A Stepper by any other Nickname...

My given name is Stephanie. I was almost Tiffany – but when my mother’s sister came to see us in the hospital during my first days in this world, she snatched me up and cooed “Tiffy” in baby-voice greeting. My speech-pathologist mother couldn’t stand it. So my parents wrote Stephanie on the birth certificate, sealing my name in stone.

I love my name.

But when I was born, my sister Jamie was 13 months old. Sounds and words felt new on her tongue…and she wanted to say her new baby’s name – only “Stephanie” on her one-year-old lips came out “Sneeee”.

It was obvious I would keep the red hair I was born with – my mother checked my eyebrows, so she knew I was a legitimate carrot-top. The red hair and Jamie’s “Sneeee” evolved into “Sunny” which my mother spelled “Sunnie”.

My first nickname.

My red hair had a natural curl, and I was taught to sing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” from Annie – for the benefit of my two grandmothers. In my blissful 2-year-old shamelessness, I would sing it at the top of my lungs – and would get stuck like a record on “tomorrow, tomorrow, I love yah, tomorrow!”, singing it over and over and over and over….

I grew up thinking that Sunnie was my name, and that Stephanie was only used on formal occasions.

But I believe this began a deep seeded devotion to the Nickname.

I’ve had several over the years. I’ve had friends who called me Red, Del, and Shelly (middle name: Rochelle) in genuine replacement of my actual name.

I think on occasion it may have made my mother feel badly – here she had given me a perfectly good name, even a perfectly good nickname, and I was always being called something else; and usually something that made absolutely no sense (Dekk?).

But there is something about a nickname – like a secret handshake – that speaks of inside friendships and inside experiences. I knew that if someone was calling me “Sunni” (Yes, I returned to my roots – but dropped the ‘e’) that they knew me from my days attending University in Logan. If someone called me “Red”, they were a fellow Scuttlebutt (the writer’s group I began in college in Utah Valley, and again in Logan).

And if someone called me Stepper – they knew me from my years in Washington State and beyond.

After graduating University, I followed my gut, my inner spark, my Voice (see: the Spirit) to Washington State – where I discovered who I was. Those were years of Grace – where I finally learned how to stand in the center of myself. Where I discovered my inner strength. Where I conquered my shyness and learned that I could be brave and fiery and FIERCE.

Where I fell in love.

I was Stepper during these formative years – and to me, Stepper (which I have been now for 4 years) became an identity as fundamental to me as Sunnie (which I was for 15 years).

Bill calls me Stepper.
Bill’s siblings call me Stepper.
My mother calls me Sunnie.
My dad calls me Art.
My siblings usually call me whatever they want at the time (especially Jamie, who MAY even be better at coming up with nicknames than I am – though often her choices aren’t names you’d want to have anyone else call you. Like Stench-Bleep. A classic Jamie nickname for me that ONLY SHE is allowed to call me. Got it?)
Ali usually calls me Step. I call her ChimChim.
Megan usually calls me Steph. I call her Soup.

Nicknames offer a sense of familiarity – when I call Megan Soup, I am at the same time telling her that I know her, that I like her, and that I consider her one of my fold.

“Soup” = “I got your back”.

People ask me all the time how I got the nickname Stepper. And to me, the answer doesn’t really exist. I could track the progression of the name – and it’s slightly interesting – but the point is that Stepper exists. The culmination of everything that I have learned as all the other names I've gone by.

The point is that Stepper was here.

And Stephanie and Sunnie and Art and Del and Sunni and Stench-Bleep and all the rest are glad of it.


b. said...

That was awesomely written!
I love (not necessarily) knowing the origin...but reading and appreciating why it stuck!

That Girl in Brazil said...

And this right here is why you need to be famous.

"nicknames are like a secret handshake" ... brilliant!

I think I shall call you Squash. And you will be mine. And you will be my Squash. (Pssst. I still need your email address.)

Motherboard said...

I love nicknames. I love the same line that TGIB does (see that? my nickname for her...)

They really do offer security and fondness. My kids all have them. I have them. I love them.

Fabulous post!