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Sprout, Ninja, Tic Tac, Oh My!

In June of 2011, I found myself on the business end of an ultrasound wand, a grainy black-and-white image of a tiny little six-week-old poppyseed pulsating on the screen. It had taken my husband Dan and me no less than a year-and-a-half to get here, and our minds were exploding with excitement and nervous anticipation. The ultrasound tech verified that everything looked picture perfect, then tapped out the words Tiny Baby Alter (my married name) before printing a copy for us to take home and stare at for hours on end. From that point on, our baby would be known as TBA, a fabulous double entendre if I ever heard one.

Three years before that, my friend Julie named her daughter Tangerine. Well, technically, the birth certificate reads, “Leah,” but for nine months, Julie, Leah’s dad, myself and a few close friends all referred to that little nugget as everyone’s favorite palm-sized citrus fruit. Julie had read somewhere that, around 14 weeks, her fetus was approximately the same size as one of those Clementines, and the name stuck—to the point where, when I ordered her baby shower cake, I asked the baker to spell out “Happy Birthday, Tangerine!” in orange buttercream.

An especially hungry mom called her little one Hoagie because he made her “only want to eat ridiculous Cliff Huxtable-style sandwiches.”

TBA and Tangerine are hardly members of an exclusive club: Legions of babies are branded with cutesie nicknames long before they see their first light of day. Kristen Skolar, 32, started calling her daughter Saucy after her 4-year-old niece dubbed her Hot Sauce. (Saucy is now 5-month-old Ella Dayne). Stacy Fleming’s son, Ian, began his life three years ago as Huevo. “At first, we called him Huevos, for the two eggs—well, actually embryos—that we had inserted,” recalls Fleming, 39. “Once it was clear it was only one baby, we changed it to Huevo!” An especially hungry mom called her little one Hoagie because he made her “only want to eat ridiculous Cliff Huxtable-style sandwiches.” Another mother lovingly referred to hers as “The Parasite” for the same reason. Speaking of snacks, there are legions of Peanuts, Sprouts, Strawberries and Shrimps crawling and toddling around, nicknamed for the foods they resembled on various ultrasounds.

Carista Luminare, author of Parenting Begins Before Conception: A Guide to Preparing Body, Mind, and Spirit for You and Your Future Child, says naming your bump is a prenatal bonding ritual that personalizes your child from an abstract concept to a real, living being with an identity all her own. She nicknamed her own daughter in utero, and says, “When she came out of that womb, my first thought and feeling was, ‘I know you.’”

Nicknames also come in handy when a couple wants to keep the real name private, Luminare says, or if the parents-to-be haven’t yet agreed. Monikers like Ninja, The Cannoli and Where’s Waldo offer a shared way of referring to the baby together or alone, without having to commit to a legal name, and avoid you having to deal with comments from the peanut gallery, à la, “Oh, you’re naming her Gatsby Elizabeth? That’s … interesting.”

Like most bump aliases, TBA basically flew out the window the moment Eve Sophia was born. (Though Skolar said Ella, with her feisty personality, continues to live up to her initial Saucy name.) In TBA’s place, a slew of new nicknames have emerged, from Evie Bear and Smushy to Smudgekin and Boo Boo. As for what we’ll name her sibling, whenever she’s conceived? That remains TBD …

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