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Naming Twins and Multiples

A conversation with Patricia Malmstrom

Guest background:

Patricia MalmstromThe Founder and President of Twin Services, Pat(ricia) Malmstrom, holds a graduate degree in early childhood and special education. The author of The Art of Parenting Twins, she is a foremost authority on multiple birth development and care. An internationally-known advocate for the improved care of multiples and their families, she has counseled thousands of parents about coping with twinshock and trained numerous teams of counselors on the subject of multiple birth. She is the mother of four adult children including one set of monozygotic (identical) twins.

Twin Services' programs have been supported by individual donors, foundations, and the Maternal and Child Health Bureaus of both the U.S. and the California Departments of Health and Human Services. Twin Services has been honored by awards from the U.S. and California Departments of Health and Human Services, the Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition, and the California Department of Social Welfare.

Twin Services Consulting.   At the close of Twin Services in 2000, Pat Malmstrom elected to continue as a consultant in multiple birth via Twin Services Consulting.You can reach her with your questions re multiple birth care and development at her E-mail address:


Baby Names Garden: When do parents begin to think about naming multiples?

Pat: No doubt parents first think about naming some time during the early stages of their "twinshock". When it becomes clear that the baby on its way is not one, but two, or three, or more, parents are flooded with a mixture of disbelief, worry and joy. One by one you realize the differences in parenting challenges that arrive with multiples. Among them is the fact that you're going to have to come up with two (or three or four) first names. If you choose to use middle names, you will need two or three or four of those as well.

Baby Names Garden: Besides quantity, what's different about naming twins and other multiples?

Pat: The most obvious difference is that in choosing their names, you are naming a pair or a set as well as the individual children. Since they will be together most of their young lives, their names will often be used together. It's important that they sound well, not only with your last name,  but with each other.

A second challenge is to find names that are distinctive, easy to remember and to spell. This may be easier said than done. I remember teen age twin brothers who were bored by their classic names, something like James and Thomas, so changed them to Vladimir and Orpheus. I don't know how long their new names lasted, but they make the point that multiples really like to have names that distinguish them from each other.

Baby Names Garden: Do names for identicals (monozygotic) differ from names for fraternals (dizygotic)?

Pat: Yes and no. Identical twins are the same gender, so they need two girl names or two boy names. Fraternals are either the same gender or a girl and a boy. One third of twins are boy/girl, so you will need one of each. Whatever their genders though, each child needs a name to be proud of, and one which others can remember. Strangely, people who don't know the children well seem to mix up twins, even boy/girl pairs. That's another reason to try to give their names some individuality. You can do this by avoiding names that rhyme with each other like Patty and Hatty, names that begin with the same letter like John and James, and names that begin with the same sound, like Daralynn and Carolyn.

Baby Names Garden: Does birth order affect twin names?

Pat: Yes, at least when they are newborn. Hospitals label the first born as "Baby A". The second born will be "Baby B" and so on. In some cultures twins are given names which indicate their birth order. Here though I recommend avoiding identifying multiples that way by, for example, naming one boy after dad and labeling him "junior". Other children (and adults) are apt to label such twins as the elder and the younger, and lock them into stereotypical roles. I've spoken to adult twins who felt that "junior" had the extra burden of living up to their dad while his twin got off "easy".

Pat: One last thing...
Congratulations! You've found names you like. They sound good together and with your last name. They don't rhyme or sound alike. They are distinctive, but not too exotic, easy to remember and spell. Now be sure to check that they will have different initials or they will be forever plagued with mixed up mail, dental records, and sometimes even bills!

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