Apple Brown Betty - Julia Vorobiev
I have recently taken to calling my one-year-old daughter my Apple Brown Betty. I find it suits her perfectly. My sweet, rotund toddler deserves an uncommon nickname to match my uncommon love for her. I probably won’t tell people that I was inspired to give her this nickname after reading an article about a drag queen who uses this moniker. Usually, the nicknames I adopt for the loved ones in my life spring from a more internal place, such as a memory of something I heard or read years before.
I always had the most nicknames in my family, for better or for worse. I was the youngest of three kids, and my older siblings, as well as my parents, seemed to dole out new nicknames for me at least every few years. Sometimes these nicknames were embarrassing. There were several years when my siblings referred to me only as Julio. Being called a boy’s name was not something I relished as a pre-adolescent girl.
There were other times when the nicknames bordered on cruel. My sister dubbed me Marble Head when I was in elementary school due to the fact that I was bald in my baby picture which hung in the living room next to my siblings’ pictures. Their own heads were covered in blond hair in their pictures taken at the same age.
When I was in high school, my dad started calling me J. I wasn’t keen on this nickname as it reminded me of the short form of Jason, Jay. Notwithstanding my objections, this remains the nickname my entire immediate family still calls me. We all just call my siblings Sarah and Ben. I secretly feel a little flattered to be the only one called by a special family nickname.
Friends have also given me various nicknames over the years. I’ve answered to Jul, Jules, Juliani, Yokey (a play on my maiden name), and probably several more I forget now. A good friend’s mom only referred to me as JD (the initials of my first and middle name) as a kid. She was a big nickname giver, but the fact that she gave me a unique nickname always made me feel special and liked.
As I moved into adulthood, I found the frequent need to nickname all my closest friends. I don’t think they always liked the nicknames I chose for them, but I never let their opinions bother me, justifying them as given out of love. The names I chose were almost always plays on their real names, sometimes with a foreign language or old-fashioned spin. I called my college roommates Eva and Alison, Ava and Alice. I later started calling my friend Charity Chare-Bear; Jasleen shall always be known as Jazzy; Corinne is Rin-Rin.
When I became pregnant with my first child, who we named Miles in the womb, I started to think about what his nicknames would be. Miles didn’t seem like a name that would be easy to create nicknames for. I also knew I couldn’t plan it—nicknames just happen. My husband started calling him Smiley as a baby, but I never cared for that moniker.
When Miles was one I started calling him Milooshka, my own version of a Russian nickname or term of endearment. We still mainly refer to him as Miloosh. My husband is half Russian and his own family nicknames include Sasha, Sasholichka, and Sanya. The most loving one, Sasholichka, means something like “my dear, sweet, little Alex.” The longer the name, the more beloved the individual.
We named our second child Annabelle. People started asking right away what we would call her, assuming we would shorten her name to either Anna or Belle or some version of either. I refused to commit to a nickname, trusting once again that it would come to us when the time was right. I tried out the Russian style for a while, calling her my Annabellichka. My husband objected to its length, but I still use it on occasion. Most often we call her Belle-Belle. (Kind of like how they called John Kennedy Jr. John-John as a child.) For some reason I balk when people shorten this to just Belle, but I know when she gets older she’ll select her own nickname, and it may be Belle or Anna. I’ll be fine with whatever she chooses.
While I find I freely dole out nicknames to people I love or feel a sense of intimacy with, I’m reluctant to use nicknames with coworkers or acquaintances. If it’s a common nickname, like Jen for Jennifer or Matt for Matthew, that’s one thing. Otherwise, I rarely feel comfortable nicknaming even coworkers I consider friends. It feels like I’d be crossing a border I don’t know that we should cross.
Maybe I’m so particular about nicknames because I know I haven’t always liked the ones I’ve been given. I’m also quite defensive about how I’m called since all my life people have mistakenly called me Julie either in error or thinking it’s a nickname for Julia. Either way, it feels like little knife stabs when I hear it. Oddly, I have no problem with relative strangers shortening my name even more to Jul, which happened at the dentist the other day and left me with positive feelings about the friendliness of my new dentist.
I hope Milooshka and my Apple Brown Betty grow up having lots of nicknames, given to them by me and by others who love them. My name is Julia—don’t call me Julie. But if you love me, you can call me pretty much anything else.
Julia Vorobiev studied English and French as an undergrad but currently works as a teacher of the visually impaired. She has two little kids, and motherhood has been excellent fodder for the essays she writes in her free time. Nonfiction essay.