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Terms of Endearment

Despite my protests, my dad insisted on calling me "JoJo" for part of my childhood, which I detested at the time because it sounded to me like a dog's name. (It might also have had something to do with the fact that he would stand in our front yard and yell it at the top of his lungs at dinnertime, but that's another blog.) The point is that I found the name really embarrassing, which only seemed to make him use it more.

For a society that spends so much time agonizing over what to name children, it seems to me that we're pretty flip and quick to settle on nicknames. We bestow mortifying, nonsensical pet names -- Lumpy, Mr. Stinky, Weeman, Bubblebutt, anything ending in the word "poo" -- without a second thought. They're meant to be signs of affection, but most nicknames sound more like insults.

All this name-calling says a lot about human nature, namely that the more we love somebody, the more we love to make fun of 'em. We wouldn't bother using an embarrassing term of endearment if we didn't find the person so damn … endearing. Our nicknames for each other are signs of intimacy and solidarity in an otherwise, cold, formal world.

According to my unscientific poll, the nicknames we give our children are easily organized into four main categories:

Food references: Pumpkin, Peanut, Picklehead, Yummi, Lollipop, Cupcake, Sugar Booger, Brownie, Munchbucket, Babycakes, Snugglebuns, Sweet Pea, Shoog, Shrimpenheimer, Kumquat, Tootsie Pie, Bubblelicious, Jellybean.

Body parts or their functions: Boobie, Poopie, Saggy Pants, Pootzer, Munchie, Weiner, Blondie, Pooh, Poochie, Bitty Buns, Sweetie Poo, Poopsie, Sweet Cheeks.

Animals: Honey Bunny, Lovey Dovey, Boo Boo Bear, Monkey, Care Bear.

Something a Southern Aunt would call you: Sugar Booger, Snug, Snookums, Chook, Squiggly, Angel, Buzzy, Pokie, Bubba, Charmer, Button, Love Bug, Boo Boo … monster (whoops, wrong aunt).

Then, of course, there's the Spanish endearment "gordito," which essentially means "cute, little fat boy." And "Negrita," a pet name for dark-skinned girls. Just like a lot of other nicknames in this world, those two have the potential to really offend when used in the wrong situation.

I've been thinking about this recently because my kids are now at the tender pre-teen age when they are starting to care very much what others, particularly their classmates, think of them. Should kids' nicknames be retired or changed at a certain point? Or does the fact that your child finds the name horrifying only make you want to use it more?

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