On Nicknames

On Nicknames

A few days before Christmas, our lovely neighbor Keri stopped by the apartment to drop off a Christmas present for us (aww) and chat while Bueller frolicked with her collie, Sargent. We talked about this and that, with occasional cautions to the ‘children’ to leave the cat be. Sarge is very well behaved, so he responds to a command of “Leave it” from another room, where as I constantly have to as Bueller: “Are you in something, bubbie?” A little while later, as Bill went to carry the nightstand we were giving Keri back to her apartment, I asked “Do you need help, Bubbie?” Keri started to laugh.

“Do you realize you just called your husband and your dog by the same nickname?”

After a good round of giggles, I told her that I did indeed know that I often refer to Bueller and Bill by the same name. It doesn’t bother either of them, and it simplifies my life a little bit. As I thought about it further, I realized that this was a bit uncommon for the general populace. All of my life, I’ve called almost everyone some form of nickname; oftentimes one person would have several affectionate monikers from me.

In college, a friend pointed out that I call my mom a whole range of maternal names, from Mommy to Ma to Kathryn (when I’m trying to get her attention). My best friend Stef is Bef or Beffie for BEst Friend forEver. Her husband, Robert, is Bert so their B-names go together. One of my friends is now “Goo” for no real reason, and my TAMS roommate was Duckie for the way she walked. My mother-in-law is Ms. Mercy, while Finnegan winds up being called Finnabin half the time. Bueller gets the brunt of the nicknames though: Bue, Bubbie, Bubsie, Chunk, Chunker, Lump-Lump, and on and on. 

When Keri pointed out my nickname overlap, I started to ponder my nicknaming motivations. Was it laziness? A sign of relational ownership? A tic leftover from childhood? Perhaps a combination of all three? When I call someone an endearment I’ve invented for them, it’s an indicator of our special relationship that goes beyond the simplicity of a given name. Of course, that’s why nicknames exist at all. So why so many nicknames for each person? That’s the question I haven’t yet answered. Maybe it’s the mental equivalent of having a large vocabulary or a sign of linguistic boredom with a simple sobriquet or perhaps it’s just that I like to talk too much.

In any case, I am sort of proud of my nicknaming habit. Each name is either a linguistic play or part of the relationship I have with that person. When Stef and I call each other Bef (yes, we’re both Bef) or Bill and Bueller are both Bubbie, they’re special to me in a way that’s encompassed by that name. That affectionate root makes my heart happy, even if it can be confusing for everyone else 🙂

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