“Whatcha want, Skeeter?” I called across the room the other night, using the voice I reserve for baby-talking to my cat. He’d been meowing at me while I tried to check my email.
Sylvester stretched and looked at me like I’d grown a second head. Then he gave a disgusted flick of his tail and stalked off into the kitchen. The food bowl wasn’t empty, just dangerously low by his standards. I refilled it and said “there you go, Fat Boy.”
He tossed another disgusted look over his shoulder, then stuck his face in the bowl.
I guess I can’t blame him. In less than five minutes, I’d called him both Skeeter and Fat Boy. Those are just a few of the monikers that get tossed his way several times a day. His actual name – Sylvester – is the one I use least of all.
Fat Boy makes sense. All you have to do is look at him or witness his paranoid obsession with his food bowl to understand it. But Skeeter?
That one is a little more roundabout. A long while back, Lee and I discovered “Google Translate.” We are fortysomethings in pre-teen bodies, I guess, because this helpful tool immediately became a source of juvenile entertainment. We spent more time than I care to admit looking up cursewords and vulgar slang in different languages.
One that stuck with us was Muschi. For those who don’t know, this is how you say “pussy” in German, at least according to the almighty Google Translator. I decided it was kind of a cute word. I dislike the p-word, and am even less fond of the good old C-word that rhymes with runt. They’ve got a harsh, icky grossness to them. Muschi, on the other hand, is almost cute-ish. At least the way we say it … “moo-ski.” It sounds like a cartoon cow with a Polish last name. People who actually speak German might pronounce it very differently. But at our Juvenile Google Translate Party For Two, that didn’t matter all.
Poor Sylvester. It was only a matter of time before “pussycat” became “Mooskicat.” Which became just plain old “Mooski.” And then one day, he was being a royal pain in the arse when I was trying to read, insisting that I pay attention to him by sticking his butt in my face.
“Moo-Ski…Toe!” I admonished. You know, “Mooskito.” “Mosquito.” Because mosquitoes are a pain in the ass, and so are cats who shove that same body part in your face.
Fat Boy. Mooski. Mooskito. It wasn’t much more of a stretch to get to Skeeter.
What is it about our animal companions that makes rational, normal human beings come up with idiotic pet names? For that matter, what makes us do the same with people? If I think about it, I was genetically predestined for this brand of weirdness.
As a kid, I spent several weeks of each summer vacation with my great-aunt and great-uncles in West Virginia. I’d come home anxious to tell my neighborhood friends about my trip.
“Aunt Fuzzy took me to her campsite. We had fires at night and told ghost stories and put whoopie cushions in Uncle Don’s chair so we could say he farted. Then I stayed with Uncle Weach, and we fished in his pond and went roller-skating. When I stayed with Uncle Bunny he had me and my cousins weed all the cornfields and taught me how to milk a cow. And we walked over to Uncle Hop’s and picked blackberries.”
My friends would give me the same “you have an extra head” look I get from Sylvester when I call him Skeeter. Back then, I figured they thought my cow-milking, corn-weeding vacation paled in comparison to their trip to Disney World, although I wouldn’t have traded with them for anything.
Now, I realize it probably wasn’t my trip itself, but my FuzzyWeachBunnyHop collection of aunts and uncles that caught them off guard. Fuzzy was actually Alma. Weach was Wade. Bunny was Hugh, and Hop was Frank. But they’d gone by their childhood nicknames for so long that they’d been FuzzyWeachBunnyHop for decades before I came along. Why change now?
My Dad called me Thumper when I was a kid. It had nothing to do with the adorable little rabbit from Bambi. It was his way of making fun of the way I stomped around everywhere. I was not a graceful child. Again, some things never change.
My sister had it worse. My mother called her Toad, and so did I.
I’m thankful that unlike our great-aunt and great-uncles, we let our childhood nicknames drift away. Going through life as Thumper and Toad would have sucked.
What silly (ok, maybe even stupid) nicknames have been bestowed on you, your loved ones, or your pets? Even better, what’s the story behind them?