AITA for letting my 7 year old daughter call my husband "daddy", against the wishes of her biological father (my ex husband)?
Weirdly enough, though, that nightmare fuel isn't the point of this entry. Reading this on reddit and the comments, I remembered how many times this has come up in advice columns, about the massive divide of meaning between being called Grandmother and being called Grandma (huge difference, really) to the point of estrangement before the grandchild has even finished developing internal organs, much less vocal cords. And on one hand, I understand on the visceral level, because yes, words have meaning, but when it comes to names--mom, dad, mommy, granny, grandmother, grandfather--there's a sense that this is not just personal preference, a but something not unlike a cosmic transformation of self or a mystical coronation of a high king or god emperor by divine right.
'Hey, I want to use Nana as my grandmotherly name, but no big, how about Grans?' <-- myth or heresy or something????
'Upon my ascension to grandmotherhood, I take the name Nana, Highest of the Grandmothers, set above lesser grandmothers, and all grandchildren will acknowledge me at the best of their grandmothers as natural law. All usurpers who attempt to falsely claim 'Nana' I will meet with my blade and prove my claim on your dead body and knit your shroud myself' with the clear expectation that everyone will be 'Yes, she who takes the name Nana is the best and most loved Nana obviously, that's just how it is' and all the grandchildren have but to address her by that name to gain their adoration. <-- sounds legit
Does that sound insane? Yeah, but its the only vaguely comprehensible reason why two people would go to the mattresses, die on the hill, meet with pistols at dawn, declare war, and burn the world to settle the question of who gets the name 'grandmother' and who gets 'grandma'.
When Child was born, I had no particular preference or awareness I was supposed to have strong feelings about this, which I'll get to in a second. So when Child started talking, it was generally my first name because we lived with my parents and sisters and that's how everyone addressed me. My mom and dad both picked their grandparent names before Child was born and they trained him into it, and to this day, I don't think they really got why I didn't train him into a specific name for all purpose (Mom should have though).
This resulted, however, in what I thought was normal (I was twenty-two, there was no internet, come on): me becoming she of many names and variations, but with some fixed use ones. My name was general issue, but 'Mother', 'Mom', 'Mommy' were all mapped to strict behaviors, specifically parental ones. "Mother" = he's pissed at me; 'Mom' = to get my attention as this is some kind of mom-related situation and not just 'look at this cool bug I just found' and 'Mommy' = DEFCON SOMETHING COME NOW. When he was younger--before age ten, I want to say--there were about ten different 'Mom*' or "Mam*" variations to convey role + urgency of situation by length of time it took to get through the 'm's. Can't lie, he still does that with the 'm's.
By now, though, there's dozens; remixes of my wallet name, my online name, combine with my fandoms, our fandoms, shows we both like or both hate, or something he knows will annoy me.
When I said I had no particular preference, that's because I assumed 'preferred name' just meant 'until your offspring find names they like better' so it seemed silly to get invested in "Mama" when he might like "Momi". And to be fair: I got to name Child and set his identity in the eyes of God and man. Whatever he picked to call me, I might hate it, but it's not like anyone else would call me that. He, OTOH, was stuck with being called the name I chose until he was eighteen and get a legal name change and learn all about bureaucracy and people forgetting his new name half the time for years.
I assumed that because that's pretty much what I did and no one ever told me I was doing childhood identification of the formal titles of people in key kinship positions super wrong in doing nothing like that.
In memory,a sampling: Mommy, Mom, Mama (emphasis first syllable), Mama (emphasis second syllable), Mother, MumMum, Ma Mere, Maman (I was reading books with french and thought it looked cool but didn't know how to pronounce it so that's phonetical), Ma Damoiselle (my mom taught me to pronounce it correctly when she realized a pattern was emerging), Miss Damoiselle, Ma Petite, Ma Petit Chou, and Ma Cher/Ma Cherie as a play on her birth name; some are more rarely used now, but all of them still exist. All of these I;d fix on for a couple of months before mixing it up with former names and then finding another name I liked.
My father's mother, who was my babysitter for most of my pre-K life and afterschool, and lived with us until she died, had dozens: Bamma (I was bad with Gs as a toddler I guess?), Banma, Gramma, Grandma, Nanny (my cousin Mandy called her grandmother that and it sounded super cool), Grandmama (emphasis on first ma) and Grandmama (emphasis on second ma), Grams, Gramdmere, Grands, Granny, etc.
My dad had about three, but to be fair, there was no french that sounded dad-like. My dad's dad was Papa and my mother's mother was always and forever Mimi and her stepfather (Mimi's husband) Grandpa, no exceptions.
My sisters have dozens (maybe hundreds), but in the way of siblings, affection wasn't entirely a motivator for some so I'm not sure they're applicable now. I have a standard three or four for them with remixes of their first names and a couple of extensions of their names in different languages because when I heard the translations, I thought they sounded beautiful, or plays on their wallet name like 'ma soeur belle' (eventually I learned to pronounce it correctly, and you really don't know what kind of crime against language I was committing on soeur using English phonics rules and a lot of gumption).
Child has roughly thirty that have literally no relation to any form of his legal name and double that using variations and syllables of his first and middle to play with and that's the tip of the iceberg because there's a vast quantity that are in-jokes and shared references. Currently I call him Tiny Alien, because it just never stops being funny saying that to someone six feet tall who once lisped he wanted to be kidnapped by aliens (green ones, like Martians) and sure, he was three, I could have let it go in the nineteen years since, but why?
Friends aren't excluded from this either, but because they generally don't have specific titles attached to their position in my life based on degree of kinship, it's more something lower than wallet name/online name/nickname but much higher than pet name or endearment because they're specific to them. If they're not into being called anything but their chosen name, including all forms of endearment, I don't do it, but I never really stop wanting to.
It's not like it's hard to work out the pattern here; the longer I know someone, the greater the degree of comfort and intimacy, the more names they acquire. The why is many reasons--some inexplicable--but they're not random, any more than Child's names for me were--my mom, my grandmother, my son, my best friend, your awesome cannot be contained by a single name, lets get a few more on there. If this was ancient Rome, I'd see to it that any letter sent to you would require one scroll just for our full name: praenomen, gens, and so goddamn many cognomens, it would be epic.
I do get part of my attitude about names now has been formed by having a top three name for the year of my birth and remains popular. When I was in Finland, the 'J' sound was a work in progress for a lot of the kids in my age group and younger, and for their parents and most adults, if they spoke English, they learned it later in life. While I'd like to say being like "no don't worry, Yennifer's great," was entirely motivated by wanting to avoid everyone feeling self-conscious and not be a gross American, and yes, that was there, but a very real part was hearing someone call me Yennifer and for the first time in my life having a name of my very own and not shared what felt like half the goddamn country and three to ten in any given space not including the many variations of goddamn Jenny. It was maybe one of the nicest gifts I've ever received from anyone; a name they made right there, just for me.
[Note: Pronunciation was Yen-ne-fer with the n's separated so one ends the first syllable and the other starts the second and the i slid into an e sometimes; I loved hearing it.]
Which is why when someone asks "Do you pronounce Seperis like [this] or like [this]?" my answer is invariably "Yes."
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