Dad by any other name

Illustration by Laurie Miller

By Julian Wise - June 15, 2006

We call the holiday Father's Day, but we don't always call the man Father, or even Dad. It seems there are as many nicknames for fathers as there are fathers, with each family developing its own term for the paternal figure. My own father, Ed Wise, often goes by Pap (a shortening of Pappy Yokum, the "Lil' Abner" character) or Il Papini, a pseudo-Italian variation. Children and adults everywhere are perpetually coming up with their unique monikers for Pops, some more out on a limb than others.

Young children often come up with offbeat nicknames that tend to stick. A gaggle of third-grade students at the Oak Bluffs School generated a curious list of terms for their fathers. Emily deBettencourt calls her father Purell because the two of them discovered a dispenser of the hand cleaner in a doctor's office and he used a large quantity of it. She also calls him Cold Chicken Sandwich because the two of them once ordered chicken sandwiches at Burger King and his arrived cold with unmelted cheese. He jokingly called her Chicken Sandwich, she called him Cold Chicken Sandwich back, and the name stuck.

Son and father, Jack and Richie Yuen. Photo by Ben Scott

Her classmate Yannick Gonsalves calls his dad Skunky because of his salt and pepper hair. Gabriel DeOliveira refers to his dad as Lumpy because his father used to joke about his waistline. Mia Arenburg calls her father Bag Dad or Bag because he wears baggy pants. An

other name is Mow Mow Pizza Pal in honor of his love for pizza. Jack Yuen calls his father Dee Dee as a way of shortening Daddy by saying the letter D twice. Brazilian students at the school call their father's Pai, which is garden-variety "father" in Portuguese but sounds novel to North American ears.

Among adults, the variety of names is just as wide. Margaret Coleman, visiting the Island with her husband Jerome, reports that in Ireland fathers are often referred to as The Auld Fellow. Janet Canfield, a woman in her 20s, says, "Whenever I call my dad, I say 'Help!'" Tom Shays calls his father Pepe as a Latino twist on Poppy.

Grandparents often join in the name game. Dale Hall, an Arizona native, is Poppa to his granddaughter Lily Lines. She recently called him to say, "Poppa, I love you more than the earth." Lisa Kaminski's daughter Susan refers to her grandfather who lives on top of a nearby hill Pop Pop on Top while her other grandfather is Pop Pop in Norwich.

Whatever the offbeat term for father, the meaning behind the words remains the same. Father, Papa, Pepe, Lumpy, Skunky, Cold Chicken Sandwich - in the end, it refers to the man who provides love, laughs, and memories for years to come.

Julian Wise is a frequent contributor to The Times, specializing in music, film, and the performing arts.