Baker-baker Paradox

If you are under the impression that your memory for names leaves something to be desired, it is because it does.

Think back to that guy you chatted with on the flight last Christmas. Do you remember his name? How about his profession? You are more likely to remember the profession than the name of people you have met. This is a consequence of the associative architecture of the human brain. A number of experiments have shown that when asked to memorize the name or profession of people in a photograph,  recollection of the names is significantly poorer1.  This holds true even  if the name and profession are the same word, for example Baker x baker or Farmer x farmer.

It is likely that one reason for the Baker-baker paradox is that the occupation baker  automatically and unconsciously activates a number of concepts (represented in nodes, or groups of neurons) typically associated with this profession (getting up early, bread, funny hat, ...). In contrast the name Baker pretty much stands alone (unless it happen to be your name). As diagrammed above, a neurobiological equivalent of this is that when you learn someone's profession a larger number of synapses (shown in red) are strengthened - the strengthening of synapses is one way in which the brain stores memories. 

1McWeeny KH, Young AW, Hay DC, Ellis AW (1987) Putting names to faces British Journal of Psychology 78:143-146.

James LE (2004) Meeting Mr. Farmer versus meeting a farmer: specific effects of aging on learning proper names. Psych Aging 19:515-522.

Cohen G (1990) Why is it difficult to put names to faces? British Journal of Psychology 81:287-297.