If you’re anything like me, you might be spending a lot of your time floating about on social media, looking at memes, fun facts, quotes, and riddles. One riddle that seems to be making the rounds today is the one about someone’s mother. This is how the riddle goes….
Someone’s mother has 4 children. The first is called North. The second is called South. The third is called West. What is the name of the fourth child?
Someones mom 4 sons riddle. Of course, most of us would say ‘East’ but the riddle makers would have you believe that this is wrong. And the correct answer is “Someone”. But I believe that the answer they give is also wrong.
At first, this question seems like it has an easy answer “East”. But this is actually not the correct name, or is it?
The “Correct” Answer
According to all the smart-arse admins of these Instagram riddle pages, the correct answer is “Someone”. This mother has decided to name 3 of her children after compass points, but then decided to name her fourth child ‘someone’.
Their logic is actually pretty easy to see. If you look at the question, you can clearly see that it says ‘someone’s mother’. If I were to say ‘Susan’s mother’ you would know that I’m talking about the mother of a child called Susan. Therefore if I say ‘Someone’s mother’, you know that I’m talking about the mother of a child called ‘Someone’.
Correcting the “Correct Answer”
However, the answer to the riddle misunderstands how name’s and the English Language works. Someone is not a name itself, but rather a word we use when we don’t know the name of someone.
“Someone stole my wallet”. You don’t know the name of the person who stole your wallet, so you use ‘someone’ as a place holder name.
If I were to say “The cow’s body has 4 stomachs”, nobody is going to think that I’m talking about a particularly cow called “The cow’s body”, because everybody will understand that I’m talking about any cow.
Therefore, the fourth child doesn’t need to be called ‘Someone’.
Before this riddle, there was a similar one.
“Susan’s mother has 4 children: North, South, West. But what’s the name of the fourth child”.
I can understand why this one was changed. It’s way too easy. Simply by reading the sentence, you can figure out that the fourth child is called Susan. Therefore it’s hardly a riddle, but more of a joke.
However, it makes more sense than the newer version as ‘Susan’ is an actual name and it cannot be used as placeholder name in the same way that ‘Someone’ can.
You might be thinking that these are all weird names. However, compass names are actually more common than you think.
The most obvious example is the daughter of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, “North West.”
Whilst this name might have been met with ridicule, it was still established that North was a name that you could call a child.
Likewise, some people have called their children “West”. Singer Randy Houser has called his son “West Houser” and actress Marley Shelton has called her daughter “West Flynn”.
From what I’ve found, South and East are not as common for forenames.
In order for us to understand the word “Someone” it might be helpful for us to look into where this word came about.
The word someone is made up of the two parts “some” and “one”.
Some has several layers of etymology. Some comes from Old English “sum” (a certain one), which comes from the Proto-Germanic “Sumaz”, which comes from the Proto-Indo-Eurpopean “Sem”, which means one, or whole”.
And most of us will already be aware that ‘one’ is a number. Suggesting that when somebody says ‘someone’ they are only talking about one person, and not a group.
Somebody vs Someone
As well as someone, there is also the word “somebody”.
The word body comes from the old English Bodig of unknown origin. Essentially, somebody is saying “someone with a body”. But of course, we all have bodies.
Therefore, most would agree that someone and somebody mean the same thing. However, somebody can be seen as being a little more informal than someone.
However, if you were to change the riddle to “Somebody’s mother has 4 children”, the answer would still be “Somebody” and it would suffer from all of the same flaws.
The only time it could be said that someone is needed, and not somebody is when talking about entities without a body, although I’ve never met such a person.
People Called East
I’ve had a look on Facebook, and I have managed to find a few people with the name East, but nobody with the name “Someone”.
Although I’ve found a few Som Eone’s.
East is certainly not the most common name, however, you’re far more likely to find somebody called ‘East’ than you are to find somebody called ‘Someone’.
So if you want to base the answer of the riddle upon names that are actual names, it makes far more sense if the fourth child is called ‘East’ than someone.
Just A Bit Of Fun
But having said all of that, perhaps we are looking a bit too deeply into it.
The riddle wasn’t designed to be an analysis of the English language, or a critical look on how we name our children.
It was created as just a silly bit of fun for you and your friends to be able to laugh at.
And if it brings you joy, makes you think, makes you laugh and the stupidity, then surely it would have served it’s purpose?
But that doesn’t mean it’s not also fun to look at why the common answer is wrong.
When we first hear the Instagram riddle “Someone’s mother has 4 children. The first is called North. The second is called South. The third is called West. What is the name of the fourth child?”, our first instinct is to say “East”.
Our second is likely to be “Someone”.
However, someone is not a name, but rather a word we use to describe a person who’s name we don’t know. And because East is a real name (and Someone isn’t), it’s far more likely that the fourth child’s name is not Someone but East.