What’s in a name?

There’s something Arthur’s started doing recently that is melting my heart.

He’s been saying ‘Mama’ for a few months now. Leigh and I spoke about it when it first started, a couple of weeks after he began to say ‘Dada’, and he asked me whether it wasn’t the most magical, heart rending thing to hear our son say those words. I hummed and harred and ‘sort of’ed, but in truth it wasn’t really hitting me like it was Leigh. Even when ‘Mama’ started evolving from just a sound Arthur made into a name which he clearly associated with me I didn’t feel more than the odd pang – I mean, it’s just what babies do, right?

But now, now he’s started doing this totally adorable gorgeous thing that absolutely is some kind of magic. He looks at me with this expression of total love and, in the calmest, sweetest voice repeats ‘mama mama mama mama mama’. As he says it his little face begins to break into a smile. And I become utterly at his mercy.

It’s almost like he’s trying it on for size. He’s definitely at a stage now where he’s aware of his ability to communicate, and he gets great pleasure from attaching his few words to things and realising that we understand, that our words are the same. I’ve surprised myself (again) by just how deeply I’ve felt this stage in his development – the beginning of naming.

And it’s brought to the surface a niggling naming issue that is as yet unresolved in Arthur’s world.

My Mum – one of his two Grandmothers – has a major aversion to any of the traditional grandparent names she could be called and so still, a year in, remains nameless.

I don’t entirely blame her – she’s still so full of vitality that I can’t quite see her as a Granny, or even a Nanny as her Mum has always been to me. And she’s in good company – many a glamorous grandmother has taken pains to avoid a moniker that will prematurely age them in their own eyes or those of others.

The niggle for me comes in her reluctance to take any name at all and rather to wait for Arthur to name her. I’m not an expert in early language development, but from what I do know I understand that words are acquired by mimicry. It is by hearing a word attached to a thing that a child begins to understand that that’s its name. I mean, obviously my son is a genius but I’m not sure he’s going to be able to pluck a name out of the ether.

It’s proving a little tricky for us too in referring to her. For a while she was ‘the woman who has no name’, but that joke’s wearing a little thin. I found myself addressing a thank you card earlier to ‘Grampa and…’, but the ellipsis doesn’t work so well verbally. When I pushed her on it, Mum’s response was “I’m just me!”, but I think it might confuse things grammatically if that’s how I refer to her for Arthur.

As I type that, I’m wondering if actually she’s pushing for Mimi. Which could work. It has an air of glamour about it…

So what do you reckon? Have you had any experience of babies inventing names for grandparents? Am I underestimating Arthur’s linguistic powers or should we come up with something to fall back on? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

9 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. theperfumeddandy

    Dearest Mrs Is
    The Dandy has a newly grandmother for a mother who is grappling with a similar quandary,
    There’s always the added complication of not wishing to be called what one’s old parents were… the memory of my mother’s mother is still too fresh for her to take her moniker.
    Welcome back to blogging…. so pleased you’ve gone for WordPress, so much easier for me to keep my eye on you.
    Consider yourself followed!
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    1. sophieblovett Post author

      I think that’s definitely true – my mum’s mum is pretty awesome, but still in a very different place in her life so it would seem a bit strange for them to have the same name.
      Just about getting to grips with WordPress – I may pick your brains though to progress to expert level… ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Carol

    I know it’s your mum, Sophie, but I would find that really annoying and upsetting if either of my children’s grandparents had been like that. I remember telling them that they needed to decide between them who was going to be who; my mum went for Nanny and mum-in-law went for Granny. Phew! Thankfully they didn’t argue! BUT, the thought of myself becoming a grandparent (my son is 18 so it could happen, but let’s hope not yet!) and having to be called something that sounds old horrifies me! So I have some sympathy with your mum, but yes, Arthur does need to start hearing you all call her something, so he can do so himself. I know one little boy who couldn’t say Grandma so he called his granny MarMar, and she still is that today. Be funny if Arthur suddenly started calling her something rude or inappropriate sounding that he made up, like PooPoo or something!!!!!!! Think she’ll suddenly decide to be Nanna or something more traditional then! xx
    Nice read Sophie, thank you. Consider yourself followed ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. sophieblovett Post author

      I know she means well, so it’s just a bit annoying rather than upsetting… I do wonder how much censorship will be applied if Arthur does come up with an ‘inappropriate’ name. He’s developing quite a sense of humour so it wouldn’t surprise me!

  3. Sophie Howe aka the other Sophie Lovett!

    Interesting post Soph. Personally I think children need to start with something and then they evolve it themselves. Our Nanny and Bampy and Nana and Bampy John was fairly straight forward and they stuck with it. I guess my dad was more tricky as 1. He wasn’t that keen in becoming a grandfather in the first place and 2. As an aging lothario (at least I think that’s how he sees himself) he certainly didn’t want a name that would age him further. So he insisted on Pete. The boys compromised and called him Bampy Pete (their choice) and although he still signs his cards to them ‘Pete’ I think he’s secretly grown to love being a Bampy.

    I recall my own naming journey with my ‘Bumpy’ the most wonderful man in the world and until I was about 6 at least my very very best friend! He started as being named Grandad. I couldn’t say that when I was little so used to call him Grumpy. There’s still a little patch of concrete in the garden of their house where my dad now lives which says Sophie and Grumpy made this in 1980 (which is when they relayed their patio) but then at around age 3-4 I think I came to understand what the word Grumpy meant and remember consciously thinking my Grumpy isn’t grumpy at all. Far from it in fact so it just seemed wrong and I decided myself that I would change it to
    Bumpy the closest alternative. And there he was he was Bumpy for evermore.

    Morgan had a similar thing with his Godfather James. We called him Jim. Morgan couldn’t say Jim do he called him Dim. This has stuck and evolved. His surname being Hull. He is now widely known as Dim Dull to the pint that he even calls himself Dim (he’s not adopted his mates wider mocking of his stupid name by including Dull himself). In fact when he moved to Brighton away from all the Welsh contingent who called him Dim we were all tickled to find that when we were introduced to his new friends including his then girlfriend now wife that they all called him Dim too because that’s how he’d introduced himself!

    So that’s in my view what happens with names. You need to give children somewhere to start and then is the time to leave it up to them to decide if they can say it, then if they actually like it and then what will stick forever.

    1. sophieblovett Post author

      That’s such a sweet story about you and your Bumpy! And hilarious about Morgan’s Godfather Dim… I think I may need to sit down with mum and discuss a starting point she’s happy with. I have no doubt Arthur will develop his own version but having no name at all is getting increasingly challenging!

  4. Katharine

    Hi Sophie, just discovered your blog this week via my husband sending me the post on your baby-led weaning ears – we both think they’re brilliant! As the mother of a 15 month old girl, I’m hugely impressed that you managed to write a novel during the first few months of parenthood – when did you write?!
    On the name front, my personal experience of this is calling my very special grandfather Gabar (he wanted to be called Grandpa but I could never say it as a little one and Gabar stuck). He was such an important person in my life, I was always glad that I had invented a name for him.
    However, the best name story ever comes from the friend of a friend…. His family called his grandfather Grandad Bart – when he was little he heard his mum saying “Grandad Bart’ll be here soon.” He heard this as Grandad Bartleby, and the name stuck. Apparently he only discovered his real name when he was well into his teens, as his family loved it so much they didn’t want him to know the prosaic truth!
    I shall certainly be keeping up with your blog. Oh and you’ve inspired me to get a bit creative with sewing too, I’ve always enjoyed it but haven’t done that much recently.

    1. sophieblovett Post author

      Thanks so much for your lovely comments. I think I’ve been lucky that Arthur’s such a good napper – I get a good few hours with him in the sling to write each day as long as we’re not out and about. It was always going to be a big priority to find time to write as that was my big excuse for not going back to work.

      Both awesome name stories. We still haven’t solved this particular conundrum here but I’m sure we’ll get there in the end…

      I’d love to see the results of your sewing endeavours – crafting’s taking a bit of a back seat for me at the moment as I’m focusing on the first draft of the next novel but I’m looking forward to getting back into it when I’m done!

  5. Pingback: Arthur’s castle | Sophie is…

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