Life with Liz: What’s in a name?
The other day, G asked me how “I knew” that his name was supposed to be G. I laughed, because although the Wonderful Husband and I had spent a lot of time discussing what to name our kids and carefully selected traditional family names that fit together, there is no doubt that G has turned out to be the most G “G” there ever was. I don’t know if he lived up to the name, or the name just fits him, but at this point, I can’t imagine having named him anything else.
A is named after his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather. It felt like it would have been bad luck to break the streak with him. Although G will answer and use his full name and his abbreviated nickname interchangeably, A absolutely hates when anyone shortens his full name and stubbornly refuses to answer, especially if they dare to add an “-ie” to the end of it. Since he and his dad share the same first name, we’ve defaulted into calling the Wonderful Husband the shorter name and allowed A to be addressed by the full name.
It doesn’t always resolve the confusion, but it helps.
Then, we come to E. I’d had E’s name and nickname picked out for decades. After two little boys with very masculine names, I just went crazy with the pink and bows and a cutesy nickname: a combination of both her first and middle names. I loved that it was both traditional and unique. I thought she loved, it, too, until one day, some time between preschool and first grade, she came home and made the announcement that she would just be going by the shortened form of her first name from now on, and she emphatically did not want to be called by her nickname ever again.
My heart broke a little, but I was sure she was just going through a phase. Over the course of the next week or so, I heard from various teachers and coaches and even her friends, that she had changed her name and she only wanted to be called by her first name now. Of course, we all made slip-ups and still called her by her previous nickname, and we were all immediately corrected. A went a step farther and he started calling her by her full first name, which also displeased her greatly. She knew what she wanted to be called, and that was it.
I admitted to myself that one of the reasons I liked her traditional name and nicknames was because it could be modified, from a cutesy little girl nickname, to a short and elegant nickname as she got older. Having such a name myself, I went through various phases of wanting to be called by my full name or being Beth instead of Liz. Even though I preferred Beth to Liz, somehow Liz seems to have stuck. Sometimes, I wish I’d had the chutzpah that E did and had corrected people when they called me Liz. At least everyone seems to have gotten the message that I absolutely despise Lizzie.
I tried to change my name when I went away to college, but since by that time even I thought of myself as Liz, it just led to two years of complete confusion, and my roommates telling people they had the wrong number when they asked for a Liz instead of a Beth. Every summer when I came home, I returned to being Liz for three months, and my family told people they had the wrong number when they asked for Beth instead of Liz. It was chaos and led to an identity crisis of epic proportions. Sometimes people would resort to using my full name, which really caused confusion because I don’t even think of myself by that name, and it just conjured up that time during childhood when the use of your full name, including your middle name, meant you were in big trouble.
After all of that, I couldn’t really deny E the right to pick what she wanted to be called, and as we got back to G’s original question of how we “knew” what their names were, I laughed as I explained to him that sometimes we had to wait until they told us! I could see him pondering this, and for a few seconds, I was worried that he was going to have some grand pronouncement about what he wanted to be called going forward.
In true G form, he told me that he liked being the short version of his name when he had to write it out, but he didn’t care if people called him by the nickname or his full name; a stark contrast to A, who refuses to answer to anything but his full first name.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve had the occasion to get together with some distant family members who haven’t seen the kids in years, and who still referred to E by her “baby” nickname. While she politely went along with most of the reintroductions, a few times, she spoke up and informed people that it was just E now. I tried to capitalize on her apparent good will and used her old nickname a few times afterward, but she always stopped me with an eye roll and a “Mooooommmmmmm!”
I’m trying to pick my battles wisely, and tormenting my kids by using forms of their names that they don’t like wasn’t worth the energy. It was much easier to just respect their wishes. I’ve also informed them from now on, I will not answer to anything other than “Mom.” Dragging that out, and adding extra oooooos and mmmmms, especially when whined or complained, will result in being ignored.
Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.