I'm passionate about philosophy, but after having my girls I'm even more passionate about Mommy Matters

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why do we use nicknames?

     It seems completely natural, not to mention sometimes very fun, to give people nicknames. Our close friends or family members and, of course, our kids. Where does this desire come from? What is a nickname designating?
      I've found that not only do I make up nicknames for my baby and my husband, but I also use the ones I remember hearing family members use my entire life. I find myself calling Squeaker "shorty", for example, and this is a nickname my step dad always used. Another example is my favorite nickname "squeaks" or "squeaker", which my biological father used sometimes and has obvioulsy become the pseudonym I use for her online. I've noticed many parents, including myself, use nicknames like "bug" or "stink bug". There are nicknames that simply shorten a person's name, like Squeaker's cousin has started to call her "Squeak" (well, actually a shortened version of her real name, but you get the idea). I find this tendency baffling, but I also really enjoy it.
     Perhaps we are simply finding more ways to voice our affections, whether it be in a teasing way or a loving way. Nicknames can also be cruel, but I don't want to get into those here because I want to focus on the nicknames we give our own loved ones. Sometimes I think nicknames are also used out of laziness or striving to create a closeness/informality. It seems odd, to me anyway, to call my mom "Amber" or my grandma "Lorraine". However, I have always called my step dad by his first name, even though he has been there to raise me since I was around 5 years old. At the time I think it was a way for me to make sure that I didn't replace my biological father and later it just turned into a habit. 
     In a way, nicknaming someone also adds a type of possession. I didn't use nicknames for my husband when we first started dating. I always called him by his full first name and in my phone contacts that was his name. Although, the more time I spent around his family, the more I started to call him by his family nickname instead. Eventually I had to change his name in my phone too, because I didn't know him by his full first name anymore, in a sense. So, in a way that name started by me becoming more familiarized with him and his family. However, I didn't use any of the other nicknames I use now before we got married. In some ways I think that my subconscious was letting me claim him as my own. Familiarizing myself with him more than anyone else and wanting him to know how close I felt to him enabled me to start calling him by other names like "honey", "babe", etc. It would be weird for anyone else to call him by these names. Similarly, it would be weird for one of my friends to start calling Squeaker by some of the nicknames I use for her. Squeaker is my little squeaker, not my friend's. 
     Has anyone else been curious about this? Names are odd things anyway, a name doesn't necessarily specifically designate an object as we sometimes think it does. There are many people named "John Smith", so the name doesn't signify one specific "John Smith". It is an ostensive definition, meaning that it is doing the work of defining something I can physically point to, for example: "That person to my right is 'John Smith'". I don't want to get too metaphysical in a mommy blog, but if you are interesting in further information, Saul A. Kripke wrote a book that I love entitled "Naming and Necessity" that deals with just this.
    Anyway, the real point that I'm trying to make is that nicknames are not essential to a relationship and they designate different things for each person using them. So in that way nicknames are silly and unnecessary, even misleading. However, they also can point to a specific being (like one's child) and convey love for that being, as well as some sort of endearing (I hope) possession.  
     What nicknames do you use for your kids and where do you think they came from? Why do you use them?

 An interesting source I used when searching for nicknames and writing this post: nicknames


  1. Alysha, I love your blog! We have babies about the same age, and I'm usually thinking about the same things you are! I've noticed myself using nicknames my parents used for my baby, "sweets," "buddy," and "cutie pie" come to mind. I would feel silly consciously choosing to use these, but since there is all that past history from my own childhood, it is more comforting and fun to me than silly or embarrassing.

    1. I'm glad you like the blog, it's fun to have a place to write down my thoughts and share them with other mothers. I totally agree! It's nostalgic and there's nothing wrong with that.