When Does a Baby Begin Reacting to His Name?

baby name

From the initial eye contact to the first tentative sentences, babies slowly learn the skills needed to communicate with the world. Milestones are used to measure whether those skills are progressing at a desirable rate and one important milestone happens when a baby first recognizes his name, usually between six and nine months.

To do that, a baby must not only hear his name and recognize it as a word. He must also understand what it means. This recognition rarely happens before six months because a baby doesn’t understand that he is a separate person until six or seven months of age.

The many steps in developing communication skills begin shortly after birth. By the time they are a few weeks old, babies will turn toward the sound of a familiar voice. More time passes before they can recognize distinct words, then more time to associate various words with things or people. Finally a baby will try  to repeat the words he hears, eventually stringing along combinations of words in a sentence.

While six to nine months is the average time for a baby to recognize his own name, recognition might be delayed if the baby has not heard his name said often enough or perhaps because parents alternated the baby’s proper name with a nickname.

There are steps parents can take to encourage name recognition. First, talk to the baby often and  frequently mention the baby’s name. Frequent use can prompt the recognition that the word uniquely belongs to him.

Use the name in a sentence that contains a word the baby already knows and cares about. For example, ask if your child wants a favorite stuffed animal or treat then end the sentence with his or her name. Would you like Teddy, Ethan? Would you like a cookie, Sophie? Here’s the ball, Olivia.

If a baby has not responded to his name by the first year checkup, mention it to the pediatrician. The doctor will probably ask more questions about other areas of the baby’s development to get a more comprehensive picture. If the doctor is concerned about the baby’s progress, she might recommend a few tests.

One possible cause for a delay in word recognition might be hearing loss. Newborns are usually screened for hearing loss shortly after birth, but problems can also develop during a baby’s first year. The earlier hearing loss is identified, the better. Early intervention has been shown to be most effective.

If the baby responds to other words but just not his name, it’s probably not a hearing problem.

A recent study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine suggests that not recognizing your name by the age of one might also be an early indicator of autism. In the study, many of the year-old babies who did not respond to their names were more likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental problems by age two.

If your child does have autism spectrum disorder or a developmental delay, identifying the problem early on is important. Early identification leads to early intervention, which is most effective.

To make a comprehensive diagnosis, medical professionals will consider the development of various skills, so take note of these communication milestones. Your child should be able to:

  • smile by three months
  • make cooing sounds by three months
  • laugh at four months
  • play peek-a-boo at nine months.
  • clap between six and nine months
  • shake his head “no” by nine months
  • wave goodbye around 10 months
  • repeat some words between 12 and 18 months of age
  • use five words by 18 months.
  • point to things by 18 months.

What should you do if your child doesn’t recognize his name at nine months? First, don’t worry about missing this milestone until he’s at least a year old. Also, don’t worry if he occasionally recognizes his name but not every time. If the milestone has still not been reached by your child’s first birthday, mention the lack of progress to your pediatrician, then follow up on any recommended treatment and intervention.

It’s important to remember that each baby develops at his or her own pace. If the inability to recognize his name does lead to the diagnosis of an underlying problem, you will be on the way to getting the help your child needs.

Joan MacDonald
Joan Vos MacDonald has written about health and fitness for newspapers, magazines and websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the author of two books on health-related topics, "Tobacco and Nicotine Dangers," for young adults, and "High Fit Home," a design book about fitness and architecture. She lives in upstate New York near her children and grandchildren.

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