As I approached the playground at my daughter’s preschool the other day, I heard her teacher call out “Calliope your mom’s here!” Hearing my daughter’s polysyllabic name spoken out loud caused my heart to crow with delight.
Strange as it may sound, the only aspect of my daughter starting preschool that I quite literally dreaded, was anticipating how I’d deal with the, seemingly, inevitable adoption of a nickname for her. But, as she is now getting settled into her 3rd month of preschool and things are getting comfortable, I am jumping for joy that no nickname has yet made an appearance. During my daughter’s first week of school, there was some discussion about abbreviating her 4 syllable name to CiCi, Cali, or some other butchered version. Her teachers were concerned that ‘Calliope’ might be too difficult for the other children to pronounce. They gently prodded, “Well, what do you call her at home?” To which I bristled and replied simply, ”We call her….her name.”
Let me provide some background on my particular sensitivity to this subject. I had THE longest full name in my h.s. graduating class. My full maiden name has 29 letters, 9 syllables, and a hyphen (my struggles with my LAST name are a tale for another day). As a child and adolescent I constantly had my first name abbreviated to the only slightly shorter (by one syllable) “Gabby,” which coincidentally and appropriately described my personality, then…and now! But what child wants their nickname synonymous with a less than desirable, personal trait? A kid with an overbite doesnt want to be nicknamed “Bucky”, for instance. And yet, no matter how much I hinted, and even demanded to be called by my full name, the dreaded nickname always reappeared. Eventually, I begrudgingly accepted the reality that the nickname was here to stay. And even tried to take ownership of it..”My name is Gabby and I live up to it.” But, I’ve always insisted upon never being introduced by my nickname.
I knew when I chose my daughter’s name, that I’d be saddling her with this same burden. Hers is not only a long name but one that can be easily mispronounced. But the story behind her naming makes it so that I hope she is proud of it, and won’t tolerate having it abbreviated.
As a little girl I was a HUGE fan of Greek Mythology, and when I stumbled upon the name “Calliope” (incidentally, the Muse of eloquence, heroic poetry, and beautiful voice), I fell in love. I resolved that if I ever had a daughter, that would be her name. Fast forward a couple of decades, to the day I found out I was pregnant with a baby girl. I had lost my mother to Cancer a year before I got pregnant, and was left with many conflicting emotions about my recent loss and the news that I was expecting.
The day my mom passed away, a small hummingbird came and sat on a branch near me and my sister. I turned to my sister and said “That’s mom’s spirit. She wants us to know its going to be okay.” The notion of our mother’s spirit being represented by a hummingbird stuck. So imagine my utter disbelief when several months into the pregnancy, I looked up alternate meanings for the name “Calliope” only to discover… that it is a species of hummingbird. People often speak of “signs” – I don’t think the Universe could have provided me with a more clear cut message. Not only were things going to be okay, they were meant to be. I truly believe that my daughter’s name is her destiny. So why would I, or one day she, want to see it changed to suit the preferences of the lazy-tongued?
These days naming is almost a sport, with parents giving their kids atypical and unique names like, Kennedy, Addison, and Sparrow. Celebrities especially seem to be leading the way with this trend. As society becomes accepting of longer and/or more unusual names, does this mean our kids are less likely to have nicknames? Perhaps. Does it matter? I think so.
A great deal of our identity is wrapped up in our names. Would I have been so chatty if I’d been named something else? Would it be harder to stand up for myself now, if I hadn’t had to stand up for my name? Religion, cultural and ethnic heritage are huge factors in naming, but so are our unique life experiences. I think nicknames strip us of a big part of this identity and uniqueness.
Now of course there are people who like or even insist upon having a nickname. I just don’t happen to be one of them. But I do understand that there is a familiarity afforded by the nickname that can even be termed endearment. And while I don’t think nicknames should be yet another issue tacked onto the banner of political correctness, I would say that the next time you encounter someone with a long or unusual name, that you might be inclined to shorten, inquire as to what their preference is first. Because in asking someone to sacrifice one little syllable, you might really be asking them to give up a big piece of who they are.