nicknaming the wee bairns

Well, chip asked for a description of how my kids got their nicknames, and yet I can’t bring myself to let landisdad write a guest entry. Okay, I’m a control freak, what can I say? But the reality is that I believe that every partner in a relationship deserves to have space that is totally theirs, and this is mine (or at least the public part of it).

The honest answer, though, is that there is no real rationale behind my kids’ nicknames These are their actual ‘pet’ names in our family, and so yes, if you see a woman walking around calling her almost-two-year-old son “Potato,” it’s probably me. I say probably, but I’d guess it’s pretty definite. Unless there are a lot of other parents who nicknamed their kid the Sweet Potato, but that seems unlikely.

Landisdad gave our daughter the nickname Bumblebee the night that she was born, when we were all in the hospital together, and the nurses and doctors and eight billion interns had finally left us alone. He says he doesn’t really know why he picked it–it just came to him out of the air. I’ve subsequently noticed that a lot of people seem to have pet names for their kids that start with ‘b’–I’ve heard “bean,” “bear,” and even some other “bees.” I don’t know if this is a tendency that only starts with English speakers or what–but it’s definitely not one of those things that I noticed before becoming a parent, and now it seems impossible to ignore.

When she was an infant, we had two different silly songs about her as a Bumblebee that we used to sing when she was upset. The Bee got carsick on long trips as an infant and toddler, particularly in places with a lot of traffic (lots of stops and starts), and we used to sing to her to distract her from feeling nauseous. One of the parenting memories that I’m sure will survive until my dotage is a trip we took on Route 1 on the Northern California coast when she was about 9 months old–the whole trip was almost three hours of non-stop singing, as we lurched around hairpin curves and had to take a detour up an old logging road to avoid a camper that had caught fire on the side of the highway.

When I was pregnant with the Sweet Potato, landisdad spent some time actually thinking about what to call him. Or I should say, it. The SP was one of those babies that was shy during ultrasound, so his gender was a surprise. Part of the reason that we developed his nickname early on, was that we didn’t know what else to call him/her, and we couldn’t convince our insurance carrier that we should get an extra ultrasound just to figure that out. (The Bee also had an in-utero nickname before she found out what her actual name would be–it was Runcibella. I’m not even going to get into that in this post.)

And when it was time for the SP to eat solid foods for the first time? His favorite was sweet potatoes. Landisdad makes a kickass sweet potato recipe, and our little Potato will eat as many helpings of them as we pile on his plate.


May 27, 2005. the cutest kids ever!.


  1. chip replied:

    Great post, thanks for the stories landismom. I call my son “bubba” as a nickname (great minds think alike Jessica!) or Mr. Bubba. I do call him potato sometimes, but it is when he’s been playing his gameboy for 20 hours straight so it’s not exactly a term of endearment in this context… My daughter’s nickname when she was little was a baby variation on her real nickname, which I still call her sometimes.

    And you know what? Our cat has a bunch of nicknames too! And I thought it was just us…

  2. jessica replied:

    Great explanation, landismom. That is fun to know – I’m glad Chip asked.

    It is often funny to think about how we refer to loved ones (pets included for me). I’ve called my son “bubbie” and “bubba” for a long time – probably not very original.

    My cat’s name is Dave and so I’m often coming up with variances on it. For example, I’ll say, “Well, hello David Letterman kitty” or “There’s that David Lee Roth kitty” and my personal favorite, “You are such a sweet David Hasselhoff kitty boy!”

  3. landismom replied:

    Hah. Our cats have nicknames too (I guess we’re just weird). One of our now-deceased cats had about fifty nicknames, most of which were variations on The Wumpus, a nickname that was given to him by this crazy ex-meth addict pastry chef who was my housemate when I got the cat.

  4. Emma Goldman replied:

    I call my stepson “kid.” He bridled at it, a little bit, about a year ago, and I explained that it was a term of affection, but I’d stop if he really didn’t like it. when the local radio station played “Alice’s Restaurant” at Thanksgiving, I made the kid listen to it and told him that’s why I call him “Kid.” He seems to like it better–I think he just needed reassurance that it was affectionate.

  5. betty replied:

    I know a lot of parents who call their young kids “Boo”. I’ve still never been able to figure that one out.

  6. Kate the Shrew replied:

    I’m one of those “Boo” parents, myself, though that is one of the many. I don’t know, she just seemed like a Boo. Possibly because we’d already seen Monsters Inc.?

    All of my offspring, furry or otherwise, have many silly nicknames. It’s a wonder any of them ever learn to answer their real names.

  7. landismom replied:

    Boo is a term of endearment in the African American community (at least in my experience). It doesn’t always apply to kids (see Usher & Alicia Keys’s song “My Boo”), but that was the first place that I heard it. I think it’s kind of like ‘my heart’, but I don’t know the etymology of it.

  8. becca replied:

    You’re right about “B” nicknames. Our oldest was Boo and then Bubs (not short for Bubba, but for Bubeleh–“little doll” in Yiddish, a standard endearment) and our youngest is Bun. They’ve had a dozen or so other nicknames apiece, but those are the ones that ultimately stuck.

  9. landismom replied:

    Oh, Bubeleh, I’d forgotten that one, thanks Becca.

    I thought about this some more, and I’m becoming more convinced (based on anecdotal experience, not hard data) that it is an English-speakers thing. Which is to say, I can’t think of any Spanish baby nicknames that start with B–just things like ‘nene,’ ‘papi,’ and ‘mami.’

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