Hello My Name Is

Отцы и дети, or A Dad Named Sue

I had two dads and four grandfathers when I was growing up. Sometimes keeping everyone straight was an adventure. I share the same first name with my dad and his dad, which lead to sometimes-comical attempts by one family member to get the right one of us to respond. While I was never put out by this, it did impress on me the importance of names. When I was about twelve I chose a different nickname than the one my dad and his dad use, which caught on with some – but not all – of the family. I even have relatives who still call me a diminutive form of my nickname that I stopped using in elementary school. Now that I’m old enough, I find being called that name endearing.

For many years, I called both of the men who raised me “Dad.” When we finally became close in adulthood, my stepdad became “Pa.” That development came around the same time that I began mending my relationship with my dad (who, contrary to my WGOM shorthand, I never called “Pops”). I don’t think it’s a coincidence this distinction between them emerged during the time when I was establishing a healthy, adult relationship with each of my dads.

With four grandfathers the naming convention challenge multiplied. My grandfathers though remarriage were both “Grandpa” – one “Grandpa Lastinitial” and the other “Grandpa SurLastFamilyname.” My maternal grandfather was “Papa,” as his parents were still “Oma” and “Opa” to my generation of the family. My paternal grandfather, the only one of my grandfathers still living, is “Gramps.” (In fact, he’s the Gramps-iest Gramps to ever Gramps: a baseball-loving, Buick-driving, Cold War Navy vet who taught high school business & sold shoes. He likes burnt toast, black coffee, and Winstons. He doesn’t drink much anymore, but when I was a kid, he drank Schmidt. Before that, it was North Star.)

Mrs. Hayes & I are both third-generation Americans, our families heavily Americanized but still aware of our ethnic heritage. Papa’s third language was English, which he learned when he went to elementary school; he spoke German & Hungarian at home. My mom & her sisters get by in German to varying degrees. I speak just a little German, but understand a little bit more. To my dismay, we’ve lost the Hungarian. The other side of my family lost its Polish & German even quicker. Mrs. Hayes’ family has held on to their Greek heritage a bit better, mostly thanks to the ethnic dynamics of Orthodox Christianity. While nobody speaks much Greek in her immediate family, the culture’s customs are observed to varying degrees and greetings & blessings are still given in Greek.

Our child’s language acquisition is a priority for both of us. Mrs. Hayes & I both agree on what we would choose for a super power: the ability to speak other languages fluently. Our hope is to have her learn bits of a few languages: Greek and Russian (to communicate with my best friend’s family) for certain, and then whatever we can manage or build beyond that. I would love to send her to an immersion school if we have the opportunity, though that’s many years down the road.

But in the next two month I have a very personal decision to make. Who am I going to be to this little person? Figuring out my new name has consumed my thinking recently. What name do I choose? We agreed on a name for this child for nearly a decade ago. What I never considered is that I'd need to settle on a new name for myself, too.

Because I lost both my dads when they were fairly young, I don’t feel comfortable assuming either of their names in a couple months. At the same time, because we've functionality lost our mother tongues, I wonder if I have the right to claim a non-English name aligned with my child’s ethnic heritage. Do I become Apu, Vati, Tata, or Μπαμπάς? Do I choose Папа, given that’s drawn from the foreign language I speak best and hope to pass on? I honestly don’t know what’s right. But I know whatever I choose has to last two lifetimes.

How did you decide who you were going to be to your child(ren)? Has that name become as much a part of your identity as your given name?

If you speak (or wish you spoke) another language, how did you go about integrating that language into your child(ren)’s life?

Finally, this one goes out to my dads:


27 thoughts on “Отцы и дети, or A Dad Named Sue”

  1. I must admit, this is something I never even thought to think about, until just now, reading your mindful reflection. I can't weigh in, but given the thoughtfulness you're exhibiting, I think your kid is gonna be in great hands.

  2. In the Runner family, "Dad" is the plain ol' vanilla standard on both sides. Runner daughter never knew one of her grandpas (nor did I) and barely knew one of her grandmas.

    I know some German, and Runner daughter took a bit in HS but a second language held no interest to her. We have some German ancestry and friends in Germany, and we have distant relations in mid-Norway, but the Runners are patrilineal Swedes, and I wish I could speak Swedish to my cousins in Sverige.

  3. To our kids (and lately, to each other) I'm Dad or Daddy and she's Mom/Momma/Mommy.

    In our house, my parents are referred to as Grandma J___ & Grampa and my wife's parents were/are Nana & Papa J__. Kernel's still figuring out that my Mom is also Grandma and will sometimes ask, "My Grampa?" when we're talking about "Grampa" visiting.

    Kernel's name is used fully or shortened (as time/anger dictates) though we also call her various pet names - "Nugget, Kiddo, Sweet Pea, Honey, etc." and she gave Niblet the nicknames "Cormie" and "Chubb-bub" ... I've been fighting a losing battle on these.

    I'm happy to hear you're giving this thought, but kids are funny. Try as you may, the name you give yourself may not be the one she takes up for you (and vice-versa).

    1. I now refer to my parents as Grandpa and Grandma, and every now and then when I call home and Grandpa answers and it's not his turn to talk to me, I'll ask, "Is my mom home?"

      1. In the past, I'd get a text from my Mom saying "Dad did XYZ" and I'd have to write back "My Dad or Papaw?" because she refers to my father as "Dad" when speaking to us, but called Papaw "Dad" when talking to him, and that would sometimes spill over into when she talked about him.

        1. About a year ago, Mom started calling Dad by his given name (shortened version) in all situations: to me, my sister, etc.
          It's weird.

          The handful of times I've had to call my parents by their given names (to get their attention from a distance, among people), I believe I've always appended their last name so as not be too improper.

  4. I never gave any thought to what my kids should call me, so I don't know if it settled in the way it did because I pushed it there without realizing it, or what, but the trinket calls me dada and my wife momma while the bauble uses a mix of daddy and dada. Lately, though, the trinket has been using my first name occasionally. It's a bit jarring to hear, to be honest, but I think she does it because she's figuring out what names mean (or something along those lines. Hard to explain what I'm thinking.)

  5. Our kids call us "Dad[dy]" and "Mom[my]" more than 90% of the time. I get a few "Pop"s, "Pa"s, and "Papa"s, but that "Dada"s sound unnecessarily juvenile, even from the three year old.
    ("Mama" doesn't have that problem.) CER has taken lately to calling me Pater, which is from her Latin class. She probably uses Mater for EAR, too, but I haven't noticed.

    We didn't really push towards that, it just happened. We do push the kids away from using our given names. The few times our kids have called us those, we've scolded them.
    EAR says, with a smile, "Only four people in the whole world get to call me 'Mom'."
    I don't bother with an explanation, but I feel it's congruent with my demanding they call adults by their title (M[r][s]., Fr., Dr.)* and family names (unless and until instructed otherwise).
    I think I messed that up with some co-workers that they've heard of by first names for years before meeting.

    *Don't believe we know any nuns or monks. The protestant ministers we're friends with are just Mr[s]., as they're not known from their ministerial role, just my friends from college. Likewise, one of the fathers from Cub Scouts was a medical doctor, but since he wasn't known via that role, he was just "Mr. R___."

    Less congruent is that they call their grandparents and great grandparents by their given names preceded by "Grandma/pa". I called my grandparents by "Grandma/pa" and their family names. EAR called her paternals by "Grandma/pa" and a short version of the first name component of their "-son" last name, and her maternals by the same formula my kids now use. The formula I used is not tenable for my kids because the frequent elision of "Great" would create great confusion with both sets of paternals. As the only of my greats to survive to see me born was my mom's maternal grandmother, and I vaguely remember seeing her once before she died when I was 3, I didn't have that problem. She was just "Great Grandma" and I don't know if I ever spoke to her.

    My mother's father was divorced from my grandmother and estranged from the children he had with her. If I ever spoke to him or of him, he was "Grandpa X.Z.", where those were his first and middle initials that served as his first name.

    I called my parents "Dad[dy]" and "Mom[my]" most of my life, but around the time I reached the age of majority, I switched largely to "Pa" and "Ma". Now, it's mixed.

    1. My Grandpa R (RHR) spoke German at home as a child and during WWII got in some hot water for speaking with some Nazi POWs.
      I know little of the language (I took Spanish in H.S.) and don't even know the German words for Mom & Dad.

        1. German is being used without my knowledge!

          EAR's Maternal Grandfather spoke Polish at home, but married a Swede and I don't know if any of those words were ever used, or if Grandpa Joe ever taught his kids any Polish.
          He was nearly deaf so maybe that would have been too much to attempt.

        2. Interesting. We learned Mutti & Vati in our German curriculum. Then again, our textbook included liberal references to Die Scorpions, Falco, and Die Prinzen. No KMFDM, sadly.

  6. My FiL and MiL were very intentional about choosing handles once The Boy (first grandchild) was born (Nanny and Papa). My parents just segued to Grandpa and Grandma. Although my dad did attempt to swing a change to "Pop" for a while. It did not stick.

  7. We call my father Papa because, as the oldest, I could say "p" before "d" and he loved it so it just stuck. Now that he's a grandfather, we're still calling him Papa. So on my side for the Valet, it's Papa and Grandma and on the other side it's Zeydeh and Bubbe (Yiddish for grandma and grandpa).

    1. My mother-in-law is definitely going to be "Yiayia." Mrs. Hayes' (step)grandfather, who is not Greek but Cuban, is still called "Papou." I'm wondering if he'd prefer "Bisabuelo."

  8. We've been Mommy and Daddy and are transitioning to Mom and Dad. The boys use Mom and Dad in public, although Trey will often refer to "my Mom" even when talking to me or Junior. As for grandparents, we made the decision when Junior was born that we would refer to my parents as Nana and Pa because my sister's kids already did that so we figured it best to avoid confusion. My wife's parents are just Grandma and Grandpa.

  9. My parents were Mom and Dad to us, and I just assumed I would be Dad to my kids. I end up getting called Dada or Daddy more than just Dad, but that may be mostly just due to having pretty young kids. If I think about it, it seems a little young sounding for my 4-year-old to still call me Dada, but when he says it, it doesn't sound that odd.

    It did, however, take me a very long time to get used to being called any of these things. When our first boy starting being able to say anything resembling Dada, it would throw me off every time. I felt very ready to be a parent, but evidently wasn't ready to be called Dad. That sentiment just sort of faded over time, as I got more used to it. The one time it still really bothers me is when someone other than my kids calls me "Dad." I'm very easy going with names in general, and other than professional settings prefer to usually be called Mike instead of Mr. ___ or Dr. ____, but getting called "Dad" by anyone other than my own children really rubs me the wrong way.

    For me growing up, my (very southern) maternal grandparents were Grandmother and Granddaddy, and my paternal set Grandma and Grandpa. That was always a nice way to distinguish which side we were talking about, so even though I remember my friends thinking it was weird to call someone "Granddaddy," it always seemed to work well for me. My mom has continued that southern tradition and is Grandmother to the youngest generation. It fits her well, especially considering how similar she is to her what her mom was like, while my dad was Grandpa before he died. My wife's parents are Grandma and Grandpa to my kids, so they get to have two different names for the two sides, too: Grandmother for my mom, Grandma and Grandpa for my wife's. Seems to work out well.

  10. My old man has Been christened Baca by the latest grandchild. We all kind of hope the new handle sticks.

    1. My old man has Been christened Baca by the latest grandchild.

      Hmmm. Let me chew on that a while.

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