Abstract This study examined the effects of aging on the ERP components associated with the different processing stages in a face naming task. Two hundred photographs were presented to 13 young and 10 elderly adults, who had to press a button and then to say the name aloud (KNOW condition), or “Can’t remember” if they were experiencing a tip-of-the-tongue state (TOT condition). Young adults showed larger ERP amplitudes in KNOW than in TOT in the 550–750 and 1550–2000 ms intervals, but the older adults did not show any such differences. The older adults showed a specific lengthening in ERP latencies from 250 ms onwards, and smaller mean amplitudes in the 550–750 ms interval in the KNOW category and in the 750–1000 ms interval in both categories, and a wider and more frontalized scalp topographical distribution of the ERP amplitudes than the young adults. The results may indicate activation of compensatory mechanisms in elderly adults.