[featured on front page]
June 28, 2008
By ELLEN FREEMAN ROTH
your father's nicknames when teens talk to parents
"Mom and Dad"
and "Mr. and Mrs." are so passť. Call them Big Anne,
P-Money, and G-Dog. Their kids do. So do their kids' friends.
teenagers and twentysomethings, "Mom and Dad" are giving way
to slangy, quirky nicknames.
nicknames spring up impromptu. Other times they migrate from
kids' shorthand references for their parents into pet names.
The simplest are variations on first and last names.
Shar," the name a daughter's friend gave to Sharon Levitan
" 'Shar Shar'
sounds like I'm a cockapoo or something," Levitan lamented.
"If they came up with something a little more mature, I
wouldn't mind, since with these kids a nickname means you're
endeared to them."
The change in
the way these children address their parents probably stems
from baby boomers' less authoritarian child-raising
practices. Technology is a factor, too, given the offhand
style that people use in instant messages and cellphone
texts. The Internet has made people comfortable using names
that are not their own - in particular, the frequent use of
screen names online has made naming a bit more elastic, said
Cleveland Evans, a psychology professor at Bellevue
University in Nebraska who is a former president of the
American Name Society, a group that studies the cultural
significance of names. Screen names, he said, "might have
made people freer to think of the same person addressed by
multiple names, and that's what nicknaming is."
Michael Josephson of Old Greenwich, Conn., are Mama Jo and
Papa Jo, names coined by their daughter's friend. Timothy
Sweet of Watertown began calling his father "Sweet Man" a
dozen years ago on a Boy Scout trip. Sweet likewise has
nicknames for his friends' parents, including "Glenzo" for
Glen and "Pina" for Patricia.
18, a Babson College student from Princeton, N.J., said her
mother, Pam, wasn't thrilled at first when Sarah called her
P-Money. "Initially my mom said, 'Really, Sarah,'
exasperatedly. Now when she's texting she signs off, 'Love,
P$.' It makes her feel like one of the girls."
Chick's sons renamed him "Atahualpa" (pronounced
Atta-who-all-pah) when they were learning about the Incan
sovereign. "I thought it was pretty bizarre," said Chick,
who lives in Winchester.
But the name
grew on him, so now he's Atahualpa - or sometimes
Dada-hualpa or just Hualpa. "They'll call, 'Hey, Atahualpa!'
and I'll come over."
Gaulin, 22, of Greenwich, Conn., yelled "My bad, G-Dog!" to
her father, Dan, during a basketball game to make light of
an error she'd made. "After that we started calling him
G-Dog," she said. "Now he loves it."
the case for all parents. Barbara Gross of Wellesley, a
fund-raising professional who has two daughters in their
early 20s, doesn't have a nickname, and she doesn't want
important for young people to know that they have role
models who have more life experience and wisdom under their
belts, so there's a polite and respectful distance," she
said. "To me, a nickname connotes a friendliness that
crosses that line."
Reifsnyder, a psychologist and family therapist at
Massachusetts General Hospital's Department of Child
Psychiatry, said nicknames are healthy because it means
children are inviting parents into their world.
"One of the
reasons they might do it and we didn't is they've been
brought up to give their opinions and speak their minds,"
Reifsnyder said. It's also a way for children to shift the
relationship as they get older, he said. "Maybe they
experience a little more power or equality by the process of
Donahue, 16, of Weston said many of her friends refer to
their parents by nicknames, "but only a few of us do it to
their faces." When two friends were visiting, she herself
used "Big Anne" in frustration within earshot of her mother.
Big Anne turned around quickly.
jaws dropped, almost in suspense," recalled Katherine's
mother, Anne. "I tried to get the better of her and her
friends and said, 'What was that? Big Anne? I love it! I've
never had a nickname and always wanted one. Thanks!' "
Donahue said her daughter and daughter's friends now
affectionately call her Big Anne.
however, thinks it's disrespectful, so he and his friends
haven't adopted the nickname. "He does not approve," she