What is Anomia?

Mary McMahon

Anomia is a neurological deficit characterized by the inability to remember the names of people or things; essentially, people cannot remember nouns. Often people are unable to recognize these names when they are presented, depending on the nature of their anomia. This neurological issue is often caused by brain trauma such as that incurred during a stroke or traumatic brain injury, and people can recover from it, depending on the nature of the damage to the brain.

Anomia patients often become frustrated by their inability to communicate effectively.
Anomia patients often become frustrated by their inability to communicate effectively.

This is part of a larger group of neurological issues referred to under the umbrella term “aphasia.” Aphasia represents a problem with speech and language processing, caused by problems in the areas of the brain which process language. People with aphasias can experience intense frustration, because they are used to being able to communicate with words, and they find themselves unable to do so.

Anomia may occur as a result of brain trauma.
Anomia may occur as a result of brain trauma.

In the case of anomia, people know what something is, but they do not know what it is called. Presented with a knife, for example, the patient could say “that is for cutting,” and could demonstrate potential uses of the knife, but the patient would be unable to come up with the word “knife.” People with anomia can sometimes recall the name if prompted, or recognize it when they hear it, while in other cases, they cannot.

Color anomia is a unique form of anomia in which someone can distinguish between colors, but cannot name them. In averbia, another form, people cannot recall verbs. Also known as nominal aphasia, anomia is characterized by the use of circumlocutions which are used to describe something; the patient describes an object by function or appearance, for example, but cannot call it by name.

In some cases, people naturally recover from anomia. In other instances, it may be necessary to attend speech therapy sessions to relearn words. Remapping of brain patterns will occur during these sessions, allowing the patient to learn and retain new words.

When working with someone who has anomia, patience is required. It is important to remember that while it can be frustrating to listen to someone try and describe something instead of just naming it, for the patient, it is extraordinarily irritating to not just be able to call things by name. The patient knows full well what objects are and how they are used, and understands the connections between objects. Staying patient and providing assistance when asked for it it an important part of supporting someone who is recovering from an insult to the brain.

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Discussion Comments


Anomia is the result of neurological damage, such as a stoke or TBI. This damage causes a person to be unable to retrieve information that is still stored in their brain.

Word retrieval problems, that tip of the tongue phenomenon, are more common or as a person ages or if you are fatigued.


I am wondering if this has any relationship to menopause. I am an avid reader and since early childhood had a large vocabulary, but when I hit my late 40's/early 50's, I started to have this issue. It's extremely embarrassing at work, to start a conversation in a meeting and suddenly be unable to continue because I can't remember the names of things. Some days are much worse than others, and I can remember the word I was searching for maybe six to 24 hours later.


Are there treatments for this? I have this problem very often and it just starting occurring more often in the last year or two. It's really strange because I have a large vocabulary and used to use it but now I have trouble with words.

It's not like when I used to forget words. Now, it's just like "404: page not found" in my head. It's only nouns. Not adjectives. Not verbs. Several times a day.

Today I wanted to say "spinach" and said "the green". I have always spoken indirectly but it's a little extreme now. The people I was with thought it was silly, of course, and I sat there like a 90-year-old going "sach... sch.... scha... the green leaves that aren't lettuce". I can go on and on describing it and sometimes remember a sound or can see a few letters in my head and go from there. I used to be so well spoken, and it's embarrassing for me.


I work as a speech language pathologist, but I primarily work with children and I have not seen anomia in children, but I am sure that it exists secondary to the fact that all it would take is a brain injury in the language area of the brain.

I did an internship in a hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina in the speech therapy department and did see a few patients with aphasia. One patient in particular was heartbreaking. He had severe global aphasia which meant he lost the ability to comprehend language and speak language. So, of course, his aphasia did have anomia, but it wasn't just anomia.

Patients that have global aphasia can get better as well, but I don't know if its prognosis is as good as anomia. Since anomia is such a specific disorder, and therefore the damaged area of the brain is smaller I would have to deduce that anomia treatment would have a better outcome.

If anyone would like to read more about aphasia and other interesting neurological disorders, but do *not* want to read about them in a textbook format, there is a great book written by a neurologist called "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales"


@fify - I have always had difficulty with names, but its not because I am bilingual, I am simply bad with names.

Some of my college classes dealt with neurology and I learned that different areas of the brain hold the functions of particular uses of language. One of the most interesting things I have learned was that curse words and other more inflammatory words lie in their own area of the brain.

In learning that I just began to assume that there might be a certain area of the brain that holds names of people we know, especially considering it seems it is a rather common difficulty.

My husband also has difficultly with names so we use each other as "name wingmen" to learn someone's name if the other person has forgotten the name.

For example, if I see someone at a party I recognize, but don't remember their name I will introduce my husband to them and hope that they tell him their name or my husband will introduce himself to them without me and find out their name.


Aside from a sudden injury, is it possible for anomia to develop on it's own, without an apparent cause?

Are there any genetic or lifestyle factors that might increase the chances of having anomia?

I'm curious about this because I have two distant relatives who have developed anomia, one because of a brain tumor and another due to a car accident injury. I'm wondering if there are any genetic factors that make some people more prone to developing this condition than others?


@fify-- I had heard that if people are under a lot of mental pressure, express stress and distractions, they may show similar symptoms to anomia. I think this might be what you're experiencing.

Anomia is a much more serious condition than that though. It is a form of aphasia- the general term for language disorders that are caused by damage to the language centers of the brain.

My uncle developed aphasia based anomia after he had a stroke. He doesn't have any problems with verbs, but can't remember nouns and sometimes also connecting words. He is going to speech therapy and seems to be doing a little better. Although as soon as he has learned a word, he often immediately forgets it. It's very difficult and discouraging for him.

The doctor said that it might take some time to move ahead and that we shouldn't rush him or stress him out. That's what we are doing, trying to do everything as we normally do and trying our best to keep his spirits up.


I've always been bad with names and I can have difficulty remembering names of people whom I've known for a long time. I also have trouble remembering words sometimes, but I think that's because I'm bilingual. I can remember a word in one language sometimes, but can't remember it in the other although I know it well.

I don't have anomia but since I have difficulty remembering names and words myself from time to time, I understand how frustrating it must be to be suffering from this deficit. When I'm in such a situation, I reach out to a family member or friend that's near me at that time. I describe the word to them and ask them to help me remember. Sometimes I remember the word just describing it to them!

Having the support of friends and family must be crucial to an anomia patient. I think that interacting with people to remember words and simply describing them must be very helpful, maybe even therapeutic. That's definitely how I feel when I'm able to remember a word or someone's name with a friend's help.

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