Working with Twins
June 8, 2010 2:44 PM   Subscribe

I work with a group of teenagers which includes a pair of twins. I am still learning to tell them apart and often have to ask them which one they are. They handle it well, but am sure that it gets old. Sometimes I just try to guess, other times I just ask them directly. Can you give me any advice on the best way to handle this until I am able to recognize them for sure?
posted by roaring beast to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you ask them how people tell them apart? One of my best friends is a twin, and has a birthmark on her hand that you wouldn't notice automatically, but can see without asking to see her hands every time.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:47 PM on June 8, 2010

Even identical twins have easily observable features they do not share (in addition to stuff like fingerprints etc.). For example, moles. Really, you should be able to zero in on something that is clearly a distinguishing characteristic. We had identical twin girls at school, and I was able to tell them apart with ease, just by noticing the differences in skin.
posted by VikingSword at 2:48 PM on June 8, 2010

Speaking as a twin, I have to say that I just got used to it. I prefer to be asked outright to people guessing which one I am, as it give me a chance to point out my distinguishing features: gap between teeth, or the scar on my forehead. If one of the twins doesn't volunteer a distinguishing feature, you might ask one of them how other people tell the difference between them.
posted by pickypicky at 2:49 PM on June 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

Twin here, pickypicky has it.
posted by too bad you're not me at 2:50 PM on June 8, 2010

In a pinch, you can always start calling them by their last name. "Jones, come here."

But seriously, for some reason, I've known *a lot* of twins. It's just a matter of time before you can just tell them apart instinctively.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:53 PM on June 8, 2010

seriously, just ask.

but, for my twin foster brothers it was tone of voice. even has 5 year olds, chris had a deep booming voice and owen had a normal kid voice.

it's also helpful to try to tell them apart when they're standing side by side and remember those differences for when they're not.
posted by nadawi at 2:53 PM on June 8, 2010

Ask them. They've dealt with this, literally, their whole lives, and they'll appreciate you asking instead of floundering -- it shows you respect them.
posted by davejay at 2:54 PM on June 8, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. I am at the point where I think I am starting to be able to tell them apart, but sometimes .. fail. I'll keep working on it I guess.
posted by roaring beast at 3:00 PM on June 8, 2010

I used to work with twin adults and I initially thought I would never be able to tell them apart. After a few months they looked so distinct to me I couldn't figure out why I ever had a hard time telling who was who.
posted by ian1977 at 3:02 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I have twins on a baseball team, I ask their parents how they tell the kids apart.
posted by donpardo at 3:16 PM on June 8, 2010

I knew a pair of identical twins in high school, only one of whom was in my morning classes. At first I made a point of noticing what she was wearing so that I'd be able to tell them apart when we were all together in the afternoon. However, as others have said, over time the differences in their voices, posture, and mannerisms -- along with more straightforward characteristics like moles -- became overwhelming. Do you sometimes recognize friends by their gait from far away before you can see their faces? Kind of like that. But I think it helps the process along if once you've identified them on a given day you 'label' them by clothing or some other temporary feature.
posted by ecsh at 3:20 PM on June 8, 2010

Ears are surprisingly varied. They're like fingerprints. No, seriously. Check out their ears for a tell.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:23 PM on June 8, 2010

Another twin here. Just ask. "Hey you!" and pointing should be avoided.
posted by Stynxno at 5:43 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure my answer is going to be helpful, because my grandmother was a twin and I've known a lot of twins, so I "just know" how to tell twins apart.

Start by erasing the notion that they are twins from your head. Learn their individual personalities, voices/tones, interests, etc. Nobody is *identical*. Once you find those individual pieces of personality, I suspect it will all come together.

When I have twins on a baseball team, I ask their parents how they tell the kids apart.

As well-meaning as this might be, I don't think this would be taken well.
posted by gjc at 7:06 PM on June 8, 2010

gjc has it, I think. I've only known one set of twins, but their personalities, mannerisms, etc. were different enough that I could tell them apart by observing them talking to other people.
posted by coppermoss at 7:40 PM on June 8, 2010

I currently have a set of mirror twins in my classes. I first distinguished them by their unique freckle over her eye, that the other twin doesn't have. As the freckle has faded, their mirror-ness means they part their hair differently. The twin with the freckle parts her hair in a way that obscures the vanishing freckle. So much easier than staring to find the freckle. YMMV...good luck!

FWIW, they don't mind people asking which one so you can address them by name.
posted by bach at 7:54 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

In a pinch, you can always start calling them by their last name. "Jones, come here."

Please don't do this. It conveys that the person is fungible, and the teen years - when trying to find your identity, is the worst time to be treated like you're not a person in your own right, just an interchangeable half of one identity.

Not being able to identify a twin is fine - we're used to it, we expect it. Implying that you don't care which twin you're addressing - suggesting that it doesn't matter - not fine. It better to guess and be wrong than to shoehorn us into the same person.

(What pickypicky said.)
posted by -harlequin- at 9:16 PM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

My sister and I are not twins, we don't look or act alike. she is 2 years older than me and has completely different hair colour and skin tone and I have still been called by her name most of my life (even by my parents!). Being able to tell the difference is only half the battle, you have to also remember which name goes with which sibling.
posted by missmagenta at 8:20 AM on June 9, 2010

When I have twins on a baseball team, I ask their parents how they tell the kids apart.

As well-meaning as this might be, I don't think this would be taken well.

I don't ask it in a "oh my god that's so amazing" way. I go to the parent and say something along the lines of "What's the easiest way for me to tell at a glance which boy I'm talking to."

No parent has ever taken offense.
posted by donpardo at 2:39 PM on June 10, 2010

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