Children, names & identity

When I was a very small child (probably about 2 or 3) one of my mums closest friends was called Robyn. But I couldn’t deal with someone else having the same name as me, so she became Cookie to me and my family. Similarly, my cousin Peter couldn’t cope with our uncle being a Peter - so he became Fredery (an invented name by cousin Peter - to this day we still call him Fred).

We have a tape at home of my brother when he was two or three having a conversation with an uncle - the uncle keeps calling him “sport” in an affectionate way, but Andrew (brother) keeps saying “I’m not sport, I’m Andrew”. Similarly it was some time before he was OK with being called “Andy” rather than the full Andrew.

These examples raise several questions in my mind:

  1. How and when do children associate thier names with themselves (“I am Robin, Robin is me”)?

2.1) Why do children have trouble when someone else has the same name as them (such as in the first example). My guess is that it is because they reason something like “I am Robin. You are not me. Therefore you cannot be Robin, so don’t try to tell me that you are”.

2.2) How and when do children realise and accept that other people can have the same name as them, but that’s OK - and it doesn’t mean that the other person is them (“I am Robin, you are also called Robin, but you are not me”).

  1. How and When do children realise that they can be called by other names. That is, when Andrew knows that Andy is also him, or that nicknames (like “sport” in the example above) can also refer to them (“I am Robin, but sometimes, I get called kiddo and sometimes I get called Rob and sometimes I get called Robin Surname, but it’s all referring to me”).

  2. How does a child’s name and identifcation with that name influence that child’s sense of self?

Purely anecdotal, based on my interactions with my own and other kids:

(1) Babies start to associate their names with their personal identities around the same time they start to understand their physical separateness from their surroundings. I think that occurs around 4-6 months. If you find any books by Frank Caplan or Brazelton, esp. “The First Twelve Months of Life”, they discuss month-by-month mental, cognitive and motor development.

In my experience, kids start to refer to themselves by name around 14-15 months.

(2.1) I suspect it’s only a problem if adults or other “authority” figures make it an issue; kids often have a parent’s name. But if Fredery always used to say “Hi Pete, I’m Pete!” it could cause an identity crisis of sorts.

(2.2) Following from the above, I don’t think there’s any particular age as long as the fact isn’t shown to be ironic or important.

(3) Depends on how early you start using more than one name. My year and a half old daughter knows her name, but also knows who uses what nickname for her, and there are several. But if one day I start calling her Tatiana, it may take her a while, based on context, to figure out that it’s her.

(4) I’m not sure I understand the question. Do you mean how does a particular name affect a certain personality outcome (e.g. a boy named Sue) or whether or not a shared name affects the ability to identify self?

Purely anecdotal, here.

My daughter figured out pretty quickly that she was both “Aryanna” and “Anna” and “Boobear.” I met her when she had just turned 3, and she was already used to all of these names. Before she was four she was also able to identify herself by her full first, middle, and last name.

My older son was 3 when he met another little boy with the same name. (My son is “Aoghdan” and a friend at church was “Aiden” – same pronunciation.) He and my daughter both referred to the friend as “the other Aiden.” He’s just recently (last few months, and he is just recently 4) decided that it is ok for us to call him “Buddy,” or “Big Guy,” but he hasn’t been called by nicknames as long as his sister has, since there isn’t a need or way to shorten his name. He still objects to his baby brother being called the same nicknames as he is. He MUST be “Big Guy,” and Seamus MUST be “LIttle Guy.”

(Oh, and he has been able to give his full name for as long as Anna has, which puts him at about 10 months younger when he learned.)

My youngest (Seamus) is almost 11 months, and I think he recognizes his name. He seems to have been able to since he was about 6 months, but sometimes he will come when called, and sometimes he will not. It may be that he just doesn’t want his mommy right then.

But this never happened. It was just normal converstation - “Pass the salt please Pete” to which uncle Pete would respond etc. I think it’s different to kids with a parents name, because the kids know the parents as mum or dad, not by name.