Saturday, December 8, 2012

Let Me Call You Sweetheart

When you find yourself a brand new parent, it's easy to become overwhelmed by emotion and forget the important tasks at hand. Namely, what the hell are we gonna call this thing?  I found myself in that particular boat almost a year ago when we had a 3 pound shivering, underfed Chihuahua dumped, pretty much literally, in our arms.

We were told his name was Paco, but he didn't seem to be aware of that.  We attempted to rechristen him with several other Latin names, only to be met with blank stares or sometimes, like in the case of the misguided "Nacho" attempt, nothing at all. Two frustrating weeks of this had us pulling out our hair as we searched for the moniker that our lil man would be proud to carry around.

Literary names, think Fitzwilliam and Rhett, were considered and quickly discarded, as were the more obvious Killer and Butch.  Then out of the blue, it hit me: why not call him the name that it seems half the Southern men alive or dead have answered to?  And so our tiny Chihuahua became Bubba, a name he greeted with enthusiastic tail-wagging and plenty of face-licking.

So much has been written about the Southern tendency for naming people in certain ways. We love double names, things that end in Sue or Rae or Joe and most of all things that can be twisted into some interesting alternative. I would know, considering that I have not one or two, but four separate names. 

As a small baby they named me Candis, a family name held in much esteem as it had been passed down from my great-great-grandmother, a reported full-blood Cherokee princess. As much as they all loved the name, almost immediately it was decided to call me Dee Dee, despite my birth certificate saying otherwise. To be fair my middle name is D'Anne, to honor my father and his father (we share the middle D) and from this they created the Dee, which became Dee Dee.

Dee Dee suited me fine until one day, somewhere around 1987, when some bitchy girl at day care called me "Doo Doo".  Clearly, I could answer to this name no longer in the public arena. And so I declared myself to be Candis, as was legally my right, and had all things official, like my yearbook photo, labeled as such from that day forward. My family disregarded this request as a "phase" and have proceeded to call me Dee Dee without pause for 32 years.

Although my public nickname was the double Dee, I also had the pleasure of a family-only name.  My Papa, one of the great loves of my life, had early on forged his own path, calling me Doodlebug. It was his pet name for me, the oldest and for a while, geographically at least, the only grandchild.  I happily answered to that until the last time it passed his lips, just months before he left us.

With three possible nomenclatures to refer to myself, one would think all possibilities had been covered, but no, not quite. We moved to a small  farm in Worth County, GA when I was 8ish. There I learned to navigate in a rural community and blended family. One cousin by marriage, part of that new branch of relatives, accidentally gave me my final nickname.

As my entire family called me Dee Dee, to my frustration at the time, my baby sister took it upon herself to rebel and call me by my given name. The first time our cousin heard her say "Candis", he became confused, or potentially deaf, and heard "Cactus." This he happily called me, repeatedly, for roughly a week before anyone realized the mistake. When it was finally discovered,  he burned tomato red as the whole family shared one hell of a laugh at his misunderstanding.

Cactus stuck, ha ha, and became a common form of address in the family. In my teen years, I went public with the unusual moniker by declaring my camp name to be Cactus: she who is prickly, but soft on the inside. Everyone has always agreed that it suits me more than anyone would've imagined.

All these years later, all these names later, I'm still Candis D'Anne to the public world, but Dee Dee to my Mama and (usually) my Daddy. I'm always going to be Cactus to my camp family; its been 7 years since my last camp season, but if you yell it in Wal-mart, I'm gonna turn around.  Nobody calls me Doodlebug anymore, which makes me sad, though truth be told, it wouldn't mean the same coming out of anyone else's mouth.

Names can impart dignity or strength, beauty or intelligence.  They can emphasize our uniqueness or pay homage to the past. New parents should consider all of that as they struggle with the naming question. Just remember that ultimately, what you put on the documents matters a whole lot less than what you end up actually calling it.

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