We’ve accidentally done it in the past, and others have done it to us: call someone by the wrong name. Yikes. This phenomenon is called misnaming. You may be slightly embarrassed when you call one of your children by a sibling’s name, but misnaming can be a little painful for the receiver. One might think, “Doesn’t mom love me as much as…?
Put the guilt aside, moms, because according to a recent study getting our loved one's name mixed up doesn’t signify favoritism. In fact, it could mean mom loves all her children equally.
Published in the journal Memory and Cognition, researchers asked over 1,700 people about their misnaming experiences -- have they been misnamed, have they misnamed someone and the relationship between the people concerned (are they siblings, for instance).
So, who were the biggest culprits for misnaming? Parents, specifically moms who called their children by the name of a sibling or sometimes even a pet (it happens!). And it’s not because the kids looked alike or had similar sounding names (e.g. Mike and Mark), results of the research suggest. It’s actually down to how a human's brain stores and retrieves information.
“Misnaming typically occurs within a social group,” researchers said in an article on Quartz; it's when a person calls a family member by the name of another family member. It also happens within a circle of friends, wherein you call a friend with the name of another friend in the same circle.
It’s because we store information using a “mental semantic network” where it groups related information together. “In this mind map, a mother likely associates her children with one another. When attempting to retrieve the name of her son, she is more likely to inadvertently select the name of her daughter than the name of a colleague due to the close connections between her children’s names in her semantic network.”
In short, it’s not that mom loves one child more than the other, it’s that she loves them both and “associates [them] with one another.”
Interestingly, sometimes family members would also misname a family member with the name of their dog -- not by their cat though or any other pet. Researchers speculate that this may be because the loyal dog is more likely to be perceived as part of the family than, say, the independent cat or the indifferent turtle. Also, among pets, the dog is most likely to respond when you call it by name. Makes sense, right?
So, the next time you switch your kid's names, tell them all about this study and how it just means you love them both just as much. Identical twin babies, though, may be an entirely different story. If you’re having trouble telling your newborn twins apart, here are a few (tongue-in-cheek) suggestions:
1. Look for identifying features, like a mole, birthmark or dimple. You may have to make your little one laugh for that last one to be an effective method.
2. Put different colored anklets or bracelets on your babies. If you’re having your babies ears pierced at birth, you can also go for earrings. Ask your child’s pedia if she carries baby-safe, non-toxic jewelry. This method may not work, however, if you’re going for birth month stones. (“But they’re both born in July!”)
3. Pick specific clothing for each of your twins. One wears primary colors, the other wears secondary colors. Best for parents who still remember their elementary art class lessons.
4. If all else fails, go Pinoy Henyo-style by sticking strips of paper with your babies' names on their foreheads. Just kidding!