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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Baby Naming Issue: Other People are Using an Unwanted Nickname

Autumn writes:
My problem is a little different than the typical name indecision issue you cover at Swistle, but I hope you and your readers can give me some advice.

I love names, and I spent a long time picking out the perfect name for my first son. I settled on Edison Byron. I wanted my son to have his own unique name, but I also wanted to honor my Dad, who doesn't have any sons of his own. My Dad's name is Edward but he goes by Ed (or Eddie with my Mom). I thought Edison was perfect, since he could go by Ed / Edi.

So what's the problem? This baby is the first grandchild, so naturally everyone is excited. My sister told me while I was pregnant that she was going to have her own special name for my son. I told her I'd wanted veto power over any nicknames she wanted to use, and she became very upset that I was so controlling. She said that what she wanted to call my son was her decision. I let it drop and figured I'd deal with it later, especially since she lives far away and likely won't see Edison very often. Just recently she came to stay for a few weeks to meet her nephew and help me out. While she was here, she decided that referring to Edison as Ed or Edi was "too weird", because that's my Dad's name. My sister decided that she will call him E, and now my mother has started to use that nickname!

I don't like the nickname, for 3 specific reasons. One, I picked Edison with the intention that my son would either go by his full name or Ed / Edi in honor of my Dad. Calling him E entirely routes around that. Second, I have a strong preference for other E names and am considering an E theme, and I love the name Beatrix with the nickname of Bea...but I would hate to have an E and a Bea. Third, (though less important) the name E just sounds more edgy than my own style (though it fits really nicely with my sister's style).

How do you and your readers typically handle family nicknames? Should I try and stop this nickname, or should I not worry about it? Since I understand that it's a little weird to suddenly have another Ed in the family, are there other nicknames I can offer that will still honor my Dad?

Thanks for your help!

This is a very tricky issue, because on one hand I can vividly imagine how teeth-clenchingly annoyed I'd be if someone was calling one of my kids a nickname I didn't like---and on the other hand, I don't think much can be done without being more aggressive than I'd ever want to be about such a thing. It's so easy for other people to say "It's YOUR baby and YOU get to decide..." or "Don't LET them..." or "You need to INSIST that they..." when the scenario is happening in their imaginations (which is also where we tell off our boss and that mean girl in high school), but much harder to do it in real life---especially when nicknaming rights are a grey area.

I can't tell from your letter whether you've already explained your reasons to your mom and sister. If not, that's where I'd start: I think it's easy for people to object to being told what to do, but much harder to persevere when they've heard the perfectly understandable reasons not to. I would particularly emphasize the potential future-sibling-name problems and the honoring-dad-with-the-nickname issue (and in fact might skip the style one). I would do the whole thing calmly and nicely (tone should be requesting/explaining rather than demanding), perhaps with quavering voice and tears threatening to brim. I think I'd start with your mom, since I think she'll be easier to convince and then she might be able to help with your sister (and also because later in this post I'm going to discuss the possibility of allowing your sister to keep using the nickname, in which case you'd only need to talk to your mom about it).

(I'm not accepting your sister's argument that it's weird to have another Ed in the family. Plenty of children are named after other people, and it might be a little odd at first but then everyone gets used to it. Plus, if Ed/Edi is too weird for her to get used to, she can call him Edison. Her argument that she wants to have her own special name for him holds way more sway.)

If they know your reasons and are doing it anyway, I'm stumped. I've heard stories of people teaching their children rude comebacks, or using ultimatums such as "You can't see him unless you call him what _I_ want you to call him," but for me those would be "only in my mind" techniques. I'm imagining if my much-disliked mother-in-law had insisted on calling one of my children a name we had a specific and reasonable reason for objecting to---but even THEN I don't think I would have used the destruction of a family relationship as my threat of choice. Maybe I could have managed something like a wincing "Oh, I'm sorry, but we REALLY don't want him called that." Again, I'm not sure parents DO have full nickname control---or if they do, it doesn't last past the point where the child can make his or her own decisions about what he or she wants (or is willing to be) called, at which point perhaps your son will (politely!) tell his aunt he'd prefer to be called Edi.

This is the part where I suggest that another possibility is to allow his aunt to call him E. I generally dislike the nickname Kris and generally wouldn't want anyone to call me that---but one set of my grandparents DID call me Kris, and my aunt (their daughter) still calls me Kris sometimes, and it's just different: to me, when THEY use it, it's "their special name for me," losing all elements of "a nickname I dislike." I can imagine a boy might really enjoy being called E by his aunt, even if he didn't want other people to call him that.

It's different, though, if the nickname catches on, as it looks like it might if your mom is already using it. Again, this is where your sensible reasons seem like they'd come in handy: you have legitimate concerns here, and perhaps even if your sister won't change (which might be okay or even better than okay), you can persuade your mom and others not to join in. If someone new calls him E, you can say, "Actually, he goes by Edi: E is just his aunt's special nickname for him."


Elisabeth said...

My name is Elisabeth. My parents specifically spelled it with an "s" because they hated the nickname Liz. Really, really, hated it. Of course, any number of people have never seen my name written and just automatically call me Liz.

Here's the thing, though. It's not a nickname that has actually stuck with me because the people I interact with most don't call me that. If only your sister and (maybe) your mom call him E, it can be their special nickname, but if you don't call him that and he doesn't want other people to call him that as he gets older, it's not going to catch on in other areas of his life.

Christine said...

I call my cousin's daughter, Kate, "katydid" and never asked permission and no one has ever seemed to mind AND no one else to my knowledge ever called her that.

I would tell your mom that you prefer "Eddie" to honor your dad and I would leave it alone with your sister. When your son gets a little older he can tell people his preference.

SamanthaW said...

My parents were very insistent that I be called Samantha, and NEVER Sam, but my grandma always called me Sam anyways, and although I introduced myself as Samantha, and corrected people when they called me Sam, I never minded her calling me that, because it was our special thing, and my parents were ok with it too. And then I started playing sports in high school, and Sam is so much easier to yell across a court, and I realized I don't hate it so much, or really at all, and now pretty much everyone calls me Sam, although I still introduce myself as Samantha. My point being, I like Swistle's idea of letting Aunt have a special name for your son, but don't be surprised if he changes the nickname he likes as he gets older, potentially to something that neither of you like at all! The day my baby sister asked us to stop calling her JenJen, and instead call her Jennie, my mom cried. And compromised with just Jen.

Marjorie said...

This happens a lot and I think it's a tough one. I named my son Christopher after his Dad whom everyone calls Chris. To avoid confusion we call my son Christopher, but lately (he's 3) people (mostly family) have begun calling him Chris too and it really bothers me. I let it go, but we keep calling him Christopher which helps reinforce it. I've also come to accept that he will probably get another nickname once he goes to school too (probably CJ).

Carolyn said...

I think Edison is so much fun to say, who needs a nickname? Especially when he's little, it'd be fun to say it in a sing-songy way (Ed-i-son).

In theory E seems like a cute edgy nn to me, but I can't see it being as easy to say especially in conversation. (The stand-alone "E" would run into vowels and make it difficult to use in a natural-paced/fast-paced conversation I think.) Hopefully they'll naturally revert back to his full name if you keep referring to him that way.

A said...

I like Switsle's idea of asking the grandmom not to call him E, but leaving it alone with aunt. I understand she wants to have her own nn for him and you will soften up to it if she is the only one using it.

Anonymous said...

'E' is common slang for ecstasy. It would bother me to have someone nickname my kid after a drug.

HereWeGoAJen said...

My daughter is Elizabeth and there is one person who calls her E. And I hate it. Luckily, it is just a friend and it isn't catching on. But I can't stand it and I grit my teeth whenever she says it. With my total unacceptance of the name (nothing overt, just me never using it and always using her actual name), it is fading out. Thank heavens.

Oh, and my dad keeps trying to nickname her Lizzie, but it doesn't fit her that well, so no one else is using it, it hasn't caught on very well.

Just keep (quietly) trying and it might go away easily.

Liz said...

My second child is named Elijah. When I was pregnant we were convinced we would call him Eli, so that's what we told our family. And then he was born, and he totally wasn't an Eli. We started calling him Lijy, a nickname that stuck.
My husband's family still called him Eli, and while we didn't love it, we overlooked it.
Lijy became verbal very young and started referring to himself as Lijy (or Leejy as he pronounced it at the time.) Just before 2 1/2 he caught on that people were calling him something else. And he hated it! He would come sobbing to us saying, "My name is Leejy. I Leejy."
So we told our family to stop. And they did. We couldn't let our poor boy be upset by something so simple to fix.
Maybe you can bring up this scenario as a way to help your son be called what you will be calling him. People need to remember that even little children develop an identity all their own, and we need to be respectful of that.
Good luck!

jennie w. said...

My mother started calling my daughter, India, by the nickname Bindi which I think is stupid and childish. Fortunately India would just look at my mom and say, "I don't like that name." That pretty much took care of it.

Fast forward a few years and we had a daughter named Adelaide. We planned on calling her Ada all the time. But her grandparents and the rest of the world are determined to call her Addie, a name that I do not like AT ALL. I let it slide with the grandparents because they are old and they do it because they are forgetful and don't see her much. But once everyone in kindergarten started calling her Addie I felt like it was a lost cause. This year, first grade, we went to see the teacher on day one and informed her that everyone should call her Ada--NO EXCEPTIONS. We'll see how it turns out. It sure is frustrating!

Jenny Grace said...

I think Swistle gives pretty solid advice. I have one aunt, and her children (my cousins) who call me Jen, and that's FINE, because they have always called me Jen. And I adore them and it's honestly something I like just fine. But since I've always gone either by Jennifer or Jenny (chosen nickname of CHOOSING CHOICE), I seriously flinch/correct when other people do it.
Particularly because it tends to be people who don't know me well enough to call me by a nickname at all. Because if they did, they would know that I never go by Jen.

Zoe said...

I think a special name just from the Aunt is nice. My brother goes by Tristan, but when my great-grandma was alive she called him Tris, that was her special name for him. And my sister, Lucie, was called Lucia by our Italian uncle. I was always a little jealous of both of them, because I had no nickname, I'm Zoe to everyone!

JCF said...

When my daughter, Eleanor, was born, we planned on calling her either Eleanor or Nora. As it happened, we just never called her Nora, but in the beginning lots of people wanted to call her Ellie, including several people who persisted and said it would just be their special nickname when we told them we didn't like it.

What worked for us was explaining to those persistent few our reasons for avoiding Ellie as a nickname. It kind of rhymes with our last name. My sister is named Ally, and we have another family member who goes by Elle, making Ellie too confusing. That seemed to help people understand that we seriously didn't want to use Ellie as a nickname. Many people have pointed out to us that she may choose to be called Ellie as she gets older (she's 2.5), and that's true, but that's not a reason for me to allow people to call my daughter by a nickname I don't like. Maybe explaining to your sister and mom to E/Bea potential issue would help?

I'm a person who doesn't like nicknames that aren't approved by the recipient (or parents, if the recipient is a baby), so I fall more on the side of putting your foot down, but I know that not everyone feels the same way!

Leslie said...

It may be that just consistently calling your son by his full name whenever you talk to your relatives may help nip unwanted nicknames in the bud. People tend to echo whatever they hear most. My husband has a long name, and when he introduces himself, people sometimes try to use a common nickname he really hates. However, because everyone else around him uses his full name, the shortened version never sticks for long. I hope that will be true for your case, too. If not, though, I like Swistle's approach of talking to your mom about it. Best of luck, and let us know how it goes!!!

Slim said...

I agree with other posters that if you hold tight and just keep using your preferred name for your son, his own preferences will likely surface, beating your sister into submission so you don't have to.

Snoopyfan said...

I think your sister blatantly going against your wishes is wrong, but has she expressed why she wants to call him E?

My niece is Grace and we know two other girls named Grace so my kids nicknamed her Googles. She is 3 and they now call her Gracie or Gracie Googles. My sister knows why we call her that and doesn't care and no one else calls her that. It is our family's special name for her. My nephew is Charlie and we don't know any other Charlies yet so no different nickname for him.

You should let it go and it can be their special thing.

Rusti said...

Our daughter is Emma Grace and her nickname is Goose (aka Emma Goose, Gracie Goose) but we often call her E, and Hubs sometimes calls her Em and my dad calls her G - all of which are fine with me. But my family is huge into nicknames... the only time I ever mentioned anything at all - was when someone called her Emmy - which instantly irritated me, and I snapped "her name is Emma, if I wanted her called Emmy, I'd have named her Emmy!" which I felt a little guilty for later, but hey - it did the trick. ;)

also - my cousin is Kristin, and other than my dad calling her "Red" everyone else either calls her Kristin, or KP (her initials) but I've always called her Kris - and she told me once that she liked it when I called her that, but she couldn't stand when anyone else did... :)

Anonymous said...

I think if it were just my sister and mother using a slightly obnoxious nickname, I'd leave it alone. It is not, afterall, as if he will go around the rest of the world and introduce himself as E because two people call him that; I think it would end up just being a sweet pet name. Sure, people calling my child by any name other than the one I gave him would take me by surprise, and would probably grate my nerves at first, but you can only control it so much. If he gets older and hates being called E, he'll let that be known, but for now, at least if it were me in your shoes, this is one battle I'd opt out of. I think I would end up hurting my sister's feelings, or just getting angry that she still won't listen to me even after talking with her about it.

If you REALLY can't go without saying something, I would probably explain the Bea/E thing.

Cayt said...

My name is pronounced 'Kate' and everyone calls me that except one of my bosses, who insists on calling me 'Katie'. I correct him with a smile every single time, but he persists.

Uh. So, no advice, but commiseration, sorry.

Chaya said...

My mother developed quite the response to people calling her children something she didn't like. My father's family lives in the South, where it's quite common for individuals to go by their middle name, as there are so many Jr.'s, II's, III's, and so forth. My grandparents and quite a few of my aunts and uncles all go by their middle name. So when I was born, my aunts and uncles took one look at me and exclaimed "Lanie!" (my middle name is Lane)
My mother stared them down, stood her ground, and responded, "If I had wanted her to be called 'Lanie,' I would have named her Lane."
They never called me Lanie again...

Jessica said...

I agree with the people who said whatever name is used the most usually sticks. The unusual nicknames often fade out.

That's actually been a problem for us. Our daughter is named Margaret. Originally we thought we'd call her Maggie, but it didn't fit her and we've always called her by her full name. Which was fine until she started talking and couldn't say Rs. She calls herself Mah-get and now my entire side of the family does too. It drives my husband CRAZY. He doesn't want her to continue to introduce herself as Mah-get when she is older and thinks the adults in her life should set a good example instead of talking in two-year-old-speak (they do it with a bunch of words, so I guess this isn't strictly a naming issue). I don't think it's a big deal - I'm sure she'll learn to say her name just fine - but he hates it.

Anonymous said...

My name is Christina Anne, and my family called me Christie or Christie Anne almost exclusively as a child. When I was 4, I declared that my name was _Christina_, and I refused to answer to anything else. I eventually relaxed my stance and most people from my school years called me Chris. In college, I sort of wanted to resurrect Christie Anne, but I couldn't get up the nerve to introduce myself that way, So I've just been regular Christina since. The only nickname I've ever corrected was Tina--I just really, really hated Tina for some reason. Then I met my future husband, a Spaniard, and he started calling me Tina in his super-sexy accent. Suddenly, Tina didn't sound so bad. :)

E isn't the worst thing in the world. I would let it go.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's worth having a family situation over to be honest. Who knows, maybe his best friends later on in life will also start calling him E. I would let your sister do what she wants and tell your mom that you prefer Ed/Edi. It's also important to acknowledge your sister's feelings in this-- if she is not comfortable with calling him Ed as it reminds her too much of her father, then that is valid too.

changelivlife said...

I would agree with the commenters who suggest that you just let it go.

My reasoning is this: it is unfair and unreasonable for you to assume that you can control what your son is called his entire life. I don't get it when parents try to do that. He will grow and make connections that you have no part of. People will call him what they like or give him a nickname because that is who THEY are. If you want to call him Ed or Edison--do so. But why would you think you get to control what your sister calls him?

I'm Olivia. My family exclusively calls me Livi. I can't recall the last time I was called Olivia by any of them. However, I have an aunt who calls me Libby. She likes the sound of it better. My nephew calls me Auntie Livia. My grandfather called me Ollie

I've been called Liv, Liver, V, O, Vi, Vivi, Iffy, Lee, Olive, Via, and a host of other nicknames at various points in my life. These were products of the people I knew at the time, the time I was living in, the things I was doing.

I don't personally love them all, but they represent different things to me and remind me of things that I might have forgotten otherwise. That is a strong compulsion for letting the road go where it may. He and you may not love every nickname he gets, but they do come and go throughout time. No one name has to stick permanently. Nicknames can always be changed.

Good luck to you.

Shoeaddict said...

My daddy is a nicknamer. It doesn't even have to have an relationship to the actual name for him to use it. He nicknamed me "turkey lips" and my cousin, who is named Cody, Monk. My brother is Woo.

My daughter (almost 2)'s name begins with a D. He nicknamed her "Do Do" which I obviously HATE. Well, she's decided that she LOVES it. No one else calls her that but her Paw and she always says, "Paw's DoDo." It's cute now.

Good Luck! :)