Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner… For That Matter, Nobody Calls Me Baby

This morning, I sent out a work-related email signed with my full name: Kathleen [MI] [Last].

The recipient sent me a response with the following salutation: Hello Kathy.

Later, I was on the phone with someone wise enough to ask before proceeding: “Do people call you Kathleen or Kathy?”

Kathleen. People call me Kathleen.

Not a Kathleen among them!

I don’t know if you realize this, but Kathleen is a problematic name. It’s rarely on those iridescent magnets or “gold” nameplate necklaces you find at drugstores. There’s an overstock on Katherine and Catherine, but rarely a Kathleen. People aren’t used to the name and hearing it confuses them. It took Buckie 7 years to remember my name was not Kaitlin.

When I was 9, all of my friends were developing nicknames — Danielle was becoming a Dani, Jessica was turning into a Jess, and everyone wanted to call me Kathy. I know a grown-up Kathy who played golf, voted Republican, believed in creationism, and liked Florida. No, I couldn’t be a Kathy. My father thought it was cute to still call me Poo-Poo Head. No, that wouldn’t do either.

“Your name is Kathleen. If we had wanted to call you Kate or Katie or Kathy we would have named you Kate, Katie, or Kathy,” my parents said when I whined about not having a proper nickname. “Don’t ever let anyone call you Kathy.”

Apparently, my mother almost called me Ashley. If you knew me, you know I could never be an Ashley.

Am I Kat tonight or Kathleen?

It wasn’t until college that the need for a nickname would turn into a full-fledged identity crisis. On the first day of orientation  I met Mike and we instantly became best friends. “Can I call you Kat?” he asked. “I like to have nicknames for all my girl friends.” Sure, why not! College, I decided, was a time for reinvention and so I likewise decided to accept Kat as my new identity.

But given “Kat’s” newness, I was awkward with introductions and never fully embraced the adopted persona. Soon, I found that all my teammates and athlete friends were the ones that called me Kat while everyone I met outside that community called me Kathleen. Kat became not my new incarnation, but an alter-ego. It was all very confusing.

By the time I finished grad school, Kat had faded to the name I gave at Starbucks when ordering my venti latte.

The truth is, my parents’ adamant rejection of a diminutive form of my name had instilled in me a general distaste for nicknames and pet names. Whenever a guy calls me “Honey,” I cringe inside, while a “Baby” makes me feel like a cheap teeny-bopper. Once upon a time, there was a guy I would meet for drinks that insisted on calling me Kitty. He didn’t last long. Though, maybe the biggest problem I have with being called Baby or Honey or Kitten or Pumpkin is not that its a pet name — it’s that it’s insincere and impersonal.

How many people in your life do you call Hon or Sweetie? I bet far more than the number you call Kathleen.

11 thoughts on “Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner… For That Matter, Nobody Calls Me Baby

  1. loaenterprise

    What a great, great GREAT WRITER you are!!!!!!!!
    Move over Liz Gilbert, here comes K A T H L E E N!

    Come on Baby, oops, sorry, come on Kathleen give us the next best selling Memoir


  2. Jess

    I started going by Jess when I was in middle school when a boy in my French class who I thought was cute called me Jess. I liked it and it stuck.

  3. I never find a magnet with my name either. We could start a neglected-name-magnet company. It’s a niche market. My name is actually a nickname. Rivkah is the original (yeah, also not on any necklace/magnet/mug either).

    Like you, honey/baby/sweetie made me cringe, but after being married for almost three years, I’ve gotten used to being called, and using, honey. It’s not even weird anymore. Go figure.

  4. I was twelve before I found anything with my name on it at the store, and by then I didn’t want barrettes with my name anyway. My aunt started calling me D, which I loved, but only her family did it. It was annoying bcs my sister and all of my cousins have nicknames. A few of my friends call me D now, but only after I mentioned it. 😉

    But if you call me Niece, Niecey or Denise-y, I will not even acknowledge you to tell you I HATE it. I’ll pretend I didn’t hear you. LOL

  5. Oriana

    never anything with my name on it either!

    In preschool, one of my friends started calling me Oreo and 20 years later, it’s still around. I don’t think it will ever go away, and I think I’m ok with that as long as i’m not “president oreo” or “queen oreo” =)

  6. Pingback: Kate Middleton Stole my Gig « They Told Me to Find a Rich Husband

  7. swissknifev

    Hi! I know that women being called Baby or Doll. No, you’re not objects. It’s just a male expression of your cuteness. We don’t mean offense when we call you that. But-please do tell us why in one sentence- it’s kind of confusing. I don’t want to use that word if it is offensive. Can’t spend life hurting people.

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