It must be frustrating to be a twin and have someone call you by the wrong name at least a dozen times a day. Although it’s mostly a problem that identical twins must endure, fraternal twins aren’t entirely immune to it either.
Take my fraternal twin sons, for instance. They hardly look alike and are certainly cut from very different cloth but people confuse them frequently. Although they have the same science teacher this year, they are in different classes, on different days. Still, their teacher recently confided to me that she has just figured out who is who—seven months after the start of school!
Why is that? Why do so many people fail to make the correct connection between twins and their names?
I have a few theories.
When it comes to your twins’ teacher, she often has to deal with dozens of students in a single day. As someone who works in an elementary school, I see 600 kids every day, many of them multiples (11 sets of twins and 2 sets of triplets) so I can empathize. Try as I might, I often confuse a set of twins each and every day. For me, it’s just a matter of brain overload—too many kids, too little time. Furthermore, it’s not just the multiples’ names that I botch—I screw up the names of kids within the same family, too. If two siblings are within a few years of each other, it’s not unusual for me to call one by her sister’s name.
So if I confuse a name or two, why am I so put off when my twins’ teacher does the same? Because they’re my babies. I think they’re unique and I want everyone else to see that as well. From the day they were born, I’ve never mixed them up. Since I have a one-on-one connection with each of my sons, a mix up would never happen. And it’s that attachment—that bond—that’s missing between many people and the twins in their lives.
So how can you help anyone who has trouble remembering who is who?
To Parents of Multiples:
- Try to give your twins different sounding names and avoid alliterations as they are especially hard on the tongue. For instance, naming your duo Stephanie and Stacy would be pure linguistic purgatory. Furthermore, it’s easy to confuse “theme names” like Noah and Jonah. Both are Biblical characters but if you get confused with the guy who built the arc with the guy who got swallowed by the whale, you’re in trouble!
- Teach your twins to help their teachers and coaches distinguish between them. In other words, have your kids offer the clueless adults in their lives a hook in which to hang the name. For instance, I’ve directly asked my identical twin students, “How can I tell you apart from your sister?” They always have an answer such as, “I have a freckle here,” or “My voice is deeper.” It’s been a big help.
- Try color-coding. Dressing John in red while Adam in blue works well until John’s taste in clothing suddenly changes, then all bets are off! So although helpful, color-coding isn’t the most surefire method.
- Have patience. No one deliberately calls a child by the wrong name. It happens. Continue to offer help when needed.
To Teachers, Friends and Relatives of Multiples:
- Make a more personal connection. The best friend of a twin or triplet would never call her friend by the wrong name. Why? Because she knows her friend intimately. They’ve made that important one-on-one connection. And as a teacher, relative or friend, you should try, too. It’s not that hard. Just start with the basics like, “What did you do over spring break?” and go from there. Remember to ask a question every day and slowly the relationship and thus the name recognition will grow stronger.
- Turn the name into pictures or phrases. For instance, I remember the name Phillip because his face is thinner than his brother’s and he needs to “fill up.” Another twin told me just to remember that she’s “Kallie from the Valley.” I’ve never forgotten yet.
- Make the commitment to distinguish between the pair within a certain time frame and ultimately you will. As a writer, deadlines have always helped me!
How do you help the adults in your twins’ lives remember their names?