Pregnancy, Babies, Parenting News & Tips

Parents Accidentally Confuse Their Children’s Names More Often When the Names Sound Alike

By Staff Reporter / Jan 13, 2014 09:36 PM EST
  • Parents accidentally confuse their children's names more often when the names sound alike
  • (Photo : Flickr) Parents accidentally confuse their children's names more often when the names sound alike

When choosing baby names, parents often want something that is pleasing to the ear. Some even turn to alliteration when naming multiple children. But according to a new psychology study from The University of Texas at Austin, parents set themselves up for speech errors when they give their children similar-sounding names.

Like Us on Facebook

The findings, published online in December in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS One, show that what many people consider to be "Freudian slips," may be a quirk in the brain's information-retrieval process. The study was authored by Zenzi Griffin, professor of psychology at UT Austin, and Thomas Wangerman, formerly of Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta.

"Because name substitutions are increased by factors like name similarity and physical similarity, they should not be seen as purely Freudian or reflecting preferences for one child over another," Griffin says. "In other words, people shouldn't read too much into the errors."

The researchers conducted online surveys with 334 respondents with one or more siblings. As part of the study, the subjects were asked to rate similarities in appearance and personality with their siblings, as well as the frequency of their parent accidentally transposing their names.

According to the results, participants whose names shared initial (Jamie/Jason) or final (Amanda/Samantha) sounds with a sibling reported that their parents accidentally called them by the wrong name more often than those without such name overlap. This was especially prevalent among younger siblings who were close in age and of the same gender with their siblings. The majority of respondents who reported low rates of name substitutions were first-born siblings, which may be due to their names being used more often, the researchers note.

A subset (121 respondents) reported they were often called by names of other family members. And 20 respondents stated they were called by the name of the family pet. Griffin says this unexpected finding shows how social and situational factors play a role in how parents retrieve names when addressing their child directly.

For example, a mother stands in the kitchen and wants her child to come to dinner. The last time she stood in the kitchen and summoned someone to dinner it was Fluffy the dog. The similarity of the situation and repetition of the words, "come to dinner, Fluffy," primes her to say the dog's name again when calling out to the child.

"It is tempting to attribute such mistakes to the animals' status as family members and child-substitutes," Griffin says. "However, it seems unlikely that parents would make such errors so readily if they were labeling family members in photographs."

Research on speech errors has shown that people commonly substitute words that belong to the same category, but sound nothing alike, such as labeling a couch as a sofa, or a lion as a tiger, Griffin says. And when a word overlaps in meaning and sound (pear/peach), the intended word is more likely to be unintentionally substituted for it's similar-sounding counterpart.

"Although much work has considered how names affect self-identity, social categorization and social interactions, little is known about the consequences of personal name choice on speaking," Griffin says. This study begins to fill the gap."

Provided by University of Texas at Austin

Texas nurse stricken with Ebola: young and caring

Members of the Protect HazMat team prepare to enter the apartment of the health worker who was infected with the Ebola virus at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Texas October 13, 2014.

Read More »

Boston patient does not appear to have Ebola, hospital says

1 of 5. Ambulance workers wearing protective gear load a patient with possible Ebola symptons into the back of an ambulance at the Harvard Vanguard facility in Braintree, Massachusetts October 12, 2014 in this still image from video.

Read More »

Texas health worker becomes first person to contract Ebola in U.S.

1 of 4. A metal barrel containing contaminated belongings of a health worker at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital who has contracted Ebola is in front of the health worker's residence in Dallas, Texas, October 12, 2014.

Read More »

Conjoined twin Texas babies to take first step to separation surgery

1 of 3. Conjoined twins Knatalye Hope Mata (front) and Adeline Faith Mata are pictured at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston in this July 25, 2014 handout photo obtained by Reuters October 9, 2014.

Read More »

New Jersey officials order 'symptom-less' NBC News crew into Ebola quarantine

Members of an NBC News crew who worked with a cameraman who contracted Ebola in Liberia have been quarantined, New Jersey health officials said on Saturday.

Read More »

U.S. military faces new kind of threat with Ebola

1 of 3. A soldier goes through the decontamination process with U.S. Army soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), who are earmarked for the fight against Ebola, take part in training before their deployment to West Africa, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky October 9, 2014.

Read More »

Las Vegas sounds false alarm as global Ebola fears spread

A commercial plane was briefly quarantined on a Las Vegas airport tarmac on Friday, sending airline shares down as worldwide fears increased that Ebola could spread outside West Africa, where it has killed more than 4,000 people.

Read More »

U.S. begins enhanced Ebola screening program at New York's JFK airport

A video journalist films a sign asking patients to inform staff if they have fever, cough, trouble breathing, rash, vomiting or diarrhea symptoms and have recently traveled internationally or have had contact with someone who recently traveled internationally at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, New York October 8, 2014.

Read More »

U.S. Republican Senator still undecided on Ebola funding increase

Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) (C) talks to media after departing a closed hearing on Iraq and Afghanistan in Washington July 8, 2014.

Read More »

Fears grow in United States over Ebola's spread outside West Africa

A sign asks patients to inform staff if they have fever, cough, trouble breathing, rash, vomiting or diarrhea symptoms and have recently traveled internationally or have had contact with someone who recently traveled internationally at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, New York October 8, 2014.

Read More »

Ebola patient dies in Texas; five U.S. airports to screen for fever

The first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States died on Wednesday, underscoring questions about the quality of care he received, and the government ordered five airports to start screening passengers from West Africa for fever.

Read More »

Obamacare website likely ready for record-breaking traffic: official

A man looks over the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York in this October 2, 2013 photo illustration.

Read More »

Real Time Analytics