Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What’s In a Name?

One of the things I’ve come to notice as I’ve gotten older is how infrequently we use someone’s name to their face. If you’re married, I challenge you to remember the last time you actually said, “Hey, (Insert Spouse’s Name Here)” to your spouse. I know for a fact that the only time I do it is when I need to get in contact with her and she’s on the other side of a long, crowded hallway. (“Kara! Over here!”) The same thing applies to most people I’m in the direct vicinity of. I don’t start all my direct statements with a name. I’m generally not going to say, “(Friend’s name), how are you?” I’m going to say “How are you?” and leave it at that. More frequently, I’ll find myself using a term of endearment. With Kara it’s, you know, sweetie, or honey, or babe, or gorgeous, or whatever. With close friends it’s something like friend, dude, brother, sister, that kind of thing. And that brings me to Mihret. From the day we met her onward, I’ve discovered that Kara and I rarely use Mihret’s name to directly address her. I think this is partially because her name is so unusual – it’s difficult to even explain how to pronounce it in a written format. You can Americanize it, yes, and just pronounce it Mih (like million) and ret (like red, but with a t instead of a d). But in her native country of Ethiopia, the r gets a slight flip or trill, similar to a rolled Spanish r. Kara took the hard line and tried to pronounce it correctly from day one. But she’s better with languages than I am, and she seemed to take to the proper pronunciation like a duck to water. But for me it was tougher, and it took me a couple of months to stop randomly switching between the two different pronunciations. I’m fine now, thanks. What’s been interesting to me is watching the slow evolution of Mihret’s nicknames. Most of the books you’ll see on child-raising will point out that you should use the kid’s name as often as possible – “Mihret, I’m making your bottle now. Mihret, I dropped your bottle! Mihret, I’m cleaning up the formula that’s all over the floor!” etc. etc. etc. Kara and I tried hard to do that, but for the most part, I found it weirdly awkward – like when people who are standing in the same space with me address me by name. So, advertently or inadvertently, the wee one started to pick up nicknames. Here are the most common: Peanut – Mihret got this one almost immediately. She was a tiny, tiny little girl when we met her at six months old. Her weight was somewhere around 12 pounds, which is somewhere in the lower 5% of the weight chart at that age. This name stuck for a long time, and still gets used pretty often. What’s funny is how often people who met her during her first few weeks at home with us would use the nickname before Kara and I ever would. Apparently the smallest unit of child is “peanut.” A funny story, taking place after we’d been home with her for about two months. Mihret in on the floor, only semi-mobile at this point. Kara and I are sitting on the couch. Kara: You know what? I was just reading yesterday that we’re supposed to use the baby’s name as often as possible, so that she comes to associate it with herself. Me: Really? Huh. I think we use it pretty often. Kara: I don’t think we use it often enough, though. Me: Let’s try it. (Looking at the baby, who is sitting up on the floor holding a plastic spoon, not really paying attention to mommy and daddy.) Mihret? Mihret: (No response) Me: Mihret? Mihret: No response. Me: Peanut? Mihret: (Turns around at looks at me, as if to say, “What?”) Me and Kara: Uh-oh. Pumpkin (Punkin) Pie – Mihret fell into this one when October and November rolled around. I suppose we have probably called her Pumpkin without the “Pie” part of the name, but the yummy dessert portion of the name is almost always attached. Peanut Pie – Kara uses this one from time to time. I think I did once. It just sounds strange to me. Also, is it possible to make peanut pie? Google says yes. Bleah, I say to Google. Peanut Pumpkin Pie – If this is a real recipe, I don’t want to know. This one is Kara again. As you might have guessed, there are other variations on this theme, including Peanut Peanut Pumpkin Pumpkin Pie. Repetition is very important for kids, I suppose. Punks – Kara is of the opinion that this is another variation of Pumpkin Pie, but I was the first of us to use it and I say, nay! Not so! From some place or another, I picked up the word “punky” as a variation of “bad.” Meaning, say, if you have a cold, and you kinda ache and just generally don’t feel good, but it’s not, like, the flu, where you’re puking your guts out – that’s punky. For something like two months, it felt like Mihret was constantly getting a new cold. Her nose would clear up, and snot would finally stop running out of it… and then two days would pass, and she’d be sneezing and coughing again. Whenever this would happen, and Kara would ask me how the baby was doing, I would report that the baby was feeling “Kindy punky.” Subsequently, when the baby had woken up in the night, or was having a rough week, I’d say, “Hey, punky,” which was later changed to, “Hey, punks.” This is now the name I use most frequently when directly addressing the little one. Fussybutt – This one is more fun when the baby is cranky and you’re trying to soothe her. “Hey fussybutt. It’s okay. There is no need to have a butt that is fussy!”

Curly Girly – Because our wee one, when her hair has been washed and conditioned, has an adorable baby ‘fro.And then there are the other names which we use when talking about Mihret: The Baby, The Wee One, The Little One, The Toddler, The Little Girl, The Peanut, The Kiddo. Other parents may use nicknames for their kids, but ours have crazily linguistic reasons for them. That’s what makes us a family.



Jessica said...

I use kidlet a lot, Buster Brown (which I was informed he was not) and mon frere. Dad uses wuldi a lot, but thats moroccan arabic for my son.

Rachel said...

Adorable post...