Funny names, funny words

We’re in a very fun stage of language development at my house.  At 18 months old, the kids are picking up new words quickly.  My son, in particular, attempts to repeat a word in almost everything I say to him.  It’s a lot of fun.

As with anything developmental, I always think it’s funny to see how these two kids, from the same parents, being raised in the same household, do things differently from one another.  They make the same animal noises (meow is hands-down the favorite), and both started saying “na-na” for banana on the same day.  Yet other things the pronounce completely differently.

One of my favorites is what they call each other.  My kids are Rebecca and Daniel.  Rebecca has been saying a pretty clear “Day-yul” for ages, now.  Never called him anything else.  Just her very best pronunciation of Daniel.  He, on the other hand, seemed to not call her anything for a while… until I realized he had his very own name for her: Nee-nee.  That’s right.  Rebecca –> NeeNee.  I have no idea how he got to that one. Rebeecca, I can understand, is a mouthful. But I thought maybe he’d pick up on the “Becca” part? Nope. NeeNee.  We don’t have any nicknames for her that sound remotely like that.  But it’s quite clear, that’s the name he uses for his sister.

This also leads me to the question of how to deal with these odd words.  On one end of the spectrum, I’ve seen tons of parents start calling cats “meow-meows”, or ask the baby if she wants her “ba-ba” instead of bottle.  The parent adopts the child’s word or pronounciation.  On the other end, I’ve seen people get kind of harsh and insist on near-perfect pronounciation before they will concede that “bah-do” is the same as “bottle.”

I seem to be taking a middle road.  When Daniel says “Nee-nee,” I say, “that’s right, buddy, that’s Rebecca!”  When Rebecca starts shrieking “Meow! Meow!”  I say, “Oh, do you see a kitty cat?”  I didn’t give it a ton of thought before I started doing it, but I feel like what I’m doing is acknowledging that I understand what they’re saying, but continuing to say the “right” word in a non-critical way.  Seems OK to me, are there any speech people out there to tell me whether I’m doing the right thing?

What about the rest of you out there?  What do your kids call each other? Any idea how they arrived at silly nicknames?  And how do you approach mispronounciations or made-up words in general?

15 thoughts on “Funny names, funny words

  1. I am not a speech expert but all the books I read during my OCD-Alex-is-never-going-to-talk phase said to do exactly what you are doing – model the correct word.We still get a ton of misuses of words – every bus is a school bus.

    My boys used to call each other Al-sis and Naynay. Now it’s Alex and Nate. Kind of made me sad the first time they correctly used each other’s names!

  2. You’re doing it just right. We also had delayed speech issues, so I would even repeat their “wrong” words to give them positive feedback for any attempts at speech. So they’d say “woof woof” and I’d say, “That’s right! Woof Woof! Dog!”

    My boys used to call each other “Naynay”. Who knows…it’s funny what they come up with!

  3. Well, my guys are only 13 months, and so far haven’t addressed each other. They are identical, but I certainly had no expectations of them developing at the same rate or learning the same words at the same time. Oddly enough though, when one comes out with a word, the other one follows within 24 hours. Although they only have a vocabulary of 6 words, so I’m sure that’ll start changing!

  4. so funny you posted this, because i have a draft in my blog along the lines of the same thing! abel calls oskar “ah-yah” even though he says a perfectly clear ozzy and oskar as well. doesn’t matter, ozzy is ah-yah. oz started called abel, “baby” around 18 months and then it progressed to “abie” shortly thereafter. now he calls his brother “abel” almost exclusively, even though almost always call abel, “abie.” funny. the best is what they refer to themselves as, though. my guys prefer their nicknames: oskar only refers to himself as “ozzy,” and abel only as “abie.”

    i have done what you are doing – positively acknowledge what they are saying w/ the correct pronunciation. however, i also temper it with just a “yah, you’re right!” a friend told me that kids actually don’t hear their own mispronunciations. now that the boys are older and saying everything (and many words spot on), i kind of miss the days of baby talk and mispronounced words!

  5. I think what you are doing sounds right to me. I am running into trying to use the words I want my nanny to use for the kids. E.g., I say “paci” or “pacifier” but she uses “binky” (I hate that term for some reason). I just use the word I want and she generally goes along. I figure my kids should do the same when they start talking. :)

  6. My husband and I were also just talking about this. My girls are 17 mo and Lily clearly calls Josie – ZeZe or Josie but Josie has never said Lily (which incidentally I think kids generally have a really hard time with this name) but I think she also calls Lily – Josie. Several other older kids have called them both Josie, like they just assume they are the same person (they are identical). It’s funny because they probably have the same number of total words, but different words. Josie is better with objects and Lily is better with names…oh parenting is so facinating!

  7. Jonathan calls Faith “sissy” (which we call her all the time) or “Faith” stretch out with a Tennesse twang. And yes, we live in Pittsburgh.

    Faith calls herself “sissy.” She doesn’t really call Jonathan anything at all. We are still working on this with her, trying to get her to say “Jonathan” or “brother.” She is very good with names though, as she can say: Mommy, Daddy, Mimi, Nina, Pap Pap, Baba, Pappy, Debbie, Lori, Nance, Natalie, and Toby. These are all people she knows, but she won’t say her brothers name.

    Jonathan has recently decided that he is “the buddy.” I often call him buddy, but I also refered to our friend Toby as the kids’ buddy. One day, Jonathan declared that “I’m the buddy,” emphatically pointing to his chect. I just hope they don’t turn into adults who are know as Buddy and Sissy. I worked to hard to pick out their real names!

  8. I forgot to add, Abigail has taken to calling herself “Apple”. Very Gweneth Paltrow of her. Think she’s going to start calling Danny “Moses”?

  9. As a special ed teacher and a mom of kiddos just a bit older – I’d say you’re doing just the right thing! Great to acknowledge them but encourage them with the correct words. Perfect!

    I have boy/girl twins, too who are about 27 months old. My daughter has called her brother by name and as ‘brother’ for quite some time. Her brother, on the other hand, had trouble spitting out Sarah…so he followed her lead…and called her “Brother” for months! haha! He’s finally got Sarah down!

  10. My training in linguistics would suggest that no matter how you respond to your kids directly, they will learn their “grown-up” versions of words and grammatical structures from their peers, when they get around to it. However, I’ve been around kids enough and done enough applied linguistics (read, language education) research to say you’re doing it right! Model what you’d like them to say, while still acknowledging the success of their efforts.

    My daughters have sophisticated vocabularies and grammars for almost-three, but their pronunciation is extremely babylike, and we certainly haven’t modeled lisping or W for R/L! This is incredibly frustrating for our Melody, in particular, who doesn’t understand why we can’t always interpret her words, particularly advanced ones like “almond” or “hippopotamus” or “ceiling”.

  11. I was a little misty eyed when my daughters’ nicknames slowly started disappearing in favor of the correct pronunciation for their names. One of my daughters’ middle names is Sue, so for the longest time she was Maddy Sue and somehow it turned into Sue-Sue. That is the only nickname that’s still around. If I try to use any of the other nicknames the girls always correct me!

  12. My 1 yr old girls call themselves, each other and often random strangers “baby!” Clearly they are destined for careers in show biz ;)

  13. Hi
    I am a speech language pathologist and you are doing it exactly right! I have not met a toddler yet who begins speaking perfectly. I am often asked when they are truly saying a word. The word (even if it is NeeNee for Rebecca) is used consistently over many contexts and has meaning for him. NEVER correct your child or they will think they are doing something wrong (which they are not) and can start to clam up. Affirm their word with “Yes!” and then model the correct pronunciation in your speech. You might use the word in a few short sentences like, “Rebecca is here.” “You love to play with Rebecca.” “Rebecca has the doll.” Your kids are at an exciting time in language development. The second half of the second year is called a “vocabulary explosion.” Keep encouraging them with your responses.
    On my website I have a blog, articles and reviews of educational toys and books for their language building value. http://www.playonwords.com. I have several blog posts on first words and encouraging a toddlers’ talking.
    Best, Sherry Artemenjo

  14. I just wanted to chime in on funny nicknames. For the longest time, Chloe called Zoe “baby” or if she was being emphatic “me baby” and Zoe called her “diggie” (actually chloe refers to herself a lot as diggie)

    now they call each other Doe-doe and Choey. But I miss diggie and baby. it was funny.

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