What’s in a name?

January 12, 2010

As a little New Year’s treat to myself, I popped over to Josie’s writing workshop – what a brilliant idea – and was slightly horrified to find that the first suggestion on her list chimes with one of my guiltiest secrets.

What do you seem unable to learn or remember, no matter how hard you try?

Erm, well, you’re going to be a bit surprised at the answer to this, but – it’s my children’s names.

You’d think that, after 14 years as a mother, I would have got this bit straight. After all, there are only two of them – we’re not talking teeming multitudes here.

But, no matter how hard I try, even when I’m staring straight at the child in question, I get their names mixed up.


Yes, they are two years apart, they have different coloured hair (one blonde vs. one brunette), different eyes (blue vs. green) and a different way of expressing annoyance at my apparent inability to tell them apart (rolled eyes vs. sulking).  But somehow I still do it. A lot.

I would say, in my defence, though, that other people do have the same trouble. They are often mistaken for twins, despite the two year age gap – ok, usually by people who are either incredibly doddery or who have massive glasses.

But on Saturday, we went to get passport photos taken in the local chemist (did you know, by the way, that the reason you aren’t allowed to smile any more is that the new scanners see dimples as eye sockets and might reject you on the grounds that you are a four-eyed alien?).

Child One was first. She sat, she looked serious, the chemist’s assistant took a pic, then showed it to the pharmacist, who passed it as sufficiently unsmiley. Then Child Two took her place and went through the same motions, the assistant showed the pic to his boss, who said, ‘what was wrong with the other picture? That one was fine.’ ‘Er, it was of a different person,’ the assistant explained.

You see? It’s not just me. Mind you, the pharmacist is not the girls’ mother, who has nutured them every day of their lives and might reasonably be expected to be able to tell them apart.

It’s just as bad when they’re on the phone. Their voices are virtually identical. I have now learned to engage them in conversation before venturing to pin myself down to a name, after tearful times when they were with Mr X and their distant mother had apparently forgotten who the hell they were.

It doesn’t make me feel good. It’s just the way my brain is. Confused, a lot of the time, I suppose.

I do take a grain of comfort from the story of a friend’s father, who would run through the names of his four children and the family dog before making a stab at identifying the child in front of him. Nine times out of ten, the friend says sadly, he had to settle for the dog’s name. Well, I’m not quite that bad. I’ve never called either of my beloved children Mme Bovary, after the cat. Yet.

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  • heather January 12, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Well at least they are the same sex, its not like you’re calling your little girl David. But yeah, if you were my mum I’d so be on to childline

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 12, 2010 at 11:04 am

      Oh, but I’d never do that to you, Esther, I mean Beverley, I mean Francine ….xx

  • Dr Sarah January 12, 2010 at 11:42 am

    Oh – my mother was as bad as the man you mentioned! My sister and I used to joke that we both grew up thinking our name was Ruth-er-Sarah-er-what’s-your-name-kid, and it got even worse after we got the dog and she started randomly referring to both of us and my father as Henry. We never told Childline, though.

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 12, 2010 at 4:25 pm

      Hmm, I think I’d draw the line at calling my girls Henry. But you never know, in an absent-minded moment (and there are loads) anything could come out ….lovely to meet you!

    • Perpetrator January 14, 2010 at 1:13 pm

      Oh, gosh….I am exposed. I am one of the mother’s referred to. I resorted to talling all 4 of them “Best Beloved” because each and everyone was Best Beloved. This is such a good blog. Also love the links.

  • Kelly January 12, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    My Mum rotates through names until she hits the right one. When she is talking to me it usually goes Gill (her sister), Russell (my brother) Derek (her husband) Kelly (me. Finally!)

    The worst bit is the fact there is usually two male names in there before mine, I have no idea what she is trying to say.

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 13, 2010 at 3:41 am

      At least it’s not just me! Though isn’t it odd? I know them so well …yet have no idea who I’m talking to ….bizarre!

  • Chic Mama January 12, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    You know you are going scar those girls for life don’t you. ;0)

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 12, 2010 at 4:26 pm

      Don’t say that, Chic, I seriously think I have. Not sure it’s the names bit though ….oh well, at least they’ll have something to tell their therapists in 20 years time! 🙂

  • geekymummy January 13, 2010 at 12:12 am

    My mum did the same with my sister an I (18 months apart), eventually she merged our names into a single word (I’m Maria, my sister is Angela, so we were “Marangela”). We survived unscathed! And she would sometimes mix my brothers name in there too.

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 13, 2010 at 3:42 am

      Oooh, I love that name, Marangela, what a great sound, a bit like meringue! Though probably not so great with boys’ names in there too!

  • louise January 13, 2010 at 12:14 am

    Between New Husband and myself we have five children but only my son living with us (18) – I think the NH is scarring him for life as he runs through the list of children. However I call the NH Angus which is the name of the dog – he know he will be scarred when he starts eating the dog biscuits.

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 13, 2010 at 3:44 am

      At least Angus is a great name …..and maybe NH will learn to do useful stuff like sit and stay? Your life sounds very interesting, will pop over and hear more, thanks for coming by!

  • A Modern Mother January 13, 2010 at 1:34 am

    Hubby has a brother six years younger and his mum always gets them mixed up. She’s 80 though.

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 13, 2010 at 3:43 am

      Hmmmm, well, thanks very much for that, Susanna, a great comfort xx 🙂

  • Laura January 13, 2010 at 4:20 am

    My MIL reels off all five of her grandchildren before she gets to the right one.

    My sister and I have the same voice. She is 11 years older than me, shorter, olive skinned and dark haired. I am none of those things. It comes in handy when I am telling her children off from the bottom of the stairs and vice versa though.

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 13, 2010 at 5:10 am

      Didn’t know you had a sister! That sounds v useful with the voices – lots of potential tricks ….

  • rosiero January 13, 2010 at 4:33 am

    My mother always calls my daughter (her granddaughter) by my name. Sometimes she corrects herself but most of the time she doesn’t realise. It can get so infuriating, though I never say anything. Think it is just a sign of old age. (Whoops, sorry, DD!)

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 13, 2010 at 5:11 am

      I’m going to try not to take it personally! Sniff! 🙂

  • Kassia @ Working Mum January 13, 2010 at 4:38 am

    I always wondered how on earth my parents could mix my sister and I up and call us by the wrong names. Now I have two of my own, I do this a lot and I understand how easy it is to do. I still don’t know why I do it though. However, both do answer to “Oi”.

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 13, 2010 at 7:55 am

      Aha, Oi is a great idea, that could be a real step forward! Thank you 🙂

  • Pippad January 13, 2010 at 5:08 am

    My sister and I don’t look alike. We don’t sound alike and yet my name more often than not escapes my Mum. I have called Top Ender Baby Boy and Baby Boy Top Ender… you would think the obvious difference would of helped!

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 13, 2010 at 7:56 am

      It’s funny, isn’t it? It’s as though my mind goes completely blank. I know the difference ….but I can’t get the right name out. Doh!

  • turtleturtleturtle January 13, 2010 at 6:13 am

    My mother would get us mixed up too, mainly when she was mad. Then she started calling me by my aunt’s full name “Rose Helen Martha Mary” I think because she liked the way it rolled off the tongue and she would be slightly less mad when she had run through that entire gamut of names.

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 13, 2010 at 8:33 am

      I love your aunt’s name! A great roster to run through, I bet that was quite satisfying for your ma and a good way of cooling down! I tend to use my girls’ full names (not the right ones, obviously) when I’m really cross ..

  • angelsandurchinsblog January 13, 2010 at 7:39 am

    I’m always getting my children’s dates of birth muddled up. So much so that the nursery celebrated child two’s birthday on the wrong day!

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 13, 2010 at 8:52 am

      I think that’s excellent, you’ve given your child an Official Birthday as well as the real one, lucky thing!

  • Josie @Sleep is for the Weak January 13, 2010 at 8:59 am

    This is probably the reason I should only ever have one child.

    I frequently forget my own name and that of the man I married which probably says it all…


    • Dulwich Divorcee January 13, 2010 at 9:13 am

      Ah, but you’re sleep challenged. I have no excuses. By the way, I find ‘darling’ covers the man’s name thing pretty well

  • louise January 13, 2010 at 9:05 am

    I laugh about the NH not remembering the decomposed family names but I have worse …! My grandson aged 3 was living with us for 6 months with his Mum/my daughter. I will not be called Granny or Grand’mere or whatever, so he calls me Loulou … as I have been looking after him all the time (but they have found a flat just round the corner recently – yipee!) there are times he calls me Loulou or otherwise Maman as he was with me more than with his Mum as she was working all hours. He corrects himself but he is probably a future overstuffed couch case!

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 13, 2010 at 9:15 am

      Lovely to see this cascading down the generations! Isn’t ‘Mamie’ sometimes short for grand’mere – very easy to confuse with maman? Maybe we should all just call each other numbers – ah, but which numbers? 🙂

  • Paula January 13, 2010 at 10:00 am

    From an identical twin: We threated once to get our names tattoed on our butt’s. Scared eh ?hee hee

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 13, 2010 at 10:57 am

      OMG! I am VERY scared. I hope you didn’t go ahead?

  • Metropolitan Mum January 13, 2010 at 10:44 am

    In the unlikely event of having another daughter, I’d just name her L like the other one. Children have to learn to share. Why not start with the name?

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 13, 2010 at 10:58 am

      But L is so cute, you’ve got to have another! You are so right about sharing, I’ll say that to Child One (or Child Two!) next time

  • Michelle January 13, 2010 at 10:51 am

    You make me smile! I a forever calling my twins by the wrong name and they do not loo alike either. I dread to think what I would be like if I had ID twins! lol I normally find it is when I am tired.
    Mich x

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 13, 2010 at 10:58 am

      I wish I could say it was when I am tired. It’s mostly when I’m conscious x

  • Katie January 16, 2010 at 10:18 am

    It’s gotten so much worse now I have two nieces. My mother didn’t call me by my brother’s name very often when we were growing up – sometimes by the cat’s name – but now I’m N – no – S – no – K!