Nicknames

Is it just me, or is it still a little difficult to call The Rock “Dwayne Johnson” instead of his long-time wrestling name? Not like I say it to his face or anything. But that would be super cool to be that tight with The Rock!

My father-in-law’s name is John, but to the people he grew up around, he was always referred to as Johnny. While my mother-in-law was still alive, she also called him Johnny, although the written representation of his nickname does no justice to her pronunciation of it. My MIL was born and raised in Georgia and didn’t have a huge southern accent all the time, although it was particularly pronounced when she said a couple names such as “Chriiiis” or “Jahwny.” Now that she has passed it makes me a bit sad knowing that John doesn’t get called Johnny every day like he had for so many years. (Although he has tacked on a couple of new nicknames including Papa and Great-Grandpapa or whatever version my great-nephew will make permanent as soon as he is able to talk.)

While teaching German Club earlier this week, a student asked, “What would my name be in Germany?” I insisted that your name doesn’t change when you visit another country. Your name is your name, no matter how different it might get pronounced abroad. Sure, you could change your name from Henry to Heinrich, but would it still feel like your name? Names are such a huge part of who we are. Even nicknames can last a lifetime.

Not long after I met my husband, I began to meet a lot of his friends, including “Steiner.” It was years before I found out his real name and that the tag Steiner had come from a wrestler they nicknamed him after. Fifteen years later, we now call Steiner, his wife, and their two kids The Steiners.

Granted my nickname has morphed over the years from To-To (that was my sister’s fault) to Jo-Jo to Jo, but it’s been around for all of the forty-one years that I can remember. There are some indelible moments that I can recall my name being called, such as the time at the beach when my friend Cassie asked, “Joooo, what’s the red flag up for?!” Or my dad yelling from the garage, “Yo! Jo!” and I never knew if it was a telephone call or if I was in trouble for something. And the cool book my roommate bought me simply because it was titled “Jo-Jo The Melon Donkey.”

It wasn’t until my friends slowly started graduating and moving away that I suddenly realized how important my nickname was to me – it was part of my identity and also a cue of those who were closest to me. As a twenty-something year old living in my same old college town with all of my friends in new cities, I realized I lacked friends with the tight bond that knew me by my nickname. In hindsight, it wasn’t that long until my new friends caught on to my name and even christened me with an extra syllable after I got married. JoPo hasn’t replaced the original name, but it still gets used from time to time and I appreciate the endearing sequel to my nickname.

It’s funny, though, how a name that means so much to me is something that I don’t even always hear. I sometimes listen for how the Hubs calls my name, but in the midst of waffles popping up in the toaster and filling water bottles, I rarely hear it. My brain simply processes that I’ve been spoken to and skipped on to the next task.

I know that any day now my kids are going to transition from calling me “Mommy” or “Mama” to just “Mom.” They’ve tried it out a few times already, sniff, sniff. I’ll keep “Mommy” as long as they’ll say it without the risk of becoming uncool! But in reality, it’s another example of not always hearing my name. I know I’m being called, but their little voices and name for me does not always sink in. I feel the need to record their voice in my brain of them saying Mommy before they transition me to Mom.

The other day I walked down to the end of the street and back while the kids were cleaning up their art supplies. Then I heard a faint “Jody!” But I wasn’t quite sure if I had heard correctly. Then I heard it again. Sure enough, my seven year old was on the driveway calling for me. She said there were lots of moms in the neighborhood, so it made more sense to say my name instead. Well, it certainly worked! Now that is ingrained in my memory. There’s nothing like the sound of a small child, especially a toddler calling you by your first name – sweetest sound ever.

I do have a brand new nickname that the Hubs just cooked up for me. Hulk. It is used to talk about me, in my presence, rather than to talk directly to me. It happens when I get grumpy and short with my family and I have to give the Hubs some credit; his new clever nickname for me catches my attention of my bad attitude and puts a smile on my face. What a sneaky way of ruining my bad mood!

What do your BFFs call you?!

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