The Names We Answer to ....

>> Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I just came back from a family get-together with all my siblings and all their children, plus my mother and others. Family get-togethers are second only to High School reunions for bringing back old nicknames you'd rather forget. My extended family is just too much on this issue. They seem to take nicknames to unprecedented levels. Just for kicks, I'll slander them a little bit.

We hear so many odd names at family reunions. Some I know are family-only names (and the owner probably cringes as soon as the first syllable is heard). Others I'm sure have followed them out into the larger world. Just to slander my extended family even further, here is a little list: (And, yes, we actually use these)

1. Sheppie
2. Bootsie
3. Kitsy
4. Three
5. Hoss
6. Zene
7. Railroad
8. Buddy
9. Con (not so bad until you realize her name is Carolyn)
10. Snookie
11. Sweetie (I think he paid people for that nickname)
12. Cool
13. Zett

(I love you all, guys, you know I do.)

Perhaps the hardest thing about family gatherings (large reunions or small "let's all go to grandma's") is remembering what name you are supposed to answer to. Of course, there are your nicknames, based on things you supposedly said when you were Toddler's age. But then, you have to remember to answer to the name of your mother, your oldest sister, your youngest aunt, and your oldest niece. (There is a similar list for the boys.) If you are under 5, you'd better be prepared to answer to the name of all first cousins of your gender, and in general it is a good idea to answer to the name of every person in eyesight whose name starts with the same letter as yours. (And don't forget their nicknames as well.) Heck, when the beer starts flowing and the hour gets late, you'd be well advised to even answer to the name of the family pet. The pet's name is the last resort of the family member trying to avoid calling you, "You there."

My sister grew up answering to my aunt's name, and my poor niece has had to grow up answering to mine. The cycle never ends. I remember when Niece was Toddler's age (longer ago then I care to admit). I was staying at my sister's house, reading a book in another room. She yelled, "Karin, STOP IT!" Umm, stop what? Stop reading? What did I DO? A few minutes later, she said to her daughter, "I TOLD YOU TO STOP IT!" At that moment I stood up and rescued the poor two year old by saying, "No, actually you told ME to stop it."

Poor child. She hadn't yet learned. In moments of rapid speech, stress, excess liquor or just plain because, even your own mother won't call you by the right name. I am not immune to this issue. I regularly call Toddler by my nephew's name, and his youngest cousin regularly gets called by Toddler's name. It might have been easier on all of us if we had just gotten together and named all of our kids the same thing, but that seemed mean.

I had a great grandfather that probably would have approved of everyone having the same name. He had this odd habit of only being able to produce the name of his children or grandchildren in order. If he wanted to call a certain one, he'd start at the oldest and work his way down until they answered. If he was thinking about the youngest, this could take awhile. If he wanted a grandchild's attention, sometimes he had to go through two generations before he hit on the right name. The great grandchildren were all just "you there." At best they were known as "So and so's kid."

My great grandmother was a little bit better. She called all her great grandchildren by their parent's name. I was my mother for years, and I just learned to live with it.

I used to think I'd do better when I was older, but now I know better. Every time I get angry or frustrated and blurt out the name of a child who isn't a child anymore, isn't even mine, and isn't even in the house, I know I won't do better. I've lowered my standards. I will do my best not to call Toddler by any of the cat's names. I may, however, call any of the cats by Toddler's name.


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