Webster defines a name as “a word or phrase by which a person is known, called or spoken to or of.” Based on that, each of us could have a dozen names on any given day.

It’s rather heartwarming that every one of us, on our first day as a living, breathing person, went by the same name, “IT”.

“So what is IT, a boy or a girl?”…..”What are you going to call IT?” Of course “IT” is a handy temporary title, but everyone should have the good manners to drop “IT” as soon as the extended family’s heated debates are over and the birth certificate name is finalized. But there will be exceptions.

“What is it?” the mailman asked one day peering into my carriage. “It’s a baby, you idiot!” my mother replied and hit him with her purse. Before my second birthday when my features fell into more or less normal proportions, my mother wore out three purses.

Our next fits-all label is “Baby”. Even after we’re given official titles to go with our surnames, there is a tendency to continue the “Baby” reference. If you were the family’s last born, you may never shake it completely. When they’re interviewing your mother after your appointment to the Supreme Court or winning the World’s Heavyweight Boxing title, she will insist on adding that you, the gray-haired judge or the hulking prizefighter, are the “baby of the family”.

Every day of our lives we are addressed by categorical titles because humans insist on creating names for everything and everyone. For years we respond to “Hey kid” or “Little girl”. Later we graduate to “Sir” or “Madam”. If you want to test a very old universal name, the next time you’re in a crowded library count how many people look up when you say, “Pssst!”

Nicknames are popular with boys anxious to trade in their conventional or possibly strange given names for something more jaunty like “Butch”, “Duke” or “Swifty”. It’s a gamble though. Every Donald I knew in grammar school became “Ducky” thanks to Walt Disney.

There are some nicknames that are definitely unjaunty and unwelcome. Between the ages of 10 and 20 I fought my way through a half dozen of them. I won’t reveal them now. I’m getting pretty old and I’m not as fast on my feet anymore.

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