Dr. Yummy and Other Nightmare Nicknames

Parents MagazineDaring to be different, my parents named me Nan rather than the standard of the day, Nancy. Growing up with a nickname name wasn’t so bad, except that it didn’t leave any room for, well, a nickname. And that, in short form, is the reason I named my own daughter Elisabeth (The S is another story.) A classic name, four full syllables (the minimum number I had sworn to my mother I’d give any daughter), and, according to the baby-name book, one that would someday offer her a wide variety of nicknames to choose from-exotic Bettina, standard-issue Liz, Little Womenish Beth, retro Betty, beyond-retro Lisbeth.

My husband and I called her Elisabeth from Day 1. But her 2-year-old brother, Willie, finding that a mouthful, craved an alternative. For a while, he toyed with Yisbiff and Bitt. And then, when she began to crawl, he made his final decision: Her name was Yummy.

It started when our baby-sitter mentioned that she had once known a baby with that nickname. I called Elisabeth Yummy a couple of times that day–it did suit her apple-dumpling cheeks and soft little curls. I thought it was just one of many silly names she was accruing (mostly courtesy of her dad), including Pie Girl and Love Bean. But then Willie made up his mind. He wouldn’t call her anything else.

“Come here, Yummy!” “Take that out of your mouth, Yummy!” Soon he was improvising-calling her Yumyum and (my personal favorite) Yummeh, sotto voce. Now, at age 2, she answers to the name as readily as to Elisabeth.

So what am I going to do? It’s a cute name for a baby, but not one I’d want attached to my 14-year-old daughter (at least not as long as there are also 14-year-old boys). Of course, I have no reason to assume the name will still be with us on her next birthday. But friends have warned me that pet names can be tough to lose. There are grown women who still answer to Muffin, Bunny, Candy–not the fate I would want for my daughter. “Screenplay by Yummy” doesn’t quite cut it. If she’s a pediatrician, will they call her Dr. Yummy? What about newscasting? Let’s face it, Yummy doesn’t exactly have the clout of Cokie or Katie.

Okay, so I’m getting ahead of myself. But isn’t that a hallmark of motherhood? Every milestone we guide our children through- from mastering the potty to learning to read-is supposed to bring us one step closer to the day we get to celebrate how accomplished, well-adjusted, and brilliant they grew up to be (thanks to us). But I hear so much these days about low self-esteem among young women. It’s supposedly an uphill struggle for them to take themselves seriously, much less convince the rest of the world of their worth. Facing this grim battle, will my daughter need the added baggage of Yummy? Isn’t it my responsibility to protect her from her own cuteness? Shouldn’t I insist that my son call her something else?

The problem is, I can’t argue with Willie’s logic. His sister is decidedly, deliciously yummy. And since more boys call their kid sisters Dummy than Yummy, I’d rather count my blessings than censor him. So I’m taking the middle road: I don’t object to the nickname but I do point out from time to time that it’s just that. I make a habit of calling her Elisabeth myself, most of the time. Her grandparents, aunts, and uncles also call her by her given name. On occasion, I tell Willie that eventually she’ll decide for herself what she wants us to call her. (It’s hard to tell whether or not he gets the message, since his response to any serious discussion is to say “beep-beep” and squeeze my nose.)

And if she decides to stay Yummy? I’ll just have to accept it-and hope for the best. Just like Dolley Madison’s mom before me.