Editor's Notebook

| October 2007

Kids' nicknames were just a phase

When each of my children hit the second grade, they decided they simply had to change their names. My son had a perfectly serviceable middle name, so instead of Austin, he became Logan. My daughter had a 'weird' name - Ariel - and wanted a normal name with which to start second grade. She chose a name that seemed deliciously ordinary to her and started the second grade as Ariel 'Call-Me-Susan.'

My son's decision was propelled by the fact that the other kids teased him and called him Steve Austin, which any aficionado of 1970s television can tell us was the Million Dollar Man. He started second grade with great confidence that soon, Steve Austin would be behind him, and he would merely be Logan. A week into school, he came home in tears, telling me that now the kids were calling him Logan's Run, another hit television series.

Over graham crackers and a bowl of canned peaches - ambrosia for any ills at that time in his life - I told him that having nicknames and even being teased were just evidence that the kids liked him and were noticing that he was there. 'Some kids are completely invisible, you know,' I said sagely. 'No one ever even notices that they're around.' He thought this would be superior to being called nicknames, but he eventually concluded that it was easier to be teased for the name he'd been called all his life than to be teased for an entirely new name that didn't feel quite like him.

The same impulse led my daughter to ditch 'Susan' by about the middle of the second week of school as well. She just kept forgetting to answer to it. It's a lousy nickname if it doesn't even make you raise your head out of your arithmetic homework.

In his teen years, Austin became 'Ozz,' with an appropriate lightning flash underlining his signature, and that suited him just fine. Ariel realized that her lovely name preceded The Little Mermaid by several years, and she finally decided she was quite content with it.

My own nickname, K.C., came about because there were always five or six girls named Kathy, Katherine, Cathy, Cathleen or other variations on that theme in any of my classes. The final straw was a ballet class of 17 girls, five of whom were some version of Katherine. I tried a few years ago to take back my real name, Kathryn, but ran into the same problem with people seeing it and instantly calling me Kathy, or insistently spelling it with i's and e's. Sometimes nicknames work just fine.

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