On Motherhood & Sanity

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What’s in a name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet.” W. Shakespeare

Nicknames are a very South American tradition. In my home of four siblings, none of us grew up referred to by our names, but rather by nicknames that were mostly a result of not being able to pronunciate each other’s name properly. And so Lucia became Shia, Francis became Chachi, Isolina became soli. Me? That was a bit more complicated. My siblings were older so they could pronounce my name. They were also old enough to find it funny when my mother, according to tradition and for my own benefit, shaved my hair in the hope that it would grow out healthier and stronger. I looked like a coconut, and so I became Cocoy.

These nicknames stuck, so much so that one of my sisters had to use hers on the wedding invitations, or else no one would have known who was getting married. The other tried unsuccessfully to revert back to her original name several times. My brother, very much like the artist formerly known as prince, changed from one nickname to another after his divorce. And me? Well, by the time I got to college my nickname already had a nickname of its own, even my last name had acquired one, I was kuki viksvaporub. Now I just sign off as K (pronounced Kâ).

And then came the time to name our children. My brother went for exotic Russian ones. My sister for classic Spanish, selected with a preconceived nickname in mind (which of course did not stick, you can’t assign nicknames). The other sis, after years of fighting (and loosing to) her nickname, has strict household rules where no one gets called anything but their full name.


Well, we were certain we wanted short, two syllable names that would be pronounced the same in all household languages (Spanish, Italian and English, in case you were wondering). You would have thought that after putting in that much effort the names would have stuck, but we begun using nicknames already in-utero. My daughter was “La Cloti” from Clotilde, an imaginary name we gave her after playing what’s-the-ugliest-name-you-can-think-of. Then she was born, and from week three she could climb up a tree (ok, I’m exaggerating, but she did walk at 8.5 months, and play ball at 10 months, and….) so we call her monkey.

Then came number two, (from Dr Seuss’ thing one and thing two), and his in-utero name was “chopito”, which is a very small squid usually eaten deep fried, (very much what he resembled in-utero). Then he was born and long story short, we now call him “trouble”. He has golden curls and the smile of an angel, but god gave him those looks so that he would survive childhood, cause it’s hard to get too mad at anyone that looks like he just floated down for a quick visit, even if he just drew with black marker over the eighteenth century Chinese cabinet.

In my home nicknames sprout like wild mushrooms. And to make matters worse, and although they all have a source or explanation, I find it hard not to assign them indiscriminately. So then I find myself in peculiar situations, like when my daughter corrected me

- “momma he’s the tadpole, I’m the midget!”

Who knew, I just thought they were both little people.

This post isn’t really leading anywhere. I’d been thinking about it since I read @l8enough’s frustration with not having a good nickname, and just read @aspiringmama’s blog where she –again- refers to her daughter simply as “buttercup”, and it got me thinking: were do all these names come from?

Some people believe that if you are not given the name you are meant to have at birth you will find it along the way. Some cultures rename their children after a few years, to a more appropriate name that suits the personality better. In Cambodia, where I effectively morphed from previous-me to mommy-me, the locals have the habit of calling each other by their last syllable (given that our staff’s names were Ming’na and Sina it put me in the awkward position of having to call them both “Na”), and it got me thinking that according to that tradition I would be “Ca” (or K in Spanish pronounced Kâ) ….which is my nickname! Et voilá, full circle.

Do you or your kids’ nicknames have stories? I’d love to hear them.


Alex@LateEnough said...

My nickname would be Iw... which is a lot like Ew. So thanks. A lot.

(Ps. very cool that your name actually did come full circle tho!)

angelica said...

what name ends on Lw? your names ends with "ex" which is like "X", like some super hero, actually pretty bad ass

Soli said...

Having a nick name, and three names.. what I have found is that you get an identity crisis every time someone has to call your name... or even when you have to TELL someone your name,.. because no mater what you say you are always lying... so yes, my kids have one name each, and no nicknames allowed, so someday they will be dying to have one... and I will be the bad guy...

angelica said...

I don't think nicknames per se are a good thing or a bad thing....
On my case it's also confusing, but as long as they don't ask me where I am from I'm happy

Fran said...

My nickname and name actually define different stages in my life... I just got too old to be "Chachi" at work, and decided on Fran (Short for Francisco which I never used anyway)... My friends from early years who also collide with my new friends made the transition, but old friends from "previous lifes" and family still call me Chachi... which makes me feel funny when I call one of them in presence of my new friends and coleagues and identify myself as "Chachi"... The word in spanish is synonimous to "cool" so it makes me seem like a little conceited unless I explain...

Anonymous said...

My puppy got "Satan"(and it stuck). People don't like it but it is really accurate since she acts as possesed by dark forces. She is really sweet though, when she feels like it.

Diana said...

I don’t have a nickname, my brother and sister do, but not me, and that made me feel left out as a child, so I gave all of my kids a nickname to show them how much I loved them.
Well I didn’t actually gave them the nickname, they made it for each other, but I used them then, and even now that they are grownup’s.