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Maiming Names

This is the kind of family I married into.
My wife has an aunt named Ha Ha. Actually, her name is Charlotte, but years ago, when my wife's sister was just learning to talk, it came out "Ha Ha." The tragic result: a bright, attractive woman has had to spend the better part of her life being greeted by the sound of forced laughter whenever she visits her relatives.

Not that Ha Ha seems to mind. In fact, when I first met the woman, she asked me to call her Ha Ha. I chortled in anticipation of some sort of punch line. "No," she corrected me. "It's not `Heh Heh.' Nor is it `Ho Ho,' `Hee Hee' or `Har Har.' It's Ha Ha. Okay, now let's try it again."

At the time, Ha Ha was the only member of my wife's family with a silly nickname. And everyone else in the clan felt left out because my sister-in-law hadn't coined a silly nickname for them, too. This jealousy did not subside until my son came along and passed out silly nicknames like Jehovah's Witnesses pass out literature.

The boy's Aunt Nancy (the one who started this whole business) is now known by all who know her as "Nonny." His Uncle Mark in now "Unca Muck." His Uncle Bill is "Bool." His thirteen-year-old cousin Erin is known both as "Ermine" and "Herman." His grandmother has been permanently dubbed "Dwamma." His grandfather lucked out with the more traditional "Papa." All of these people take mild offense when you call them by any other appellation.

Now, these silly nicknames are sort of quaint when their use is limited strictly to family gatherings. However, I can't help but feel a little foolish when outsiders drop by unannounced, and I find myself saying, "Bob, I'd like you to meet Nonny, Unca Muck, Bool, Dwamma, Papa, and my niece Herman." Invariably, the visitor assumes he's witnessing the tragic consequences of inbreeding.

But here's what really bugs me. My wife and I will soon be bringing a new child into this group. Not only is this kid certain to mangle the family's current set of silly nicknames into even sillier nicknames, he or she is also guaranteed to saddle my son with a silly nickname of his own. And my in-laws will take great pains to see that it sticks. For life.

If it sounds like I'm making a mountain out of a mole chip, think about it. My son's name is Matthew. The possibilities for moniker-mutilation are endless. "Hat Chew." "Me Too." "Mash Pooh."

Say my son gets elected president of the United States. Reporters would instantly swoop down on his relatives for their reactions. And everyone on my wife's side of the family can be counted on to say, "Oh, yes, I always knew Mashy Pooh would make something of himself. So did Ha Ha, Nonny, Unca Muck, Bool, Dwamma, Papa, and Herman." The poor boy would be hooted from office within the half-hour.

People don't mind it when the leader of their country is nicknamed Honest Abe, Ike or even Tricky Dick. But Mashy Pooh or anything like it? Uh-uh. For one thing, we'd never be able to hear his State of the Union addresses. They'd be drowned out by giggling.

See the kind of predicament I'm facing?
Ah, well. I suppose things could be worse. For example, I could have married into a family that wasn't absolutely nuts about my little boy. I just hope he'll understand that when he's laughed out of the White House.

The tension continues to mount in the Name-the-Baby Sweepstakes--and not just because Smitty's has added a $25 gift certificate to the grand prize. My wife's normally sylph-like figure is increasing at a pretty fair clip, and since human flesh can stretch only so far, she could explode at any second. You procrastinators had better submit your entries pronto.

By the way, our obstetrician tells us the baby's heartbeat "sounds like a girl." A scientist friend, working from measurements taken from my wife's current dress size, also believes it's a girl. He's just not sure of the species.

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Michael Burkett