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If twins are mixed up while they are newborns, but the mix-up isn't discovered until years later. What do you do? Or should you do anything?

Realizing of course, that eventually parents can tell them apart but if they've already switched them (but don't know it) and they are calling "Bob", "Jack" and "Jack" is called "Bob" and now we're 6 years down the road and then they discover the switch. What now? The names they are called don't match the right birth certificate. Do you just roll with it and explain to them that their driver's license will actually have their brother's name on it? Or do a legal name change and switch the names? Or not bother because it's not like anyone really pays close attention to the birth certificate, just as long as they have one (unless you've been a US president for a couple of years)?

Or should I just name them both Darryl?

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How, exactly, would the mix-up possibly be discovered? This sounds like a hypothetical situation which could never actually happen. – Beofett May 19 '11 at 2:08
I was thinking fingerprints--I read those aren't actually identical even with twins. Do they not do fingerprints at birth (I really don't know...just assumed they did)? – Jay May 19 '11 at 2:24
They do footprints (and they're soooo cute) but I don't remember if they do fingerprints or not. I think not; they'd be too small. – Bill Clark May 19 '11 at 5:46
They generally don't do fingerprints, and even the footprints are made as a memento and a novelty. They are useless as a "forensic" tool because you can't compare an infant footprint with a 6yo and they're not made with that kind of precision. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 19 '11 at 6:16
Just to confirm, no, they do not do finger prints at birth. You can opt in for a heel prick which will sometimes result in a blood type test - although generally it's done for genetic testing. If you mixed up, you probably wouldn't know / it wouldn't matter. – Swati May 26 '11 at 15:30

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I'd change the names -- in the records, not what you call your sons -- to avoid any legal issues further down the line. If you're in the United States, there actually is no official "legal name change" procedure in most states, and anyone is allowed to change their name to (almost) anything they want, simply by beginning to use the new name. You can read more about it here:

However, even though a "legal name change" isn't technically required, you probably want to establish some kind of formal record since the whole point in this case is to establish an official paper trail in case there's ever an issue of matching the correct birth certificate to the correct person.

As for driver licenses and other official paperwork, I don't think there'd actually be any need to use anything other than the name your sons are known by. If you already had social security cards issued, you might want to request new ones with the "changed" names to avoid any confusion there, but otherwise I'm assuming at age six there isn't a lot of other paperwork besides the birth certificates that will have the "wrong" name on them.

...and speaking as the father of identical twin boys, I have to ask: How could you?! :) My wife and I were so paranoid about mixing ours up that we painted their big toes different colors until we managed to identify physical features we could use to distinguish them. For shame!

EDIT: I surmise from your other post that you haven't actually mixed up your own children (yet) but are just planning ahead for the worst-case scenario, which is quite admirable. So please ignore my previous scolding. :)

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+1 Being a twin, and married to one, we both feel this is the best way. The kids get to keep the names they've become used to; the paperwork must be adjusted. I couldn't imagine having to swap my name with my brother!! – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 19 '11 at 6:43

I think I would just ignore it. How would one even figure this out? Their name has been what it has for some time, and they are legal, so changing names would just complicate things...

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-1 Sorry, but ignoring can be dangerous because if one gets into serious legal trouble then, worst case, the other one could be made punishable. Don't risk that. Same theory applies to any and all legal contracts; whatever Twin A signs, Twin B should never be made liable for, or able to claim. Think of jobs, loans, ownership of property and other high-value items, etc. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 19 '11 at 6:47
@torbengb: Yes, but how would anyone ever prove that the name mix-up occurred? Unless there's some very good evidence, maybe fingerprints at birth or something like that, in which case, I would agree, the legal name change should be done, but aside from that... – PearsonArtPhoto May 19 '11 at 12:45
In Jay's question, it was stated that the mix-up is discovered at age 6. If I'm wildly successful and my twin isn't, I'd hate to have looming in the background the knowledge that everything I signed and own is actually in his name, not mine. I'm just saying that when the mistake is known then it's wisest to fix it. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 19 '11 at 13:09
@TorbenGB: the point is, I think, that it is completely impossible to discover such a mistake. Birth certificates simply do not contain enough information to distinguish identical twins (or heck, even same-gender fraternal twins). – Martha Jul 27 '11 at 19:13
@Martha, if it's completely impossible to discover, then this whole question is moot. It asks, what do you do when it is discovered, so we must assume this discovery has enough credence to have potential legal impact. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jul 27 '11 at 19:22

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