Carolyn Hax: Burying a childhood nickname

Carolyn Hax
Columnist May 14

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

A parent insists on calling an adult child (as in, career, married, kids, 30s, etc.) a babyish childhood nickname. The child has asked that the parent not use the name multiple times. The parent claims they cannot change that easily, and seems (to outside parties) to be using the name more frequently. The parent will slip into this nickname at public events as well, including events involving the child’s colleagues.

The child does not believe the parent has bothered trying to adhere to the request at all. Is either side being unreasonable?

Nicknamed


(Nick Galifianakis/THE WASHINGTON POST)

The parent who sticks to the name is being unreasonable, I suspect with intent. Power trip? Usually is.

If you’ve spent any time in this forum at all, you know I’m going to say you can be right about your nickname — you’re the adult child, obviously — and still not control your parent’s use of it.

But, you can choose not to fuss, since that’s part of the power-trip circuit, and it’s best not to complete it. And you can choose not to respond to the nickname. When this parent calls you Pookie, s/he might as well be saying “armchair.” Your head does not turn.

And those “outside parties” who support you can all do the same, including play dumb. “ ‘Pookie?’ I’m sorry, who? Oh, you mean Dana.”

You can also limit this parent’s presence at events.

And, you can take deep cleansing breaths and remind yourself that a defiant, public nickname-abuser is actually making more of a fool of him/herself than of Pookie.

Refusing to try to see it that way is where the adult child would enter the unreasonable zone.

Fair?

Re: Pookie:

Thanks Carolyn, that does make sense (and makes me feel like I’m not nuts for being irritated by it).

What if the parent sends e-mails that begin with “Pookie, [rest of e-mail]”? Would you suggest ignoring the e-mail altogether?

Nicknamed again

Well, at least we know it’s deliberate now!

You can state clearly to the parent: “I’m just letting you know, from now on, if you start an e-mail with Pookie, I will delete it unread,” and stick to it. Or, you can decide this is private communication and not worth the trouble, and fight your battle on the public turf. It’s a matter of your best judgment, both on the size of the battle you’re fighting and on the possibility of collateral damage.

Re: Pookie:

In defense of the parents: We have the same situation in our family, and it really IS hard to remember to call the person by his given name. My brother is in his late 20s now, and I still find myself calling him in public settings by his very distinctive childhood nickname. Heck, he’s even listed that way in my address book . . . so it IS hard!

Anonymous

Right. But: If he has asked you to stop using it, then you can change the way he’s listed in your address book. That is not hard. Using his real name in e-mail? Not hard. And small things like that not only reinforce using his real name, but also reinforce the validity of using his real name. Hiding behind sentimentality = no fairsies.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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