By DeeDee Corbitt Sauter, Contributing Writer
During the tedious months prior to the birth of my oldest son, my husband George and I spent what seemed like endless hours trying to agree upon the perfect name. Our child would be exceptional with infinite potential, and his name would need to reflect his greatness.
Lists upon lists were compiled. Names were crossed off for a myriad of reasons: “Oh! I know someone with that name, and he was so mean!” “The first and last names don’t match!” “That name rhymes with a body part, and he will be mocked!” “That will be difficult to spell!” “That is not even a real word!” “The initials will spell something vulgar. Wait; that could be fun. Wait, no. …”
Finally, the day equally dreaded and anticipated arrived. Contractions started and our bundle of joy came mewling into the world. I was exhausted and in pain. Sure, he was cute (and wrinkly), but, honestly, his potential name was the last thing on my mind after we were introduced. I did not care. My husband, on the other hand, who had spent the previous day advising me to breathe while he was able to comfortably take catnaps, could not stop staring at him. A tear balanced on his lower eyelid.
Without shifting his gaze, George whispered a single word. We had narrowed the list to two probable names, and in the moment he met our son, my husband requested one of those names. Frankly, with the way I was feeling, he could have suggested something normally reserved for pets, and I would not have cared. I just wanted sleep and something to drink, and more sleep. Did I mention sleep? I agreed to anything he said. He must have been overjoyed: a perfect baby and an overly accommodating wife. Thus began my son’s life.
Most parents I know go through a similar process. Everyone needs toilet paper and a name. At some point, somewhere, I read that a certain population believes that the name can be sacred. Knowledge of the true name can give power to the person who utters it. I can’t remember if this is a modern people or some ancient community. Maybe I read it in a fantasy sci-fi novel. Perhaps I made it up entirely. The bottom line is that a name is important, and significant time is spent choosing it.
So what is the purpose of the nickname?
At a Boy Scout campout, when my oldest child fell into and was mauled by horned attack bushes, and then bled from tiny woodland scratch marks and had to be pulled to safety, he was christened with a new name, and he felt special. A bevy of boys dubbed him “Thorn” and my child could not have felt prouder. A friend of his accidentally sliced his own left hand with a knife and required several stitches. He was thereafter referred to as “Lefty.” Original. My husband’s nickname in the Air Force was “Laundry Man.” I don’t even want to know the story behind that.
Nicknames seem to identify or reinforce a caricature-type personality trait or remind people of a somewhat disturbing event. They are most assuredly not something a parent would choose. But I have noticed an alarming trend. Even after choosing the perfect name for their child, some parents are obsessed with creating a cute and lasting nickname.
I can’t even count the number of children I know who are referred to as “Thing 1” or “Thing 2” from Dr. Seuss. I actually know adults who want to be referred to similarly, but I can’t imagine my friends yelling “Hey, Thing!” at me from across a crowded Starbucks.
Characters from books or movies are common, but proper names have been chosen in part due to the nickname potential. “I will name him Edward, and call him Eddie.” “His initials are ‘JR’ so we’ll call him Junior.” Why not go with that in the first place? “Suzie is so much gentler than Suzanne. That’s what we’ll call her.”
I have a friend whose birth certificate reads “Jennifer.” But in the past few decades that I have known her, she has gone by Jenn, Jenny, Jenni (with a heart over the “i”) and JenJen. Her persona changed ever so slightly with each new life event. I can’t keep up. She often corrects her family at reunions, although no one listens to her.
I was born “Carmen Regina.” Through a series of unfortunate events and mispronunciations, I was DeeDee by the time I entered school. It’s been decades since anyone referred to me by anything else, and so I no longer consider this a nickname. It is simply who I am.
But when friends call me “Queen DeeDee,” that is another matter entirely. I am no longer confused about the practice, but embrace it wholeheartedly. It started in a sign-language class and morphed into a full-fledged, consistent moniker that was initially embarrassing, but is now second nature. Nicknames seem to defy logic, but provide a sense of community and acceptance. I can certainly attest to this when “Queen” is shouted across the room. It’s an inner-circle acceptance.
Genuflection is not necessary. Neither are nicknames. But they can be fun.
DeeDee Corbitt Sauter is a resident of Prince William County. Her column, “Tambourines and Elephants,” appears monthly in Prince William Living.