I’ve never been a nickname person, and people rarely call me anything but my given name — at least to my face. No alliterative alliterations, no truncated shortcuts and certainly no initials. At the furthest deviation, I have been proud “Unghullariel” to my sister’s three impressive kids.
So when my husband and I had to pick the names that our son Cielo would call us for the rest of forever, I had to take major pause. You see, as two gay parents to a baby born through surrogacy, we have gotten used to fielding the same handful of questions from strangers and friend alike:
“Whose baby is it?” (Ours.)
“How much did it cost?” (A lot.)
“Did you mix up your sperm?” (That’s not a thing.)
“How did you find an egg?” (Easter hunt.)
“What does the baby call you?” (Unintelligible moan-whine-grunt.)
We have had a lot of time to think about the actual answer to that last question, certainly longer than we took to land on our son’s actual name, Cielo Rimon, which translates to “sky” in Spanish and “pomegranate” in Hebrew, both symbolic of infinite potential. And we certainly took longer than any of his grandparents did to call dibs on coveted monikers “Grandma” and “Omie.”
Would we be “Daddy” and “Daddy”? Too “Who’s on First?”
I could opt for “Abba,” Hebrew for “father.” Nah. Too “Mamma Mia!” for a gay dad. (“Gimme, gimme, gimme that pair of scissors, Cielo.”)
What about cool-dadding it and going by “Ariel” and “Brandon”? I just couldn’t help but think of that adorable Webster and how he would call his foster father “George.” And how George was played by NFL Hall of Famer Alex Karras. And how there are so many NFL stars who have second acts in film and television. And that … well, my mind tends to wander.
We did some more research. We read about those who have designated the non-bio parent as “Dad.” We did not connect with what seems like an effort to square names with a perceived lesser-than parental status. We also read about parents who wait for the child to choose, letting the linguistic chips fall where they may. At that rate, we would run the risk of becoming “Mr. Pfftttttt” and “Mr. Giggle.”
Ultimately, we made the call to go with “Daddy” and “Papá,” and not because one of the three board books for kids with two fathers is titled “Daddy, Papa and Me.” Brandon, who is Cuban-American, selected “Papá,” and I, by demographic default, am “Daddy.” Most importantly, we chose names that would affirm our cherished connection to this boy — not only in our home but also when he calls or speaks about us in school or at the playground.
Of course, like many of the parenting decisions we have made since before he was born, we make space for loopholes and laxity. Sometimes I find myself speaking to Cielo about Brandon and calling him “Daddy.” I don’t correct myself. And that’s ok — after all, he’s his daddy, too. And then there are the times Brandon will adoringly refer to Cielo as “Papo,” a term of endearment for kids by Spanish-speaking adults. You just have to be cool with discrepancies if the net sum is simply more tenderness.
And now, as Cielo begins to show signs of comprehension and syllabication — nothing like a staycation, I have noticed — we have each taken to a whisper campaign. When I feed Cielo his first bottle of the day, I may end every sentence with “Da-da, Da-da,” and when Brandon bathes our boy, there is as much mention of “Pa-pa” as there is “wa-wa.” So far though, he has only yielded a “ba-ba” and a “blah-blah.” It’s fun for us to play for most doting and attentive father. Cielo only benefits.
Who will get our son to call us by our names first is anyone’s guess. One thing is for certain, though: He knows who we are and how he is loved.
Ariel Foxman is an award-winning editor, writer, and gay dad. This column is a part of his modern-parenting newsletter “ABBAPAPA”, which you can subscribe to on Substack.