Expert Articles

Baby, What’s Your Name?

Author: Mary Ann HOOD
Senior Lecturer, Yew Chung College of Early Childhood Education

Have you ever wondered when your baby will recognise and know their own name? A baby’s name is one of the first very special gifts that they receive from their families.  All cultures have practices or traditions about the naming of a baby. Sometimes parents spend hours scouring the internet or reading Baby Name books searching for that special name – the only one that will do for their precious bundle of joy. Some families choose names just because they like that particular name.  Some names are chosen because of a special meaning or time of the year. And some babies are named after special people.  There are many reasons for the choice of one, two, three or even more names for a baby.  And all these reasons are valid and children should learn about the origin of their names as they grow older and are developing their personalities and identities. 

Perhaps you have wondered when a baby knows their name? And how do they learn what their names are?

To start, even though an infant does not have the ability to recognise their own name, their hearing is typically very well developed at birth and everyone who interacts with the infant should say their name often and use a very warm and loving voice.  Between 6 and 7 months of age, babies begin to respond to and match sounds with their environment – and this includes their names. At this stage, a baby could be responding to their names – for example, turning towards the person who says their name. During the first year of life, your baby will learn many more words than they can express or say and this is very normal.  However, although most children can recognise their names during the first year, saying their names and the names of others may only happen during their second year. Always remember that children develop at their own pace and two children in the same family may recognise and say their names at different times. 

If your baby reaches one year of age and is not responding to their name, I suggest that you contact your health advisor for guidance. Sometimes this could indicate the need for having their hearing checked. However, some research suggests that not reaching this milestone by 12 months could indicate some kind of developmental delay, social communication problem or learning disorder. Early identification is very important since timely interventions can provide the support that your child may need. The earlier support is received, the better for the child. If you have any worries, talking with a professional, such as a pediatrician, will set your mind at ease. 

So, that clears up the When – but what about the How? How do babies learn their names?

Repetition is the way children learn many things and learning their name is no exception.  So, it is very important that you use your baby’s name often to help them to learn it.  Make sure you, and everyone who interacts with your baby, uses their names in conversation with them. For example, when you are interacting with your baby, you might say something like: “Abby, would you like your milk?” or “Sammy, it’s time for lunch.” 

Playing with your baby is a natural way for them to learn their names. A simple game could be the following:  Ask your baby: “What’s your name?”  Wait a few seconds and then say: “Your name is _____”.  After playing this game, as they get older, you will find that your children will fill in the gap for you!

Use photographs of your family that include your baby and point to the different people and say their names – and your baby’s name too.  You could make a little book of photographs of grandparents, aunties and uncles, pets, cousins and other family members.  This is a great way to bond with your baby and for baby to know how much they are loved. This is especially important if you do not see your family members often because they live far away, for example. 

Of course, there are many children’s storybooks that include children’s names. You could find some that include your baby’s name in the characters. This is great fun for your child even as they grow older. Individualized storybooks are a wonderful way to include your baby’s name into their literacy experiences. There are many options to do have a book created especially for your baby especially if they have a fairly unusual name. Learning their own names is a milestone in a child’s development and it shows they are progressing towards independence and discovering their unique identity. 

As children get older and for example go to a play group, people’s reactions to their name can sometimes become a source of stress for them. For example, their names might be difficult or different for teachers or friends to pronounce. Take time to share how to say your child’s name to avoid any challenging situations. There are some lovely storybooks about names and these are great to share with children to ensure that they feel proud of their names and also learn to respect the names of other people too. Make sure that you have some of these storybooks in your bookshelf and share them often with your young child. 

Storybook List
  • Hello, My Name is Ruby by Philip C. Stead
  • My Name Is Yoon by Helen Recorvits
  • Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
  • Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
  • Yoko Writes Her Name by Rosemary Wells
  • My Name is Wakawakaloch! by Chana Stiefel
  • Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
  • How Nivi Got Her Names by Laura Deal and Charlene Chua
  • A Name for Baby by Lizi Boyd
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Baby, What’s Your Name?