Maintaining Anonymity in the Public Sphere
Originally published November 26, 2010
People reading this column might think that Michael and I are very strange, calling our children “Muffin” and “Squeaker.” Not that there is anything wrong with unusual names. In fact, our children’s actual names are not at all mainstream in the United States. But these particular names have significance, in terms of the girls’ identities and their privacy.
When I was first pregnant, Michael and I struggled with how to refer to the children I was carrying. As Orthodox Jews, like many other Brookline residents, we have a tradition not to use the child’s name until the name is given at a boy’s bris(circumcision) or girl’s naming ceremony. Very quickly, however, I took a page from Doctor Seuss and started referring to them as “Thing One” and “Thing Two.” But once they were born, I quickly became uncomfortable thinking of these beautiful girls as “Things.” The quest for new nicknames began.
Since the girls were born by C-section, I was in the hospital for four days. Specifically, I was at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where the policy is that the babies stay with the mothers unless the mothers request to send them to the nursery. During one of their first naps in our room on the day after they were born, I heard a bizarre squeaking noise coming from the bassinet that held one of our kids. Worried, I stood over the bassinet for a moment or two, debating whether I should get a nurse. But it turned out that the girl just made random squeaking noises in her sleep, and thus I dubbed her “Squeaker” until she got her real name.
I still didn’t know how to refer to her sister. Later that morning, I was cooing over the basinet holding her. “Who’s Mommy’s little muffin?” I asked her. Why muffin, I have no idea, but it was before breakfast, so it was likely I was hungry. So she suddenly became “Muffin.” And when she developed a bit of jaundice about 48 hours after she was born, she was briefly my little corn muffin.
Once we were back home, we quickly arranged to name our girls. But now that they had official names, I had a dilemma: I wanted to be able to talk about the girls and their development on my blog, but I didn’t want them to be easily found online. And so I decided from the very beginning to use their first-week-of-life nicknames as theirnoms de blog. Now, whenever I write about them on the Internet, they are Muffin and Squeaker, and when friends who have read about the girls finally meet them, it is not uncommon for the first question to be “Which one is Muffin and which is Squeaker?”
Of course, these are not our girls’ only nicknames. Squeaker has a tendency (which, alas, I believe she inherited from me) to have a stuffed nose, and so early on she became “Snortle McBortle” for the snorting noises she was making. Her sister, around the same time, developed a penchant for whining when she was the tiniest bit inconvenienced, and so she got the nickname “Whingey McMuffinpants.”
Some nicknames are interchangeable. They are both “Boo” or “Boosker,” with the first-born, who had a big “1″ on her hat at the hospital, being “Boosker Onesker” and her sister being “Boosker Twosker.” Other shared nicknames include “Noodle,” “Goo-Goo” and “Doodlebug.”
At the girls’ twelve-month appointment with their pediatrician, we were asked if the girls knew their names. Squeaker very quickly turned when her real name was called, but Muffin was not always as quick to respond. While my belief (which was later borne out) was that she was simply ignoring us, I did say that it was possible that Muffin did not recognize her full name because we so often call her by a nickname. I tried thereafter to be better about calling her by her full first name more often, and she is good at responding to it, but I still slip regularly and call her by one of the myriad nicknames I have bestowed upon her.
Michael, of course, is much better about calling the girls by their names. I’ve discussed this with other mothers of my acquaintance, and I wonder if there’s more likelihood of mothers calling their kids by random nicknames than fathers. This, perhaps, is a topic for Muffin or Squeaker’s future dissertation.
This week’s column is written by Nomi S. Burstein.
About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2010 by Brookline Patch.