“So, how is Abby?”
“Oh, yes, Abigail.”
I’ve been having some variation on this conversation with people since our daughter was born. When I say “people,” I mean everyone from her grandparents to friends to co-workers.
Erin and I made it pretty clear to people that Abigail was, well, Abigail. We never called her Abby, either casually or formally, in verbal or written form. Yet somehow people always wanted to shorten her name to Abby.
There’s nothing wrong with Abby, mind you. It’s just that it wasn’t the name we chose for her. Nicknames or shortened names should be something organic, a way of referring to someone after you get to know his or her personality. Abigail had plenty of personality from about six months on. Maybe that informed us calling her AG, short for Abigail Grace, because it stuck. Just sort of happened in the way that nicknames do. It seemed to fit.
If she was going to be Abby she could decide that for herself.
We had an idea in our heads, Erin and I, about our daughter. Abigail is Abigail because of Abigail Adams, the First Lady to the second president of the United States. Abigail Adams was a tough broad in tough times. Any father should want the same for his daughter.
If I’m being honest, Abigail is also Abigail because of Abigail Bartlet, the First Lady to President Bartlet on The West Wing, one of our favorite shows. She’s tough, too, and a doctor and can make the word “jackass” sound like poetry. Sure, she’s fictional. Everyone has flaws. *
And finally, Abigail is Abigail because that’s just what seemed to fit our hopes and ideas of who she would be. Abigail Grace. Toughness meets divinity.
You have an idea in your head about how your kid is supposed to be, you see.
Then one day you’re watching one of your child’s favorite shows with her and the lead character breaks the fourth wall, as characters of children’s shows are apt to do, looks out of the TV and says “And you: say your name!” And your daughter says “Ab-beeee!”
Of course, then you realize your daughter’s other favorite show is Sesame Street, a show with a flying fairy who she adores. A flying fairy named…Abby. She’s learning her alphabet now, too, and really mastered the first two letters. A..B. AB. Ay-bee. Abby.
Since then, the answer to “What’s your name?” is “Abby.”
Our ideas about how much control we had over our child’s mind ended before Abigail was even born so this development should not come as a surprise.
She’s got even more personality now. She’s as quick with a “Yay!” when you do something she likes as she is with a “Nay!” when it’s something she doesn’t. (Seriously, it’s not “yes” and “no,” it’s “yay” and “nay.”)
She knows a little about who she is and so she knows her name. Abby.
Maybe it sticks. Maybe she decides as a teenager that she prefers Abigail. Maybe as an adult she likes A.G. Smith because it sounds ungendered and she likes to keep people on their toes.
For now though, as far as she’s concerned, she’s Abby.
So long as she sticks with toughness meets divinity, she should be fine.
* Just because someone else will point it out if I don’t: President Bartlet always called his wife “Abbey.”