“Mommy, what’s your old name?” Miriam asks.
“My old name is Erica. But now it’s Mommy because you’re my daughter.”
“What’s my old name, then?” she asks, sounding slightly confused.
Our names follow us through all the different versions of ourselves. We may have nicknames. We may choose to be called something else. We may change the spelling of our names just to be different. We may dot our “i’s” with a heart or add a silent “p” just to be funny.
The first nickname I can remember was Skippy. I had a giant stuffed Kangaroo with a joey in its pouch and all. I loved it. It was taller than five year old me. My oldest brother, Barry, would sing this song to me from this Saturday morning TV show we watched.
She’s Skippy the Bush Kangaroo
Skippy, our friend ever true
I still have my t-shirt with velveteen iron-on letters spelling SKIPPY across the back. The front has a barely there iron-on picture of the cast Welcome Back Kotter. John Travolta before he was John Travolta. Back when bell bottoms were really BELL bottoms. My mother had saved it and my father gave it to me about two years ago. It’s too ratty for Miriam to wear. It’s really just a tangible connection to a little girl called Skippy. She’s still in here somewhere.
My next nickname became simply my last name. My maiden name is Kornspan. It’s Austrian and incredibly unique, isn’t it? At some point in my early 20’s, I simply became Kornspan. I liked it. It fit me. Unique and slightly silly. I smile when I’m still called it by my friends from that time. It makes me feel young and silly.
“Can you spell your last name, please?” was a common question. My mother had a cadence to her voice as she spelled it out. K-O-R-N-S-P-as-in-Peter-A-N. In our juvenile teen years, we replaced “Peter” with “penis” and we’d crack up as all of us kids would shout “P-AS-IN-PENIS!!” in the background of every phone call she’d make that involved spelling our name. She would laugh as she shooed us away.
I remained simply “Kornspan” for over a decade. When I met my husband, he called me Erica, and only Erica. And Erica quickly turned in “hon” and “honey” and that was a first for me. And I loved it. I loved my new name.
Choosing a name for Noah and for Miriam was incredibly easy. Noah was named for Hal’s father Norman so we needed to simply choose an N name. Noah was a no brainer for animal crazy me. Miriam was chosen out of the prayer book in our darkest days when the Cantor started singing an upbeat melody called Miriam’s Song. I pictured Noah dancing to it and thought the name was pretty. I whispered to Hal “If we have a girl, let’s name her Miriam.” We weren’t even anywhere close to being pregnant yet. Maybe choosing this name gave us something to wish for. Something that had a name. An identity. The sister of Moses, Miriam led the woman and children out of slavery with her tambourine. And I’ve also heard it translates into “sadness of the sea” which is so eerily meaningful, it’s almost too much to think about.
Sometimes my boss calls me “Landis” or “Mrs. Landis” and that cracks me up because it sounds so odd. I’ve been Mrs. Landis for ten years and have been called by that name maybe 20 times tops.
“What’s Daddy’s old name?” she asks.
“Daddy’s old name is Hal. But now he’s Daddy because of you!”
I wonder how old she will be when she realizes how much those names- Daddy and Mommy- mean to us? What it was like to lose them and the fight we fought to be called them again.
Nicknames tell a story of your life.
Nicknames can reveal secret talents and identities.
Nicknames freeze time.