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What’s in a name?

April 20, 2010

With thanks to Shakespeare for the insight:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 43-44)


My son’s earliest vocabulary was a bank of animal sounds;  “oink” and “moo” were his first words, which still endure among his favorites.

It was a long time – a patience-trying, paint-drying long time – before he began naming the animals those sounds belonged to. There were months of pointing and mooing, seeing and snorting, before Jack said “cow” or “pig.”

Twelve weeks away from his two-year checkup and against my instincts and best judgment, I worried about the talk about talking. (I’m really good at getting needlessly nervous about doctor’s visits.) At our 18-month appointment, we’d been asked about assumed achievements: “He says dad, mom, and 8-10 other words you can understand?” The honest answer was no: He was following complex instructions, identifying shapes, animals, body parts and machines by pointing; he was asking for things with points and demanding noises; he was saying “dad” and making 4-6 animal sounds. So though I didn’t worry at all about his communication, I dreaded the clipboard with the questionnaire, followed by the nurse and the verbal milestones checklist.

His appointment with the pediatrician was Wednesday. Here I would like to mention how much we adore our pediatrician. Would I relocate to Nebraska if Dr. Davis moved? Possible to likely. (Just a suggestion for the clipboard questionnaire.)

No one asked how many words Jack is or is not using, nor how many we versus strangers can or cannot understand. So we didn’t have to cite his sudden and enthusiastic naming of things, from yard tools to letters of the alphabet, meat to avocado.

I might be even more excited by his naming of people, from us to Elvis. For nearly a year, Jack called for “Da,” while I was just the implied target of his robust set of demands. When he started saying “Mom,” I was delighted to hear and answer even at 3 a.m.

Now he calls his Gran by name (my mother, his other grandmother and weekday companion, goes by Jungle Mother. It’s a joke,  but not so much that it isn’t what we call her. For now, for Jack, it’s just a mouthful. ) He knows his own name, as well as the names of his friend Hayden, his cousin Will, and of my sisters, all of whom he can now say he wants to play with, all the time.

My father-in-law decided when Jack was born that the baby would decide what to call him. A few weeks ago we convinced him that if he wanted Jack to call him something other than what we call him – Randy – that we’d better start throwing “Grandpa” into the mix.

We know because he has recently learned that his dad’s name is Don – and about half the time, it’s what he now calls him.

It makes sense, given that it’s what I call him. Jack is our first child, and “Mom” and “Dad” are still pretty new to us.

I remember learning my father’s name. We were at a cookout at the local ballpark, probably celebrating the fourth of July, and my dad, the basketweaver and musician – who sold Bob’s Baskets and whose stage name was Cowboy Bob Slick – was performing. A man who knew me asked where Keith was, and I told him I didn’t know.

I knew him as Dad and I knew him as a couple of Bobs: I didn’t know him as Keith.

Last night before bed, I asked Jack to say my name. “Mom,” he said.

“I’m Mom,” I said, “but what’s my name?” Shrug.

“What’s your Dad’s name?” I asked.

“Don,” he said.

“What’s your Mom’s name?” his dad asked.

“Not Don,” he said.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. April 20, 2010 4:42 am

    Fynn learned his dads name at one point, and would go around saying “Hi Lucas!” and Lucas would just stand there in disbelief 🙂 But he has yet to say my actual name. (I’m not complaining, the boy didn’t say mom, or ma, or mama, or mommy until he was two…)

    It’s the names that are so fun for them to learn and use 🙂 Loved this.

  2. April 20, 2010 5:57 am

    I love that black-and-white kid logic! Mom is not Don; therefore, she is Not Don. Of course! My son, too, can oink and moo with the best of them and is just starting to round out his vocabulary. Hearing his little voice happily greet “Mama!” in the morning absolutely melts my heart. Every time.

  3. April 20, 2010 1:04 pm

    Not-Don, this is hilarious, and so right and sensible of Jack. It took my daughter 14 months to finally say mama and she’s 17 months now, but I am till putty every time she says it. I cannot get over it.

  4. April 20, 2010 4:40 pm

    Wait ’til you get “I wuv you Mom” (or “I wuv you, Not Don”). *MELT*

  5. April 20, 2010 5:26 pm

    Awwww, that’s so sweet! I love it, not Don!

  6. April 20, 2010 6:45 pm

    You are “not Don.” Good to know! Hayden sortove knows my “other name,” but I have to coax it out of him. He knows Randy’s… it’s easy. Dad’s other name is Randy. I am mom and that’s it. I have to really prod him to get him to remember my other name and usually he doesn’t remember it. Oh well. He is correct: I am mom.

    And I love that Jack knows Hayden’s name. SO cute!

  7. April 20, 2010 6:53 pm

    🙂 Smart little critter.

  8. April 20, 2010 7:35 pm

    There is just no beating the often profound kid logic! I asked my two year old nephew this weekend where he was (thinking that he was going to say, “Grandma’s house!”) and he pointed to himself and said, “right here”. Wherever we go, there we are! 🙂

  9. April 20, 2010 11:54 pm

    My son has started to do this–call us by our names. I think it’s funny. I have a friend who is horrified that her son might call her and her husband by their names. I think the more you forbid a kid, the more interested he’ll be. So for now, Mr. B yells to my husband, “Are you okay, Mike?”

    And I’m fine with that.

  10. April 21, 2010 1:26 am

    This cracked me up, Not-Don. Calling parents by their first names should go down on the list of unofficial kid milestones – you know, the fun and funny ones that all kids seem to share. And it’s got to be a sign of some sort of cognitive leap, right? 🙂

    And, as the mom of an almost one year old who still isn’t crawling, I know just what you mean about the dread leading up to the milestones questions at the pediatrician visit. Why does it feel like one of those dreams where you show up to take a test you haven’t studied for?

  11. April 21, 2010 12:59 pm

    It so fun to watch them turn into little people. For the longest time Nicolo called me NaaNaa, even though I made the correction contently. Yesterday I go to get the boys from daycare and I hear a little kid yelling Momma. I did turn around right away because my little guy usually yells, NaaNaa. To my pleasant surprise when I did turn around it was Nicolo and even the teacher was amazed that he was calling me that.
    BTW- Mommy will be the best name you ever get called!!

  12. April 21, 2010 2:31 pm

    Do you remember that weird dinosaur sitcom where the baby called the parents: Mama and Not-the-Mama? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinosaurs_(TV_series)
    Anyway, my son will yell for my husband by his first name if I do, but he rarely says Alex. I’d never thought about that until I read your post…
    And I totally agree that grandparents need to pick a name — my son wasn’t going to make up a name for anyone! He would use the name we use or just say YOU and point 😉

  13. April 24, 2010 11:57 am

    That is pretty awesome. You can be Jack’s mom and not Don. 🙂 No need for a name of your own.

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