What’s in a Name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” –Shakespeare

whats in a name image

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

The sweetness of this day is inspiring me to honor the sweetness our children inspire in us.

I was leafing through my childcare journal and found this entry from a few years ago. I’d like to share it with you on this Valentine’s Day, to focus on the creativity, silliness, and love our families experience with each other!


The 4s class welcomed a new addition today, a little boy with long blonde hair, and the roundest, cutest face I ever saw. I asked his teacher about him.

She took a deep breath, “His name is Sawyer, but he goes by Wallie.”

I was surprised at the jump from name to nickname, and asked if Wallie wasn’t his middle name. She confirmed it was Wallace, and that his parents asked her to call him “Wallie” because that’s what he’d come to be called at home. She seemed to disagree with us calling him by the nickname, so I asked her why.

She answered with real conviction, “Well his real name is Sawyer, but they’re not going to call him by his real name. I don’t want to encourage that.”


This has been a recurring topic lately in my experience.


My friend enrolled her three-year-old in a preschool. He told everyone there his name was “Alvin Wilson,” though his given name is Alden. She explained to his teachers that, through the years, Alden was shortened to “Al,” and “Al” morphed easily into “Alvin,” and “Alvin” had a nice rhythm when followed by “Wilson.” Therefore, he came to be called by his family, “Alvin Wilson!”

The teachers at his school were concerned by this, and refused to call him Alvin, and encouraged his family to call him Alden instead. His parents had to agree: he should be able to know his name is Alden, and at school, he should go by his given name. So, they worked on helping him to know the difference between his name and his nickname.


But “Alvin Wilson” and “Wallie” worked together to start the wheels turning in my head. Why did some teachers jump to the point of disapproval upon hearing nicknames outside the home? What’s the cause for concern? What is in a name?!

Memories of accounts of names and nicknames flooded my head as I considered this point:

  • My cousin is named Sahara, but her brother couldn’t pronounce her name as a toddler. He got so fed up trying to pronounce it that he gave up entirely, and took to referring to her as “That.” Sahara loved it, so her parents allowed him to call her “That.” Eventually, he outgrew calling his sister by a pronoun, and was mature enough to pronounce her name, so he retired “That.” Sahara was heartbroken, and urged him to keep calling her by the nickname, but he never picked it back up.
  • My father’s given name was Douglas Daniel, but the very day his parents brought him home from the hospital, they determined he didn’t look like a Douglas, so they immediately called him “Daniel.” When he was old enough, he legally switched his name to “Daniel Douglas.
  • I have a friend who was dubbed “Scooter” at the young age of three months on account of his scooting motions when sitting in his mother’s lap. His family called him “Scooter” exclusively his whole life: the whole church knew him as “Scooter,” and all his school friends called him “Scooter.” As an adult, his friends, co-workers and in-laws call him by his given name, but those who knew him intimately through him childhood continue to use the sentimental reference.
  • A little boy in my 3s class has a baby sister named Peighton. He was unable to pronounce it correctly when she was first born, and his attempts sounded more like “Penguin.” So now he calls his sister by “Penguin,” and family members have picked up the name for her, too!
  • My husband’s first name has many syllables, and doesn’t fit in casual situations. A comical incident arose when we were dating that led me to begin calling him “Buck,” and he nicknamed me “Doe” to match. Five years later, we seldom call each other by our first names around the house.

My long-in-coming point here is that names seem to be naturally fluid; nicknames are an opportunity for us to bond with our loved ones. It’s a symbol we have a specific and special connection with the person who calls us by a different name than the rest of the world calls us. Names and nicknames are an opportunity for us to tell a story of our most important or amusing relationships.

“That” was a symbol to Sahara of the relationship she had with her brother; no one else would ever have that role in her life.

“Penguin” will explain to her friends on the playground one day, “My brother couldn’t say ‘Peighton’ when we were little. He could only say ‘Penguin.’ So, that’s what my family has called me ever since!”

“Alvin Wilson” knows when he hears that name, someone in his Inner Circle is calling to him. Only the people who know him intimately and love him dearly call him by that name. It is the sound of safety and love.

When my husband calls me “Doe,” and I call him “Buck,” I feel closer to him, and it’s fun getting to explain to people the long story of how that started!

Sometimes, one’s given name doesn’t quite fit them, so their loved ones find a new one that does! As is the case with “Wallie,” and “Daniel,” and even “Scooter.”

Sure, we need to make sure they know to respond to, and introduce themselves by, the name the rest of the world will be calling them. And of course, allowing a child to believe her name is “Rainbow Dash” or “Super Girl” or “Ariana Grande,” or to request others to address her as such, would be unhealthy.

But I don’t think there’s even the remotest chance of damaging a child by calling them a name that makes them feel safe and loved and special. Names and nicknames can be celebrated! They have the potential to strengthen bonds, and to forge relationships.


So, what’s in a name?

The stories of our origins, and the symbols of our most important relationships: the summaries of who we are.


Let me know in the comments below, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, what great nicknames have come about in your families!

And have a rosey, sweet Valentine’s Day!

Today and always, I wish you well!


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