The Unsinkable Gracie Goose

One never truly knows how some nicknames take root. Sometimes it’s a flaw, sometimes a strength, and sometimes it’s neither. As a matter of fact, you could know a person for a lifetime and never quite figure out where a nickname like “Streak” comes from. You might even prefer to leave it a mystery. Some nicknames are not even nicknames at all. I hardly consider “Jimmie” a nickname when the person’s real name is James or “Jack” when his name is John. That’s just laziness.

My wife has a nickname for me. When we took marriage classes as a prerequisite for our wedding (right after the Latin 101 and Biology 201 liberal arts requirements), they made it a point to ask each of us separately what nicknames we had given each other as terms of endearment. We agreed on both, which surprised the instructor. I call her “Dear” and she calls me “Ass”.

Nicknames will also tell you more about a person than their real name ever will. (I guess there’s a reason my wife call me “Ass”.) Still, the truth is that today a majority of baby names are picked out before the child is ever born. No one ever says, “Gee, dear, I kinda think she looks like a Margie rather than a Rhonda. Just look at the freckles under her eyes.” And so we get hung with names that don’t fit, don’t match and always seem wrong.

My daughter Grace is a perfect example. We had the name picked out about two hours after conception and we had no idea what she looked like. So when she was borne, it was already too late to change the decorative lettering over her crib from “G-R-A-C-E” to “T-R-A-C-E-Y”. I even remember making jokes to family members visiting the hospital about how we had no idea if she was going to be graceful enough. I may have even made the jokes twice to the same people, but after a 36 hour labor, no sleep and 20 cups of coffee, I could barely tell the difference between my father and my sister.

Two year later we knew we had made a mistake. It’s not that she’s clumsy, but she’s not exactly graceful either. When Gracie enters a room, she bounds onto the scene. Infused with plenty of charm and an infectious laugh she is what I like to refer to as “unsinkable”. And in true Gracie form, every fall is accompanied with an equally boisterous “I’m OK!” as if the room suddenly stopped the moment she fell into the end aisle canned food display at the grocery store – which they often did. As a result, you will never hear me refer to her as “graceful”. And so almost immediately we began to refer to her as “Gracie”. (Yes, I know, all the Jimmie’s out there are saying, “Pure laziness.”) Still, it didn’t catch. Grace rolled off the tongue as she rolled down the sidewalk.

In time we tried to rhyme. After all, no one thinks of grace and ballerina type elegance when you yell across the playground “Gracie Goose – did you skin just one leg or two?” Instead they’re focused on the “Goose”. Did that man actually refer to his darling little girl as fowl?

In time, it stuck and soon we dropped the Gracie altogether. We yell “Goose” across the playground, we cheer for “Goose” at the first-grade play and whisper “Goose” at the movie theater. She responds and we slowly change her name to fit her personality.

One day it will end. When she’s old enough to be embarrassed, she’ll insist that I start calling her “Grace” again. Something tells me that it will be the same time she stops holding my hand on long walks. But then again, maybe by then she’ll be graceful enough to not need it for balance. I just hope that she keeps her unsinkable spirit.

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