Parents Confuse Their Children’s Names More Often When The Names Sound Alike
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April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Parents want their baby’s names to be pleasing to the ear, sometimes turning to alliteration when naming multiple children. A new study from The University of Texas at Austin reveals that when parents give their children similar-sounding names, they set themselves up for speech errors.
What many people consider to be “Freudian slips,” may be a quirk in the brain’s information-retrieval process, according to the findings a study published in PLOS ONE.
“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,” Zenzi Griffin, professor of psychology at UT Austin, and Thomas Wangerman, formerly of Georgia Institute of Technology, says. “In other words, people shouldn’t read too much into the errors.”
The research team conducted online surveys with 334 participants, all of whom had one or more siblings. The researchers asked the subjects to rate similarities in appearance and personality with their siblings, as well as the frequency of their parent accidentally transposing their names.
The researchers found that participants whose names shared initial ( James / John) or final (Amanda / Samantha) sounds with a sibling reported a higher incidence of their parents calling them by the wrong name than those without such name overlap. They found that this was even more true among younger siblings who were close in age and of the same gender with their siblings. First-born siblings reported the lowest rates of name substitutions, perhaps due to their names being used more often, the researchers note.
They found that a subset, 121 participants, reported being called by the names of other family members. Another 20 participants noted they were called by the name of the family pet. According to Griffin, this finding illustrates how social and situational factors play a role in how parents retrieve names when addressing their child directly.
An example of this can be seen when a mother calls her child to dinner. The last time this mother stood in the kitchen and called someone to dinner, it was Fluffy the dog. The mother is primed to say the dog’s name again, instead of the child’s, by the similarity of the situation and repetition of the words, “come to dinner, Fluffy.”
“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.”
Prior research on speech errors has revealed that people commonly substitute words that belong to the same category, but sound nothing alike: for example, substituting sofa for couch or lion for tiger. According to Griffin, when a word overlaps in meaning and sound (pear/peach), the intended word is more likely to be unintentionally substituted for its 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.”