My family has an appalling habit: appalling nicknames.
When I was a kid, I had some nicknames that I didn’t mind so much. One was “Cubby,” after the little guy in the Mouseketeers.(1) As I got older and my character and personal traits became more evident, I acquired another one.
I’m not saying the nickname was unwarranted. I was, after all, the child who gave myself a fat lip (2) the day before a ballet recital where we were all supposed to wear red lipstick.(3) I was the teen who managed, while trying to get out of the back seat of a four-door car, managed to land stretched out on the pavement with both feet still in the car.(4)
These things happened in the days before self-esteem was invented, of course. No one would refer to a child as “SuperKlutz” or “Stinkpot” nowadays. I hope.
The odd thing was, my entire family had appalling nicknames. My father habitually called my mother “Old Squaw,” which at the time was not considered politically incorrect. (5) And she didn’t mind. I don’t know what she called my father in private, but I bet it was appalling as well. My sister was “Fuss-budget.” Our family also contained an “Uncle Spud” and an “Aunt Pete.” (6)
So, whom do you think I married? A man whose usual nickname for me is “Old Boot.” I’m not even sure how that one got started. We also have incomprehensible-to-others nicknames for each other, such as “Doodle,” “Ler,” and “Thing.”(7) His family included “One-Eyed Uncle Francis,” who of course, had two eyes. No explanation was ever given for that, either.
Of course, we make fun of “normal” nicknames, calling each other “honey-kissie-lambie-pie” or “sugar-cake-darling-dumpling” until everyone around gags and needs a quick hit of insulin.
The thing is, I think that most families have their own private languages that no one outside understands. They may include nicknames for foods (10), cars (11), exes (12), friends (13), acquaintances (14), restaurants (15), body parts (16), and probably technology, TV shows, and toys, for all I know.
Most of our nicknames don’t get used outside the family. The fact that Dan calls me “Bunny” has until now been as big a secret as that I once belonged to a sorority. (17) Let’s keep it just between us, shall we?
(1) My sister was “Buddy.” I couldn’t help thinking that my father really wanted boys. Or wasn’t restrained by gender norms. Or both, I guess.
(2) By bonking a chair I was carrying into a screen door. Geez, did you think I punched myself?
(3) The ballet lessons were supposed to make me more graceful. See how well that worked?
(4) No seatbelt involved, either, in case you were wondering.
(5) For any number of reasons.
(6) The reasons for Pete’s nickname are lost in the mists of time. Her real name was Edna Mae, which, come to think of it, may have been the reason.
(7) He also calls me Bunny, Rabbit, Rabbi, Baby Orange (which he also calls one of the cats) (8), Scooter, Boomameter (9) and, in a throwback to our younger days, Old Mesa Knees.
(8) I’ve written before about our cats’ nicknames (http://wp.me/p4e9wS-8A). Some of them aren’t too flattering either, like Horrible Mr. Horrible Face.
(9) No. I have no idea what that means either. When asked, Dan says it is “something that measures boomas.”
(10) I had a recipe for a sweet baked good involving pastry crust, eggs, cream cheese, sugar, and optional fruit topping. My husband kept calling it “flan.” I told him that wasn’t the thing’s name. “What is it then?” he demanded. I was stumped. “Well, not flan!” I replied. “Not-flan” it has been ever since. After I thought it over, “Way-Too-Big Cheese Danish” would have been more accurate. But by then it was too late.
(11) “The Washing Machine” or “The Demon-Possessed Ventura.”
(12) “The Rotten Ex-Boyfriend Who Almost Ruined My Life,” to give a printable example.
(13) “Nearly Normal Beth,” “Jerk Boy,” “Michigan Dude.”
(14) “Fish-Face,” “Binky.”
(15) “Chateau Blanc,” “La Frisch,” “Waffle Ho.”
(16) General, like “wing-wing” or “gazongas,” or specific, like “throbbing purple-headed warrior” or “quivering love pudding.”
(17) I also used to go by Dusty. But never Dust Bunny, thank God.