Nicknames belie a certain intimacy. They are gifted by someone who knows us or knew us in a way others didn’t. Then this bit of history carries on, sometimes long after the giver is gone. The name spreads to others without the history or the intimacy, giving strangers, acquaintances, new friends the impression they know you better than they do. Or that they know something about you that you didn’t share yourself.
Do we choose our nicknames or do our nicknames choose us?
Do our nicknames become us, or do we become our nicknames?
At the same time, they can create distance and confusion as people struggle with what to call you. Do they know you well enough, is it acceptable, to call me Kitten? Is it even stranger to call me Kathryn?
I’ve experienced this myself with other people. What is the point when you can move from birth name to nick name. And if you are angry, do you take it back?
This came up recently when I was talking to my Dad on the phone and he said, “Does anyone call you Kathryn anymore? Or do you just go by Kitten?”
“I go by both,” I said, “It’s about even.”
Then I started to explain. I felt as if I needed to explain both why I wasn’t called the name he gave me and also why the nickname wasn’t something like, “Elegant Queen of Success and Grace.” That nickname is too long. Maybe I could convince him that it was the first choice but because it was so long, the universe settled on Kitten.
But then I had to explain why Kitten instead of, you know, something more appropriate like, let’s just say, “Purity,” because to some Kitten seems like an overtly sexual nickname.
“It’s really not, it’s more like an endearment,” I tell my Dad. I was rambling because: awkward! I know some (but not all!) people think “sex kitten” or something with sexual connotations.
It’s mostly to feed their own craving for a salacious scandal. Or maybe it’s just because I’m so sexy and fluffy and have sharp claws? Either way, I was rambling about all this because it’s not the conversation I was expecting to have with Dear Old Dad. In my mind I was trying to think of a way to magically change the conversation to something safe like car troubles or our political differences but then he said;
“Cut it out. It’s a perfect name. Did you ever know my mother’s nickname?”
“Everyone called her Pussy.”
Here she is, with her platinum blond hair and signature red lips singing at a party.