Nicknames. Pet Names. Code Names.
Name Proliferation. No More
Nicknames. Pet Names. Code Names. Hashtags. Name proliferation is spreading faster than germs. It’s too much. People should be given one name and stick with it.
Why today even pets have pet names! Just ask our dog, Olga. We call her by such a host of diminutives that it is no wonder she doesn’t know if she’s coming or going! And forget about staying! She doesn’t stand still for it!
Mobsters sport colorful names like “the rat ” or “icepick.” That’s tradition. So be it.
Spies and other stealthy souls slink about using aliases by the dozen. I get that.
But what about artistic sorts who favor pseudonyms, stage names, and pen (computer?) names. Mark Twain aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Why both? Pick one.
And as for the rest of us mere mortals? Sorry, no excuses for us. We need to live with the names we’re given because this multiple naming and nicknaming of people (and pets) sows confusion, consternation, and family mayhem. I know from bitter firsthand experience.
Gil, NOT Neil
Consider the complicated name case of my brother Gil.
Gil was my beloved, 21-years-older-than-I, big brother. His full name was Neil Gilbert Galatz. According to Jewish tradition, babies are named to honor deceased relatives. Neil was for a relative on my father’s side. Gilbert was for somebody on my mother’s side.
When baby Neil came home, my mother’s mother helped care for him. She, of course, ignored the Neil name and called him Gil for her relative. Now back in the day, Grandma was a tall, powerful, determined woman, possessed, I’m told, of a fiery Hungarian temper—a real “Paprikash” as they used to say. Nobody contradicted her and so, baby Neil became Gil.
The family said Gil. Friends said Gil. Gil said Gil—until he began his professional life as an attorney. Then he became Neil G. Galatz.
Using his full name worked for him. But it caused trauma for me, the adoring baby sister. I’d be telling mutual friends something about Gil, and they’d stare blankly at me. Who was I talking about? Did I have another brother they’d never heard of? An imaginary friend? A new boyfriend?
Pity my poor sister-in-law. She too lived in a parallel universe, sometimes referring to Gil and Neil in the same conversation! I wonder if new acquaintances thought she had two husbands.
Nicknames. Pet Names
Nicknames aren’t the only source of trouble in my family. Names in general spell danger! My mother frequently went through a round-robin of familial monikers before she’d get to mine. I could, in fact, tell her mood by the sequence of names she rattled off.
If she was just a little annoyed at me, she’d call me “Julie”—my father Julius’ nickname. If she thought I was being stubborn, she’d call me “Ida”—her mother’s name. If she thought I had done something truly wicked, she’d call me … Oops, I better not say. That relative is still living and won’t appreciate the comparison!
Grandma, in her later years, used to recite a genealogical list of who’s who before getting to the right person! Her four children, her own multiple siblings, sisters-in-law, cousins. Sometimes, just to speed things up, I’d answer to the first name she called—unless she was asking me to chop onions; then I’d use the lengthy roll call as a chance to escape the room and the dreaded tear-inducing onion task!
So, Parents, Seriously …
And so, to all you first-time parents, I say this: think carefully when selecting your child’s first and middle names. Consider how those names will be shortened and what nicknames and pet names will emerge on playgrounds. Additionally, contemplate what unfortunate words are formed when only their initials are jotted down.
Check thoroughly all the current—and past—meanings of the names you are considering, not just in your own native tongue, but in ALL languages across the planet. Given the global nature of communications and business, you certainly want to avoid any embarrassing cross-cultural “oops” moments down the road!
Also, check with the hippest young person in your family to see if there are some emerging—and unfortunate—meanings to the name you are ready to slap on your sweet babe’s birth certificate.
And if you’re a grandparent, for Heaven’s sake, please exercise whatever shred of remaining influence you have with your children to see that they DO NOT name their babies for musical terms or other such clever themed ideas. I was friends with a girl in college, the youngest of eight. By the time she was born, her musician-parents had run out of ideas and named her “La La.” She hated it!
A Final Word of Warning
And lest you forget, be sure to insert your future child’s or grandchild’s name in that 1964 hit song, “The Name Game,” by Shirley Ellis. Trust me, you do not want the child humiliated by any embarrassing rhyming incidents with the name Chuck! Trust me, my pet, you do not.
Great piece. As a kid they called me Sam. I have absolutely no idea why, nor do I know where it came from. I hated it. And yes, the poor Chuck’s of our generation took a major hit with the name game. Keep writing. You inspire me.
Do old friends still call you Sam? It is funny (and not so funny) how names stick. And, as always, thank you for the kind words.