“Mary’s Mother” Riddle


Riddle: “Mary’s mother has five children. Her first four children’s names are April, May, June, and July. What is the fifth child’s name?”

Answer: “Mary”


H is currently a student at USC. She originally heard this riddle from someone at her elementary school in San Diego, California, where the students would tell it amongst each other. After sharing the riddle, H remarked that the important part of the joke seemed to be the “gotcha” twist. They also noted that the names of the four other children didn’t seem to matter as much as there being a pattern to them that might help trick the riddle’s recipient. 


H already pointed out many interesting points of analysis about this riddle. Like H, I find it significant that the point of the riddle seems to be to fool the riddle recipient into forgetting the beginning of the riddle, leading them to give an incorrect answer that would seem logical to the sequence of names. I personally think that the desire to trick someone using this riddle ties in closely with the elementary setting in which H originally heard it. As has been discussed, much of children’s folklore stems from trying to establish a sense of authority in a world in which children have very little. By knowing the answer to this riddle, children may temporarily hold authority over a peer or adult who doesn’t. It is also worth noting that knowing the riddle or a similarly structured one creates an in-group; those children who have been tricked by the riddle can then go on to trick others. By learning the structure of the riddle, the recipient also learns to pay closer attention and look for important details in future riddles or logic puzzles.