Sometimes I try to create cool phrases, the sort that will catch on in society to become the idioms of the next century. I’ve discovered that I’m singularly ill-equipped for this endeavor, which apparently requires either a minimal understanding of coolness or, failing that, a willingness to accept that grammar isn’t intrinsically cool. I have neither. Shockingly, my knowledge of grammar doesn’t allow me to hold sway over anyone.
Worse than my cool phrases, however–assuming you can imagine such a thing–are my attempts to create nicknames.
As an odd prelude, let me say that my wife and I spent a lot of time choosing our daughter’s name. In fact she’ll need to live a couple more years to reach the age that our discussion was before her birth. My wife wanted a name that was pretty; I wanted a name with applicable and acceptable etymology. We could agree that “Amelia” is a pretty name, for example, but I didn’t want to name my daughter “work,” which is what Amelia means. On the other hand, though she granted that “beauty” was a good meaning, my wife didn‘t want to name our daughter “Aglaia,” which isn‘t a slight against anyone with that name.
After years of wrangling we found a name that satisfied us both; it’s a shame that I don’t use it, and only partially for that reason. Mostly the shame comes from the terrible nickname I use instead. I created it accidentally, but can’t stop saying it.
Here’s how it happened.
I’m not sure who decided to estimate fetus size by fruit comparisons, but someone did and it stuck. I imagine that fruit don’t offend many people, whereas no one would want to hear that his or her child is the size of a cockroach or rat. All of the cool sounding animals are too big; if your unborn child is the size of a koala bear or Bengal tiger, you should probably be induced.
Either way, at some point around when my wife and I started revealing our imminent parenthood, our daughter was the size of a raspberry. I started referring to her as “my little raspberry,” which satisfied my fatherly affection more than “my little unborn and unnamed child who exists for me mostly in the abstract at this moment.”
The “raspberry” name persisted long after it became inaccurate, mostly by virtue of the word’s pleasantness vis-à-vis the names of the subsequent, more accurate fruit. I didn’t want to call anyone “my little plum” for example, because plums are just wet prunes; I didn’t want to call anyone “my little prune.” Potatoes were less bothersome, because they neither inflate nor deflate into something I find disgusting. (This is actually how my mind works.)
Thus for a single afternoon, I called my daughter “My little potato.” Then I heard myself and quit, because potatoes are ugly, grey, drab, things that people dig out of the ground and which then grow too many eyes. I didn’t want my unborn child to get the wrong ideas.
Especially after we confirmed our daughter’s sex, I started calling her “My little honey,” a partner to the “Honey” who was my wife. I conveniently overlooked the obvious reversal–calling my wife “My big honey”–which I suspect she wouldn’t have appreciated while pregnant.
As soon as she was born, I discovered something about the fruit comparisons I’d used to describe my daughter: they only applied to her head. Her body was tiny, slight, miniature, and many other words that mean small. Her noggin was not. All of the weight which my wife had gained had apparently been transferred into our child’s gigantic cranium. So I called her “Pumpkin head,” because she looked a bit like someone had plopped a (beautiful, charming, wonderful) pumpkin onto a doll.
Later I remembered that “Pumpkin head” is slang for “hangover.”
Thus began the phase of her life during which I called her merely “Pumpkin.” In this way she shared a name with my favorite ferret, a pleasant creature whose proportions were very nearly opposite: Pumpkin the Ferret had a tiny head and a great big floppy belly.
Pumpkin the Ferret had also been trained to use a litter-box, a useful skill that my daughter couldn’t emulate. Not that I actively tried. (My wife wouldn’t let me.)
I won’t say that this nickname modification came as a result of my daughter’s capacity for pooping her bodyweight multiple times a day. (I’ll just hint at it and move one.)
I seized immediately on the cool Russian flavor that “Padumpkin” invokes, like “Potemkin“ if Potemkin had been named by Dickens. My affection for Russia (and Dickens) solidified its usage. In fact I decided that, should I ever write a book with a Russian character, I’d name him Padumpkin: Pumya Pumpkovich Padumpkin, or something like that–Pumya Pumpkovna if he were actually a she–modeled after the name Rodya Romanovish Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment.
Then I decided not to risk offending Russians everywhere. (Only the ones who read my blog.)
Remember how I mentioned that I didn’t understand coolness? There was hip-hop artist called “Puff Daddy,” who later became “P. Diddy.” As it turns out, that sort of morphological shift can’t be applied to other words. Some of them start to sound like intestinal discomfort.
Sadly, an unjustifiable lapse in self-awareness caused me to overlook my folly for months. Then one day a friend heard me call my daughter “P. Dumps.” This friend isn’t easily offended, but in fact has the famous penchant for stretching the boundaries of conversational propriety himself. Nevertheless he paused deliberately, pulled me aside, and privately whispered, “Dude, that’s an awful nickname.”
As of yet I have not been able to stop myself form using it. The real concern is this though: what sort of nickname will “P. Dumps” become next?