10 Tricks for Telling Twins Apart

Avoid mix ups with these strategies for telling identical twins apart

One of the characteristics of twins—particularly monozygotic (identical) twins—is a similarity in physical appearance. When twins look remarkably alike, it can be difficult to tell them apart.

For families with twins, or for those that know them well, it's not much of an issue. Somehow, each twin takes on an individual persona that makes them immediately recognizable as themselves. But twin mix-ups remain an item of concern so here are 10 tricks for telling twins apart. 


Watch for Personality Cues

Twin babies

Jill Lehmann Photography / Moment / Getty Images

While some twins embrace the mystique of being indistinguishable, others will strive to make themselves known as individuals. A mom of 3-year-old identical twin girls lets her kids set things straight.

She explains, "My girls have made it easy for me to tell them apart. First, Emma is very adamant that nobody gets her confused with her sister, and will correct you if you get it wrong (and they are only 3-years-old!). Second, their personalities are polar opposites of each other, so this has also made it easy for everyone in the family to tell them apart. There are subtle features I can point out to strangers, but they usually shrug their shoulders and say, 'I can't see any difference.'" 


Assign Colors

"I have 7-year-old identical twin daughters called Harper and Hayden and it is very hard to tell them apart. Harper, who is older by a minute and 26 seconds, has a tiny scar next to her right eyebrow that helps us, but mostly we just dress Harper in pink, red, and white (which are her favorite colors) and we dress Hayden in black, blue, and green (her favorites)."

Of course, this trick only works as long as the twins cooperate and don't change their favorites. If both have a preference for purple or orange, it's time for a new strategy. 


Designate Right or Left

Raj is a dad of identical twin sons, Mani and Sairam. Now that they're 20 years old, he and his wife—as well as close relatives and friends—can tell them apart, but it is still confusing for many. But there's one distinguishing difference between them.

Like many twins, one is left-handed and one is right-handed. However, it's still impossible to know who's who on the phone unless they identify themselves.

Here's his tip from back in the baby days, "During childhood days, we were counseled by my wife's gynecologist to NOT try to make them look similar by dressing them up in similar clothes. We took that advice seriously and used different color clothes for them." 


Observe Their Behavior

Elle has best friends that are identical twins. Here is her strategy. "My best friends are identical twins. The way I tell them apart is by how they act around other people and their voices.

"The 'older' one is shyer and has a slightly higher-pitched voice, while the 'younger' twin is more social and bubbly, with a lower voice."

Thanks for that tip, Elle! If you spend some time observing twins, you'll notice subtle differences such as these and can use them as cues. 


Take a Peek Under the Diaper

While boy/girl twins are not identical twins, most babies—regardless of gender or whether they're even a twin—look pretty much the same. Think about it. Can you look at a picture of a newborn baby and tell whether it's a boy or a girl, especially without clues from clothing or hair?

If you're worried about mixing up fraternal boy/girl twins, don't worry. You can always take a peek at what's under the diaper and instantly recognize who's who.


Use a Color Key

Maureen is a mom of twin girls and explains her system. "My daughters are now 8 years old, and since they were born we have color-coded them because they look so much alike.

"Kate has four letters and we have dressed her in pink (four letters). The other defaulted to purple or yellow. Color coding remains a great way to help their teachers tell them apart today." This is a great idea, especially for helping others tell twins apart at school.

The secret to success with this strategy is to come up with a key that is consistent and easy to remember, connecting the twins' names and identities with a visual sign. 


Avoid Picture Mixups

So maybe you have no problem telling twins apart when you're face to face. But pictures tell a different tale. Even parents who think their twins look nothing alike at the moment will get confused when they go back and look at pictures from previous years.

Fuzzy memories make it hard to distinguish who is who in the picture. In the old days, parents were encouraged to make a note on the back of photographs. But digital photos are another story. Unless you're diligent about tagging every shot, you'll never remember who is who.

Make it easier on yourself by including some clues in your pictures such as a left/right system.

The baby that resided on my right side in the womb was Baby A. Her middle name starts with R, and we tried to situate her on the right side of pictures. Baby B, from the left, has a name that starts with L and took the left-side spot. 

Another strategy suggested by a clever dad of twins was to plant a marker in the picture—in his case, a small piece of paper with the letter "A" on it to designate Baby A. If you don't want to be that obvious, you could use more subtle clues, like a favorite toy, colored pacifier or accessory. Of course, not every picture can be staged and that's when you have to get creative. 


Accessorize Them

Accessories are adorable, and a fun trick for telling twins apart. Hats, socks, or headbands designed for infants are a perfect way to distinguish twins, even if you choose to dress them in matching outfits.

For a more permanent option, consider tiny bracelets or anklets to adorn your twins' wrists or ankles. Earrings are another choice for parents who elect to pierce their babies' ears. 


Paint Tiny Toenails

If you're not comfortable with accessorizing your babies, you can create another small sign to identify them. Some just use a marker to make a small dot—or perhaps an initial letter—in an out-of-the-way yet accessible spot, such as the bottom of the foot.

Be sure to choose a location that won't end up in the baby's mouth and a marker with ink that's safe for the baby's skin. Of course, you'll have to reapply the sign as it wears away, or washes off in the bath.

If you're seeking a more permanent solution, try this trick from Jessye: "My twins are now 4 months old, and it's really hard for everyone else to tell them apart, but I just know. I don't need little things but their dad and the rest of the world do, so in the beginning, I painted one's toenail." 

Tiny toenails are easy to target with a small dab of distinctive nail color. Toes are a better option than fingers, which spend too much time close to baby's mouth—or in a twin sibling's mouth. 


Use Physical Variations

Look hard enough and you'll find subtle physical variations in twins. Birthmarks, freckles, or moles appear in different spots. Mirror image twins may have hair whorls or cowlicks that spiral in different directions. 

Idgey is an identical twin. She says that, as babies, she and her twin were so much alike that no one could tell the difference. Using a name band wasn't effective because they kept slipping off due to their small size.

She jokes, "I may have been born as Erin, rather than Imogen!" She explains her parents' attempts to tell them apart. "It got to the point that they were going to tattoo a small blue dot on one of our heels when Erin got a freckle on her leg! Saved!" 

Mai Neng Vang explains that she tells her twin friends apart by differences in their height and smiles. Personally, this was our trick for telling our twins apart. One of my twin daughters was born with a birthmark on the side of her head.

It was a quick and easy way to distinguish her from her sister until her hair grew over it a few months later! But I often think of it as God's little wink, a gift to help us tell them apart during the hazy, crazy baby days with twinfants. 

By Pamela Prindle Fierro
 Pamela Prindle Fierro is the author of several parenting books and the mother of twin girls.