A Toddler's Eye View of Names

A Toddler's Eye View of Names

“If we stick eyes on it, then it will have a name.”

That was my 2-year-old this morning. He was playing with a truck, we were discussing whether it had a name, and we’d been sticking googly eyes on stuff earlier. And bam, a mini insight into name theory, toddler-style.

It made me take stock of what else he knows about names, so far. And now I think about it — names are way complicated for someone who’s pretty new to the world.

He knows his own first name, has no idea about middle names yet, and probably not last names either. He’s heard titles like Mr, Mrs and Dr, but the jury’s out on whether they mean anything yet.

Some people have multiple names — like Mummy is also Clare and Mrs Green — and some names belong to more than one person. People can have opinions about their names: my mother-in-law is Nana, never Nanny.

You can be playful with names. He sings “Mummy-mum-mum,” I sing “Davey-dave-dave.”

They have very little baggage. I tell him that someone is called Chris or Dick or Vlad or Zeus or Winnie-the-Pooh, and he accepts that as their string of sounds.

Some words can be names too, like Poppy and Laurie (he’s going to be so disappointed when he learns it’s not Lorry). But not all words… why is no one called Sunflower or Tractor?

Some animals have names, some don’t. Some toys have names, some don’t. And apparently the ones with eyes should.

So if you’re finding names complicated? It’s because they really, really are. It takes us all years to even begin to understand them in our own culture, and some researchers (and name lovers) spend their lives exploring them deeply. But in everyday life, we could all borrow a bit of that toddler acceptance of people's names as whatever they happen to be.

About the Author

Clare Green

Clare Green

Clare Green has been writing for Nameberry since 2015, covering everything from names peaking right now to feminist baby names, and keeping up-to-date with international baby name rankings. Her work has featured in publications such as The Independent and HuffPost. Clare has a background in linguistics and librarianship, and recently completed an MA dissertation researching names in multilingual families. She lives in England with her husband and son. You can reach her at clare@nameberry.com