Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What’s In a (Nick)name?

I’ve never really been a fan of nicknames.

It’s all Mom’s fault.

When I was little, people tried to shorten my name to “Ann,” thinking my middle name was “Marie.”

But I knew my middle name was “Joy,” chosen to reflect my parents’ emotions after waiting 11 years for a child. As a child, I could have cared less what people called me.

Mom, however, cared. She cared deeply. She let people know that calling me “Ann” was NOT an option.

“I named you Ann-Marie for a REASON,” she would insist. And while my mother is not a violent woman, her claws came out when people called me “Ann” or “Annie.”

The only exception to the rule was Mom’s brother, my Uncle Scott. For some reason, Mom allowed him to call me Raggedy Ann. I think it more a reflection on the scrapes I managed to get myself into than out of affection. Either way, it’s the only nickname Mom tolerated.

I was named after Dad’s mother, Annamarie, and Mom thought adding a hyphen would make my name unique and different. Well, let me tell you, that hyphen has been a thorn in my side ever since.

I feel, I really do, for people named D’shawn and the like. We spend half our lives incorporating the punctuation into our names, and people just think it’s weird.

When my purse was stolen out of my office, I had to apply for a new Social Security card. When I spelled my name to the woman at the Social Security office, she told me there was no way to put a hyphen on the card.

“But it’s part of my NAME!” I protested. “Are you leaving the ‘e’ out of other peoples’ names?”

She was not amused.

Someone once asked me how I felt about having “two names.” I said, “I don’t HAVE two names. What are you talking about?”

They were like, “You know. ‘Ann’ and ‘Marie,’ it’s like two names.”

I sighed. “The hyphen makes it all one word.” I neglected to add, “Did you MISS second grade?”

When Brett and I first met, he asked me if he could call me “Ann.”

I said, “Sure! If I can call you Brrrr.” (thinking “you clod.”)

Ah, you’re right. I don’t know WHY he called me up for a second date.

Thanks to Mom’s dogged determination, I squeaked safely though most of my childhood sans nickname. (There was the Moby Dick incident, but let’s not dwell on that.)

I, myself, violated Mom’s rule in eighth grade. When Mr. T passed out the forms for our eighth grade diplomas, I wrote my name as “Annie.” I’m not really sure why, maybe as a tiny rebellion for an otherwise pretty obedient kid.

I still remember being seated with my parents at Lino’s for the presentation. I was called up, accepted my diploma, and brought it proudly back to my seat.

Mom took one look at it and said, “Who is ‘Annie Trotter,’ and why do you have her diploma?”

Mom got the diploma “fixed” over the summer and insisted I’d appreciate it one day.

Thanks to Mom’s indoctrination, I became pretty regimented about my own name. I became an advocate for hyphens everywhere. I didn’t think twice about correcting people who called me “Ann,” after meeting me one measly time.

I considered myself lucky, since I’d observed others trying to break the nickname cycle.

My dad was called Tiny (because he was NOT) and Larry (short for his middle name of Lawrence) while growing up. He told me what a great relief it was to enter college and introduce himself as “Bob.”

“No 300 pound kid wants to be known as ‘Tiny,’” he’d insist, revisiting the trauma.

One of my Tennessee cousins was called “Frankie” growing up. At some point, he became the grown-up, handsome, father of four he is today. For a long time, he has tried, unsuccessfully, to get his “northern” (that’s us!) family to call him “Frank.” No such luck. He will FOREVER be “Frankie” to those of us who remember the fun-loving minx he was as a kid.

Frankie’s sister, Nicole, went through a similar phase. She was a beautiful child with a perfectly tanned complexion. Her mom introduced her to us as “Coco.” We dutifully called her “Coco” for years, until she finally stood up and said, “My name is NICOLE,” in a tone indicating she meant business.

It was the same way for a kid I knew in high school. We called him “Rusty” for what seemed like forever, until he started insisting his name was “Timothy.” His “official” name was foreign to us, and though we started calling him that to his face, whenever he wasn’t around, he was still “Rusty” in conversation.

He still is, actually.

Two of my cousins from Connecticut were “Beth Ann” and “Deborah Sue.” Forever, it seemed, I used those names, until my cousin Beth told me, “I’m just Beth. She’s just Deb. You don’t have to use our WHOLE names.”

Ah, got it.

My own husband was called “Bert” and “Bertram” growing up.

Did he like these nicknames?

Let me just say, if you ever want to get beaten to a pulp by the (normally passive) 6’4”, 250 pound giant I married – just call him “Bertram.” You’ll be coughing up blood for a week.

He still seethes when he hears it.

I mean, I wouldn’t even TRY to call him that, and he LOVES me.

Brett’s dad used to call one of the grandkids “Stinky.” Even though we were just married at the time, I made Brett promise to NEVER let his dad call our kid “Stinky.” That’s one nickname just asking for trouble (and a stint in juvie).

That’s not to say all nicknames are bad. In college, my first roommate called me “Murray,” out of affection. My third roommate called me “Ava Maria,” and sometimes just “Ava.” But neither was a replacement for my name.

Feeling the way we do about nicknames, it’s pretty hypocritical that we’re calling Sam all sorts of nicknames while he’s in the womb.

At first, we tried to stop ourselves from calling him “Sammy.” No luck so far.

Also, we have tried, valiantly, to stop talking to him in that squeaky-singsong voice, so high-pitched only the neighborhood dogs can hear it. Also, not happening yet.

We’ve also called him:
Little Bud

Little Punk
Samuel Adams (I think president; Brett thinks beer)
Samster (sounds cute and cuddly, like a hamster)
Samsod (makes me think of him as a hockey player, slamming guys into the side of the rink)
Samuel L. Jackson (I like to think my son will be able to kick butt - only in defense of himself and helpless others, of course)

Argh! We have become that which we hate!

I can’t see the future, so I don’t know what our success rate will be in calling a “Sam” a “Sam.”

Or if in 25 years, when he’s introduced as "Samsod," he’ll roll his eyes, and blame me.

At least, I’ll be able to tell him he’s lucky I didn’t stick a hyphen in there anywhere.


CANDICE said...

Ha Ha. I'll call him what ya want. It's so hard not to say Sammy. I also like Samsung and Samsod. Awesome. If I say Samsung. I will say it in a Chinese voice though.... I might even change Samsod over to Sammysod... Just yell at me if your trying to stick with Sam instead of all the other Nicknames. I personally love nicknames. Form of endearment I think. (Unless there bad)

Alice said...

As someone who has been regularly called "Allison," "Alisa," "April," "April," and even "Dallas," I understand about being a stickler about your name. Good on your mom for getting that diploma changed.

However, nicknames are definitely a form of endearment--Lucy started out as "Goose" and Elaine consequently, "Duck," and it went on from there. They each have 8-10 nicknames. In fact, the other day at the pool, Lucy yelled out to Elaine, "SNOGGY! IT'S TIME TO GO!" :-)

Alice said...

P.S. One of those "Aprils" in my diatribe above was supposed to be "Amy." Proofreading = our friend.

Juliet said...

I did past the second grade!!! And it has always been a Joy, to keep your name correct. Except when I have referred to you at time as, AnnaMariealbagetty!

You not only make me cry at times, you also make me laugh. Loved this post.

I wonder if I will ever say to Sam, "Come here you little twerp!"

Rebekah said...

My mom was a stickler about my name as well. She would say, "You're a Rebekah, not a Becky". Granted, she had her own nicknames for me (which embarrass me to this day), and there was the time when Ella was still learning how to talk and called me Rekka :)

I'm also occasionally called Bekah which I don't mind. After years of being Rebekah I will agree I am not a Becky, nor am I a Beck.

I don't mind nicknames, however for my own kids I don't really have any. Not that I don't love them, but I love their names. For me they are just Karah and Vincent (and no, he is not a Vinny). Occasionally I will say Vince, but not usually.

I think nicknames are up to the parents and also seem to depend on the child's name as well. So I say .... say whatever you like. You're the mom after all! :)

October said...

I think nicknames frequently come from siblings. But parents can always insist. As far as hyphens...I'm on the other side of the battle: there is no hyphen between my last names... no that does not mean that my last name is the last word... ugh!

Jennittia said...

I must agree with October about nicknames coming from the siblings. And somehow they seem to stick and are so cute! In our house, thanks to Bryce, Tyler will forever be Ty-Ty, and thanks to Judson, Kristen will forever be Kiki. Paul and I talk about our princess Kristen on her wedding day being given a toast by her little brothers "here's to our Kiki!"

By the way, I love Samsod-- just a cool combo.

Ann-Marie said...

You could be right - if nicknames come from siblings, that may be why I escaped getting one!

Come to think of it, I've called you "J" for just about forever!