stress" I mean having to come up with the name RIGHT NOW, as in greeting or introducing someone. I'll often remember the item or person's name ten or 15 minutes later. I am also selective. For some reason I can never remember "drawer" when I need it and will tell my husband to go into the third cupboard down to get something. I have a fairly good facial recognition, though I will not remember a person's name or where I know them from or why. Oddly, there are a few names and faces that I can always remember. After eight years in a retail establishment, I knew perhaps six names of constant customers and remembered many faces, though I would not know that they were just in the store 20 minutes ago and came back for something. I never did learn our telephone number.

Though I love history, I could never ace a history test in school because, for example, while I can still tell you volumes about the social, political, economic and industrial forces that contributed to the Civil War...I don't know what years it was fought or the names of most of the battlefields and Generals. Though I do know that it was four years long and went from April to April, because I remember the name of a book, "Across Four Aprils." I can usually remember the name of a book, but will not remember the author. If I see a name in a list, I can almost always recognize it.

As you might figure, I have not had an easy life. All this has embarrassed me more times than I can count. I attend a very old church and have done extensive research for years. I have written numerous papers on our history and do tours for groups and individuals. Imagine how embarrassing it is to have to stop and look up names and dates in my own writings while conducting tours! Almost as bad as having to ask the name of someone I've known for 15 years.

I am sorry that anyone else has had to cope with this, but pleased to know that I am not alone. I hope my dissertation will help someone else to feel not quite so alone. Good Luck and write EVERYTHING down!

Patricia's picture


My problems beegan in my early fifties. At first I described it as not remembering direct objects, because I could not remember names art the end of a sentance. My doctor sent me to a neurological group in Peoria, IL. They did a test where they ran a substance from my groin to my brain. They concluded saying I did have some lesions in my brain. They thought it might have been related to severe migraine during my child bearing years. I learned to substitute the word (because I knew before I got to the end of the sentance,i would not remember) or add a description. After a year orso this seemed to ease up. I am now eighty five and it has returned the last several years, but a more prevalent version. It happens more frequently. And often it can be the same word. I have made a point I'd memorizing these words, and it works for a while, but then the loss returns, I have no cognitive problems. I live alone, and I am concerned about it leading to Alzheimer's. I want to continue to be independent. Is there anything I can do to improve this condition?

Amber's picture

I have had this problem my

I have had this problem my whole life. I cannot recall names of people, places, objects etc. Basically if my brain marks it as a name I cant recall it on my own ever.
If I'm asked what is the name of my doctor, I cant tell you. If I'm asked and presented with a list of names Ill see it instantly. Name recall is failing, not visual recall or recording to memory. It was the only way I got through school, multiple choice answers :P

I can recall a name easily if I use the name as a description of the object/person instead of its name. My last doctors name was Dr Cornish so I remember her as the visual description of a Cornish pasty. Cornish pasty describes a meaty and veg filled puff pastry visually in my mind and Ive linked that to my doctors name when recalling it.
I suppose a description is being stored and recalled by a different part of the brain to a name.

I also have face blindness and use similar techniques to recognize who I am speaking to. Clothing style, facial hair, hair styles, smell, body shape. I try to link them to descriptions to recall the memories associated with the person when I see them. e.g the hairy guy, the lady that smells of roses.

I am also unable to recall simple maths but complex math is easy. I have blue/yellow colorblindness but recognition of those colors can be linked to other things such as sound/music. Unfortunately I lack the ability to describe how this works for me.

My memory and recall is near perfect in every other area. My sense of smell is amazing, my recognition of sound is amazing.

Any doctor Ive told just shrugs at me. None of them seem to think its a problem.

maryann's picture

Nominal aphasia

It is a comfort to know that there are others out there that have experienced this actor actress name problem. I had the same problem with Bands and songs names. When I was a teenager I felt like I was dumb. I felt like I was different (dumber) than my friends in some way and it was really annoying never knowing the name of any song I liked or the name of a singing group. Even now I don't even know if I could name 5 song names that I really like. I felt plain deficient and I think my parents just thought I was not very bright and treated me not very seriously. I came to know I had smarts in other areas and grew confident in that. But i did feel a kind of deficiency until finding this website. What a freedom it is to realize that it's not a sign of a low IQ. I can't tell you how glad I am that someone wrote this article ( it's quite well done with good references) and almost better is the fact that readers have shared. I may have had a small stroke 30 years ago but the neurologist couldn't detect it. Some things like my spelling and ability to formulate sentences became by comparison laborious. I had to check and double check and writing anything took me forever. The occurrence was definitely stroke-like, weird thing in front of my eye that blocked my vision etc other things I don't remember now. The internal med doctor said I'm so quick I have the brain of a 20-year-old and I'm 60 so I have some good brain cells. The only problem with nominal aphasia is that when I tell some people, ( in the hopes they won't think i'm just stupid) they make light of it like people often do with ADHD. "Oh ya, I have that." they say, even though just like this article and blog indicates, there are such clear differences. My husband who is a doctor, and had recently started getting annoyed at my inability to articulate sounded like he believed what I told him about the article then the next time we were in a group, he's is like everyone else saying OH YA I have that too. I came back here to be among people who understand.

Serendip Visitor's picture

Feel a bit better hearing everyone’s situation

I, too, have always had trouble recalling names, but I have a weird form of this all my life. It strikes when I have to introduce a number of people at the same time, like going around a table, introducing everyone to a newcomer. Invariably I will just ONE person sat around the table, and I never know which one it will be! It is terrifying, as it could be any of them, from an acquaintance to my dearest friend. I never met anyone who had this. Now that I’m 58, I do find that I have aphasia for when I do something like boil water and if I’m not concentrating on it, instantly forgetting it. What I always do since I have my phone with me at all times, even from room to room, is to use it as much as I need to, to help. I set alarms, take photos, make notes, and use the voice recorder as much as needed. I never boil water without setting an alarm. It has helped a lot.

Serendip Visitor's picture


I remember being a teenager and saying did you see that movie, what's it called, with what's his name in it? You know, the guy that did that song, oh what was it called, that we liked? I too have stopped in crowds trying to introduce a table but that is called performance anxiety. It's as a result of feeling just a tiny bit on display while introducing the person. At least that's what it was for me because I didn't have problems like that before. It was more the other example. Now I have problems with even remembering faces, yes names too. It can be anxiety. It can be ADHD. I'm not sure which one of those I have but I can tell you that when I took a 2-month break from a ridiculously stressful stepfamily situation, parts of my memory I forgot I had returned. I was stunned and excited at some of its performances. Unfortunately, I'm back to the bad head only 3 months back, which is why I was turning to the web for more information. Always afraid of Alzheimer's. They say some types of forgetfulness is more linked to Alzheimer's than others. I found another solution to the boiling water problem. I just stopped cooking. lol.

Serendip Visitor's picture


I had that same experience with stress where my memory started coming back when I was no longer stressed out. You’re right - it does come back, because it’s so hard not to be stressed! I wouldn’t worry too much that this is Alzheimer’s, mostly because you KNOW you’re forgetting. It’s when you don’t recognize objects and put them in wacky places. Like keys in the freezer. Also, a first sign is confusion with numbers - like not being able to read a clock, or how to get money out of an ATM. That’s what I’m watching for. My dad always worried too, but I used to tell him, “Hey, at least you know you forgot something, it’s not knowing that you forgot something where I’d worry”. I hear ya on the cooking comment - Lol!

Sophie Rogers's picture

Recall of names, places, dates, information...

I was completely overjoyed to read the list of visitors' comments about their unique non recall of names, epecially of actors and actresses! This is a common entry point of conversation among friends, relatives, and new acquaintances!
What an embarrassing journey it has been since about my early 20's. Initially I thought my inability to remember distant relatives' names was a lack of interest or indifference. And, at age 68, I continue to struggle with name recall of family members at the cousin level and beyond, and, also actor and actress names, regardless of how recently I saw their film, read an article, or hear a news report about them. This is so embarrassing as I am cut off from contributing to many conversations, and spontaneous social conversation, interaction and speaking.
I now find it difficult to recall street names and particularly dates of appointments that I have discussed with my husband as well as having written down in a small calendar I keep in my purse. Writing things down does seem, however, to help a little with recall. Recently I listed all the vitamins and supplements for post cancer for a niece, and as I write, I cannot recall the definitions and purpose of any of the vitamins that I researched and wrote down on a 3 page document just yesterday. What frustration!
Thanks for letting me vent and letting me know of any new discovery of aids or rx for this very annoying condition,

Rupali Visitor's picture


Do we have any solution for this. any medicine. any example who cured of PPA

Aboobacker Cheethayil's picture

I have difficulty remembering same name or place name

I am 43 years old and working in IT industry. I always have difficulty remembering names of my colleagues, place names, words etc. It is getting worse. I tried different mnemonic technics and it is not helping. For example, If forget the name of "Brad Pitt", I will try to remember different ways and it seem to work. But I if try to remeber next week, I go through the same cycle. I have the same issue with movie names, cross team members, movie actors etc. But I find fine with old actors/old movies/old friends and colleagues. I consulted multiple neuro doctors and have done sleep study. They all do basic memory test (like giving 10 objects like pen/pencil etc and asked me to remember all of them) which I always do good. I don't know what kind of doctor I should consult since my memory is getting worse. I have no issues remembering events or any other things.

Aboo Cheethayil's picture

Difficulty remembering same name or place name

It is more than 2 years since I have posted. I was under impression that it is something to do with my sleep. I sleep very well now a days(like a baby) but underlying issue still persists. I have been trying mnemonic tricks and it works at times. I have come across many people with similar symptoms and one thing I noticed that those who does not worry much about this issue has better memory performance than people like me who worries about it. One of my friends who has the aphasia says he does not worry about it (if he can't recall something, he takes it easy) and for him it is not an issue. I am trying that now :-)

TFP's picture

Name recall

Most of my life I have not been good with names but is getting worse as I age. Name recall runs in family as a problem. My mother's father had problems and my father did also. I have assume, as suggested above, that it is something in my mind that does not work smoothly. Most interesting to find this info and try to understand it better

Toy Soldier's picture

Had this too

Hi, glad I've found the website. I've had this since my early 40s and I'm now 59. It seems to be getting worse, along with my memory, and I do wonder if I have PPA. I have had periods when it seemed to get better, and my mood elevates. Ive had several RBANS test which show no issues apart from word finding (they ask you to repeat as many fruits and veg as you can) - I scored below average on this but above average on everything else. I also am left handed and suffer from right side "silent" migraines. I have never had a good memory and could never remember facts for an exam. I also get some weird phantom burning smells and dizziness but I guess that's not related. Nice to know there are other folk out there who suffer from this, makes me feel less alone.

Nmh's picture

Phantom smells and dizziness

Phantom smells and dizziness are very worrisome that must be checked by a doctor.

Serendip Visitor's picture

nominal aphasia

My memory problem is very specific in that i get word blind on the same names over and over again. I've had this difficulty forever. Especially when trying to remember the names of celebs. It's always the same celebs i can't recall.
Only yesterday for instance, I couldn't remember the name of a particular celeb and someone told me their name. Yet less than 2 minutes later and i couldn't recall that very name again. This problem can also carry over to place names and names of things, though not common things. Generally more obscure stuff, but still which i should know because i have a good knowledge of the subject matter. But when i get a particular word blindness it will always be the same words that i difficulty with. They just don't seem to stick no matter how many times I'm told them.

Serendip Visitor's picture

anomic aphasia

I also find this info Very well as Comforting ! I too sometimes need a bit of time to Retrieve names and details regarding When an event occurred......basically I do feel that my recall with regard to names and chronology of events is poor....and I do not think it is particularly "Age" I am just trying to pay more attention....but do not yet have an effective "remedy" !!! Just good to know it is very common!!....and not an indicator of Alzheimers!! ....I hope!!!

Citizen?smith's picture

Memory recall

I often have to go through the alphabet to remember names, when in secondary school good at maths but could never remember
formulas after summer hols and would have to relearn them. History stories retained but dates names useless , physics no problem, name every part of engine. Its process and function and construction. Wordpower extensive. Now 64 can't retain place names of places recently visited, names of books or authors, tv or films I have enjoyed. Went to GP who tested me. Told me I did not have a problem and that my symptoms are quite common.

Marion Greenwood's picture

Nominal Aphasia

But what will help us to overcome this issue of not remembering names of people, places and things? It is destroying my confidence to speak if I cannot remember the name of the place I have recently visited, or the film, book, I have read or seen. It is a terrible affliction. I am still good at problem solving, organising and planning; but dreadful in a social setting.

Be's picture

Recalling Words Especailly Nouns

I am 55 for sometime now, about ten years I noticed I have trouble recalling nouns. Like if I am looking for a screwdriver, I may not be able to say what it is I am looking for. Just this evening I was going to make a grilled cheese sandwich, I could not say or think of the word Grilled. I never could remember names and just put that into one of my weakness and really do not worry about that, but it becomes a little frustrating when I cannot thing of what something is called. I use "thingy" & "whatchamacallit"t a lot I have no problem remembering other stuff, appointments & such. Is this something to worry about or just let it go? Oh, I am left handed, seen some reference to that.


Elizabeth a's picture


When I was in preteens and younger I often had to describe common nouns because I couldn't say their name, as in "Please pass the ...pause............ stuff you put on bread". I am quite left handed and I thought it had something to do with that. Then I learned that George H. W. Bush was left handed and also had what seemed like the same problem. It was reported that he used thingy a lot. Many times I thought it must be my favorite word. I was told after a speech that with my erudition I didn't have to call things "things". I concluded it must have something to do with lefthandedness. That was probably an error.

I don't recall having trouble with proper names and dates because I can recall having them come up immediately when I am in conversation with others. As I age I seem to have more trouble with common nouns.

Hazel Brett's picture

Nominal Dysphasia

Is there nothing we can do to help this problem?

Serendip Visitor's picture

I use foreign languages to help

I often have difficult finding the correct noun (common nouns more than names) and sometimes I have to think about what the word would be in a foreign language and then the translation back to English (my first and only fluent language). With my family, I joke about it and say things like, "can you get the ... its a noun thing ... out of the ... another noun thing." Then the words will come to me usually.

tara's picture

use of another language

I do that too, but English is my second language and a lot of times the English word for an object pops up in my head much sooner than the Persian one (my mother tongue), and then I have to try and translate the English to Persian, which I may or may not succeed at. A lot of times my sentences become a jargon of English and Spanish words mixed with some Persian in between. My close friends that can speak English are OK, but speaking formally in to a non-English-savvy person is very problematic.
My father also does the whole "this thing, that thing, the other thing from the other day" thingy. I would approve the genetic component as a very strong factor.

Jim Freeman's picture

Me too!

No way...I do that same thing sometimes: think of a word in German or Spanish and then to English.

Frank UK's picture

nominal aphasia - great comfort

Great to read this blog and all the comments - I'm nearly 50 and following a bereavement have noticed my slight nominal aphasia recently getting worse. As many state, it is a lag rather than a loss, and the names do rematerialise after varying lengths of time have elapsed. It is not restricted to acquaintances, but also fictional characters and musicians. Blocking is an interesting phenomena which I recognise as having a role.
As many have stated, it is comforting to know I am not alone, and I will do my utmost to combat this frustrating impairment.

Serendip Visitor's picture

Born this way, father the same! Inherited?

I've always had nominal aphasia, but never worried about it because my father was the same way. In fact, it was a family joke about him calling a chair "that sitting place". My father was a brilliant mathematician and wiped out the board at Trivial Pursuits, but had to verbalize lots of tangential facts to get a noun. Before he died at 90, I had to intervene when doctors assumed Alzheimers or stroke while he talked around a name. Maybe people with nominal aphasia should where a medic bracelet!

Now in my 70's I recognize that it is getting a bit worse, and annoying in social settings when people are upset that you don't know their names. I also have always been bad at facial recognition, which combines badly with this. Does anyone else have these two traits together?

JSR's picture

Name aphasia

I also have had this most of my life. I have vivid memories as a child of having frequent punishment for being unable to memorize bible verses and treated as dumb or lazy, but was an avid reader from an early age. In college I had to shop for professors that placed emphasis on concepts versus rote learning. It always amazed me in my career, the people I worked with that had designations after their titles and could explain the simplest concepts. Our society tends to only recognize the easiest and most common forms of intelligence. -JR

Peter's picture

Nominal aphasia

I think I must have nominal aphasia all my life - as a child my Dad used to joke about my bad memory. Even my qualifications reflect this problem - they are all scientific, where deductive reasoning is the key, while history and geography were difficult as they are largely concerned with learning names of people or places. But I find my inability to remember names of people and places has two sides to it. If someone mentions a name or a place I often cannot identify what they look like, unless I am given a trigger - "the guy with the bent nose" or " the town with the strange road system" are typical triggers. I'm now at the stage that when I DO remember a name, I'm not sure it's correct unless I also recall a trigger to confirm the I.D. , so often don't utter the name. The wrong name is worse than no name at all !

Niichan's picture


I never though it was in my DNA but my mother referred to my friends always by the wrong name and always asked me to get the whatchacallit what cha call it one words. I can not recall the names of co workers know for years. I search my brain I think I look dead at them and the name won't surface like the answer to a math problem. It sometime never comes until someone else says it. I am know for that not knowing someone's name.
Over the years I realize I give ppl nicknames to give their name a visual Identity

Serendip Visitor's picture

Elusive names and nouns

I am terrible at names so I always give people "visual nicknames" too! I've never met anyone else who does this, so it's nice to see someone else does it too. I call them "facenames," because it is a purely visual name- it's so visible that when someone ashs me what their visual name is, it's hard for me wo put it into words. Smooth baby cheek blonde low nose rosy curve is sorta how I could say a person's facename, but it still isn't right.

sampath's picture

Iam also passing through this

Iam also passing through this frustatin disease or the so called as nominal aphasia...i cant remember the names and i remmember them wen i least want it....i m goin to try some yoga and memmory trainning sessions ...let me see whether it would work...thank you all i know i am not alone...thank you

Serendip Visitor's picture

name recall


Serendip Visitor's picture

Me too!

I have struggled with nominal aphasia for years and it has only become worse as I have aged. My twin sister also suffers from the condition as well. It is very frustrating and I am often embarrassed by inability to remember names of friends and other kinds of nouns.......Thanks for this short summary. I feel less freakish now I know others besides me and my sister suffer from this condition too.

sean's picture

Well explained

I fit this pattern of subtlety worsening word retrieval. Thank you for the informative discussion. By the way, I am genetically left handed but switched to right handed for most tasks due to an injury to my left hand when I was 5.

Serendip Visitor's picture

welcome to the club

I am right handed now - I was right handed before recognizing this specific problem. Initially experienced what I self described as "tip-of-tongue" syndrome before reading about it here. Now I find others describing the problem using the same words.
Recall names of persons seemed to be the first manifestation, I have also noticed a slowness of recall of place names and then selecting teh right word to use in a sentence. Seems easier to recall names from many years ago than a few years ago.
Trying not to think of the subject can work - The name is not forgotten its just slow racall.
Consciously linking (for example to recall a person's name - think of a well known sports team wiht a similar name) seems to work.
All of this seems to suggest slow recall rather than no recall.

upali's picture

Nominal aphasia

A close relative of mine shoving frontal lobe infaction also has same problems.

Keshava Murthy's picture

Nominal Aphasia

I'm pretty much in the same situation. I've been experiencing this difficulty of remembering names for almost 3-4 years. I'm a right handed person so I'm not sure if this roblem has anything to do with right/left handedness. I'm only 48 years and I believe I'm not too old to have such memory problem. I would be very interested in participating in any research study or anything like that which might help to find any solution in the future.

Serendip Visitor's picture

Depression can cause this!

Ms. Murthy, I would strongly suggest that you consider getting a doctor's examination because your difficulty came on in middle age. There are lots of causes of this including depression, certain medications, and more serious conditions. Most of the contributors here have had this all their lives, and therefore are only worried about worsening symptoms. I hope you have already gotten evaluated.

Serendip Visitor's picture

I share your problem

I am a teacher who covers over teachers' non contact time. I meet alot of children, but through the year I do manage to learn all their names.. But althought I know their names, if I am required to recall them quickly, for example when asking them to respnd to a question or taking a list of names from a hands up response, this can be painful to say the least. I can stare at a child I know well for some time, until another child prompts me with their name. I have made jokes about it to the chidren and now they know they need to help me with it!

The situation, I realize, is worse when I am working on serveral things at the same time. e.g. out of the classroom I am currently reading for a Masters degree, and I have found the name recalling has become worse. I found your paragraph explaining how one memory can block the other very interesting and I can relate that to my situation. The new knowledge that I am aquiring is taking a front seat to the retrieval of information from the long term memory.

I am left handed and wondered whether you had come across a correlation of lefthandedness with poor name retrieval in your research of the subject?

Anyway thanks for the reassurance that it is a common occurance.