Who the hell are you?

29 08 2011

One of the hardest things about family work is actually not getting the family members to trust you. It’s not getting people to see that what they experienced as childhood was actually abuse and neglect. It’s not tracking people down when they really have no interest in working with you.

It’s remembering all those damn names.

I have twelve families on my caseload. That includes forty children. I know what my mother would say. “When I was in kindergarten, there were 90 kids in my class. We had a 20 year old nun; she knew all our names and had us perfectly in line by the end of the day.”

Since I’m not allowed to smack my kids with rulers (actually, we can’t afford rulers. Budget cuts.) things are a bit more difficult. Especially since no one seems to have just one name.

Nicknames. They get applied to you as a kid, and so often haunt you throughout life. (Just ask my cousin Scooter.) My family members still often refer to me by my childhood nickname, a popular candy bar that shall go unnamed. That name started for me when I was about four. I screamed whenever anyone called me that for about a week, then I got used to it. My parents, aunts, and cousins called me that off and on, until I graduated high school and it became something that only gets broken out occasionally. Unfortunately, sometimes on Facebook.

The families I work with do things differently. It seems like some people write one name on the birth certificate, then instantly develop a deep hatred for it, declaring that it is never to be used again. I get a referral with everybody’s names on it, but I never know what I’ll actually be walking into. It’s happened more times than I can count–I ask about a certain child I’ve never met, referring to them by their given name, and everyone in the room looks at me like I just asked if they’ve seen Batman anywhere.

I have a family of six children that excels at this. When I first met them, I asked about the three year old. We’ll call her Molly. (Like it matters, they’ll just make something else up next week.) I got that confused look from the family.

Mom: “Molly? Who?”
SJ:        “Oh, I’m sorry, maybe this is wrong. What’s your youngest’s name?”
Mom:  “Destiny.”
SJ:        “Oh, OK. I wonder how that happened.”
Sister:  “Ma, wasn’t that her name on the birth certificate?”
Mom:   “Yeah, but your father and I hated that name. I still haven’t gotten around to changing it.

Well, such a little thing. I wouldn’t bother.

It wasn’t easier with the other five kids.

“Then we have Christine.”
“Oh, ChiChi! She’s in the bathroom.”
“And Jayden.”
“Denny. Soccer practice”
“Mama! Where is she?”
“Papa. I think he’s down the hall. PAPA! GET IN HERE!”
“And Alison.”

It’s funny that sometimes an entirely different name can be considered a nickname. Not a shortened version, like “Robert” to “Bob.” Just a different name. I used to volunteer at a sleepaway camp forkids in foster care, and one of my girls was registered under the name “Christine.” But we weren’t to call her that. Her nickname was “Jessica.”

All right. Whatever you want, sweetheart.

Another parent came to pick up their child, Joseph. We brought her to three different Josephs, until we realized that she was looking for our Miguel.

This was a particularly pronounced problem when I worked in a neighborhood center with a large afterschool program. Things were chaotic as it was, and the place was a drop in center, meaning some kids would come by for an afternoon of ping-pong once, and then never be seen again. Memorizing names wasn’t a possibility with everyone. But I think I did pretty well.

Until one day, when a child I’d never met showed up about halfway through program. He told me he was there to pick up his little cousin. His cousin’s name? “FatFat.”

I’m sorry. Hit me with that again.

But I had heard correctly. I didn’t know FatFat. I asked if he had another name. Anything else. A last name? The kid stared at me blankly. “He’s FatFat.”

OK, first of all, that’s terrible. Second of all, the older cousin was about ten years old. I think he should have the concept of surnames down. I had no other choice but to let him go wander the building, and let him take a six year old of his choosing home.

Don’t worry, the kid he picked did, in fact, answer to FatFat.

Is there a worse name than that? Some nicknames are just atrocious. One of my teens was born on Thanksgiving, and she just revealed to me, through gritted teeth, that her family calls her “Pavita,” a diminutive of “turkey” because of this. It’s hard when you realize you can’t scold kids for teasing the fat kid, when her entire family, mother included, calls her “Gorda.”

What are the rules, exactly? Can you just make up a name for yourself? One pre-k student tried it. We had a boy and a girl in the same class, both names Adrian. Since no one in the neighborhood actually goes by their given name, we figured it would be reasonable to ask both kids if either of them have a nickname they preferred to go by. Little girl Adrian told us, “You can call me J.Lo.”

We checked with her mom. No one called her that. But nice try, kid. Well played.

A friend I worked with got so exasperated that he decided that we were to all call him “Cuppy” from then on. “You know, because I’m always drinking out of cups. That’s how this works?”

I don’t quite understand why deciphering nicknames, who they apply to and sometimes what they mean to people, is such a part of my work. I think the right answer is that it’s cultural, and the SJ answer is that people are doing it to make my life more difficult.

Let’s just get back to normal, Christian names. Come on. It will be much less confusing.




16 responses

29 08 2011

The joy of what i lovingly call “Treatment names”!

30 08 2011

That’s probably a better term for it than my usual, “What is this nonsense?”

8 09 2011

We’ve joked about doing a baby name book of what NOT to name your kids if you want to avoid therapy.

29 08 2011

I have been reading your blog for a while now and I have to tell you that you are so right! At times I have had to double check to make sure you don’t have someone on my case load… Which would be difficult since you are on the Eastcoast and I am on the West… Except I have a couple that are from Chicago, Michigan and New York.
I can’t really complain though because my eldest son goes by a nickname, the next one down by his middle name, next by his third name and the fourth by a totally unconnected nickname. Not that it really matters, I usually end up calling them all “Boy!” (Which surprisingly enough, my daughter hates. Go figure.)

30 08 2011

Yes, but I’m sure you wouldn’t think a teacher or doctor was being weird by calling your kids by the name on their file. (Right? 🙂 )That’s what always gets me, when people look at me like, “Where did you get that name?” As though the child’s medical records will say Snubs or something.

Thanks for reading!

29 08 2011
Donna Erickson

Too funny – and too true!
The worst part of working in a pediatric ER – and then testifying in court months later – is having to say all those made up names with a straight face – and remembering how to pronounce them!
Thought it was just me after 30 years in the field longing for a ‘Harry’ or ‘Susan’ to roll in the door!

30 08 2011

Keeping track of where you call each person what makes it even more confusing. In notes or court we would use birth names, but in session I call the kids whatever they prefer. Sometimes I’ll read something back, or get a call about a child from another worker, and I have to take a minute to remember who we’re talking about.

I’m glad we’re all dealing with this. I was worried I was the weird one 🙂

29 08 2011
SocialWrkr247 (@SWrkr247)

LOL – I talk about kid’s nicknames all the time! I once had a family of 4 who’s girls were nicknamed “Treasure” and “Sweetness” – while the boys were called “Nardy” and “Stank-man”. Ummmm…. yeah, I called them Sally, Susie, Bobby and Nick… just like it read on their birth certificates!

I did just have a mother talk to me today about changing the name on her daughter’s BC – she wants to change it from “Latoya” to “Bam-bam” (which lots of people do call her, but not at school/church/etc). Ummm…not while their in DCFS care ma’am. Plus, SHE’S ELEVEN.

30 08 2011

Stank-Man! That might be a new favorite. I’ve had a few Bam Bam’s on my caseload, but I don’t think any of them tried to make it legal. (Fun fact–Bam Margera’s name is Brandon; his dad talked him out of legally changing it to Bam. And that’s someone who makes his living as a Jackass.)

30 08 2011

Great post, Snickers.

30 08 2011

Thanks! And nice try…

30 08 2011
Louise Taylor

yup, we had a parent of 5 kids call to ask for a visit with bubbles and peaches. sure, as soon as we figure out which ones they are….

31 08 2011

Bubbles and Peaches! I guess those are cute. Though I think if they apply to med school, they’ll have to go. We had a little girl in pre-school always going on about her big brother Poopie. We spoke to the grandmother who confirmed that “Poopie” was the name he went by.

31 08 2011

First off, I’d like to now be referred to as “Flasky”. Second, apparently you just saw Snap’s Lifebook because I documented the FIVE possible names his mother might have listed him as for his Christening at a historical cathedral.

1 09 2011

I am changing your bookmark to Flasky immediately.

Snap’s mom’s naming technique sounds similar to mine when I got a parakeet when I was six. I think he went through about four different names before I started forgetting to refill his water…

1 09 2011

This is how we’ve ended up with three files open for the same person without realizing it.

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