I was chatting to a mum I vaguely know at a kids' party the other day, when she mentioned a mutual acquaintance: "Oh god she's barking, that Emma. I mean she calls her little boy Skippy! Because he skips around! He's five! I mean how RIDICULOUS is that?"
Rare is a moment of silence from me in a conversation but I really did not know what to say. Ridiculous it might be to her, but to me it was way too close to home. Because that's my son's nickname too (sometimes shortened to 'Skip'). Clearly she would find me equally odd and ridiculous had she known.
At the end of the party, I called my son over, carefully using his 'proper' name, although in retrospect maybe I should have shouted, 'Hey Skippy, it's time to go,' just to see the look on her face.
All the way home, I wondered: does everyone who's ever heard us call our son Skippy think we're weird to do so? Maybe we're known as 'The Couple Who Call Their Child a Stupid Name'?
But hang on a minute, my son actually likes his nickname as much as his real one (Luca), and surely it's just affectionate? And we don't use it in front of his friends - he has remained firmly a Luca when he's at school. I'd very much doubt most of his classmates know he has a nickname at all.
Yet still having a fit of (mild) paranoia, I asked around among friends – is it normal to nickname your kids? Or do they take the same judgey view as 'party mum'?
Thankfully, most were with me: "It's just an affectionate, harmless thing," said one with a daughter otherwise known as 'Looby' and a son, 'Little Man'.
"Provided your child isn't embarrassed or being teased at school about it, what's the big deal?" asserted another.
There was, however, a cautionary tale about how you can take things too far: "My son has a little friend whose family nickname was Peanut, to the point that he got upset when he was due to start nursery and they had to work hard at convincing him he had a different name." So don't go so far that when they start school it's a shock to find that actually their real name is not 'Bean' or 'Twinkly', 'Carebear' or whatever.
The only really anti-nickname person I could find (apart from 'Party Mum') said that although she doesn't care what anyone else calls their own kids, she doesn't like other people giving her children nicknames.
"I spent ages and ages agonising over what to call my boys and I really hate it if someone starts calling them something else." Fair enough now although in 10 years' time that's going to have to go out of the window when their teenage mates are calling them whatever they fancy.
For a final bit of reassurance, I Facebook messaged an old university friend who, coming to the end of her fourth decade, is still widely-known as 'Tigger' (real name Virginia). She had even stuck with this childhood nickname all the way through a 10-year stint at a very big investment bank in the City.
Tigger was entirely positive: "I liked being able to choose either my real name or my nickname. I didn't ever formally change my name to Tigger in the company records [she originally applied for the job as 'Virginia' - well would you put 'Tigger' on your CV?] I'm not sure who did. But it worked for me, was better than Virginia and it meant people remembered me! If you like it, you can persist with it, if not you drop it as you get older."
The key for parents then, is surely to know when to stop and to be led by your child. I can vouch for this, having been given a completely excruciating nickname by my dad and mean older brothers as a kid which stuck around far, far too long. I was ever more mortified by it as the years passed which just made them use it more to wind me up. It was, in fact, so bad I can't even tell you lot what it is 30 odd years on.
So please do drop it if your offspring begins to get embarrassed about being publicly called 'Scooby' or 'Looby' or 'Dobbin' or 'Pippin' or erm, 'Pooey'. (Hint: it could be one of those)
More:Advice And Health
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