What’s In A Name?

By: Shannon Ralph

little boy

It’s ten o’clock in the evening and all three of my children are happily snoozing in their beds. I find myself sitting in my living room wrapped up in a tie-dyed Snuggie, sipping a cup of hot cocoa, and ignoring FarmVille requests on Facebook. (No, I do not want your rutabaga seeds, nor do I have any intention of sending you a beehive smoker.) A rerun of The New Adventures of Old Christine is on the television, but it is merely background noise to drown out the quiet. My mind is preoccupied this evening. I really should haul my exhausted body up to bed, but my ever so slightly obsessive-compulsive brain won’t settle down enough for that to happen.

Soon after being tucked into bed for the fourth time tonight, my eight-year-old son, Lucas, came out of his room to regale me with stories about his latest obsession, Yu-Gi-Oh cards. It’s our nightly bedtime stalling ritual. He thinks distracting me with fascinating tales of monsters and spell cards and epic battles will cause me to completely forget that he is supposed to be in bed. Unfortunately, creepy Japanese anime doesn’t quite do it for me. Perhaps if he came out of his room carrying a bag of Hershey kisses and a margarita he would be a bit more successful. Regardless, I faked interest as a good mother should, and swiftly directed him back to bed when he finished his incessant ramble.  He reluctantly admitted defeat, kissed me sweetly, and said “Goodnight, Shannon. I love you.”

Since shortly after he began to talk, Lucas has called me “Shannon” interchangeably with “mommy” or “momma”. In the past, this didn’t bother me so much. It was kind of cute the way he pronounced my name with his sweet little sing-song voice. However, now that he is older and I find myself navigating schools and play dates and birthday parties and friends, I am discovering that it bothers me. A lot. More than I ever imagined it would. He calls me Shannon when we are walking around the aisles at Target and I groan. He refers to me as Shannon when he is talking to his teacher and I find myself cringing. He calls me Shannon in the midst of other mommies and I fear judgment being hurled my way.

Unfortunately, I only have myself to blame. When Ruanita was pregnant with Lucas, we had a plan in place. We discussed and debated what we wanted our beloved child to call us. Okay…lets be honest. We’re lesbians. We processed the hell out of the topic. In the end, we concluded that Ruanita would be “mom” and I would be “momma”. However, after Lucas was born, I couldn’t seem to keep it straight in my sleep-deprived, bottle-obsessed, poop-addled brain. I referred to both Ruanita and myself as “mom” and “mommy” and “momma”…and occasionally “hey you”.  Though Ruanita had no trouble keeping us straight, I managed to completely befuddle the poor child by the time he was old enough to talk. When I gave birth to Sophie and Nicholas three and a half years later, I finally had it all straight in my head. The twins have always referred to us, correctly, as “mom” and “momma”. I am afraid Lucas, however, is a lost cause. Don’t get me wrong. He is well aware that he has two moms and will happily tell you who his moms are. However, when he talks about us—or often, when he talks to us—he refers to us by our first names. We are Shannon and Ruanita. His moms.

So why does this bother me? If Lucas knows that I am his mom, what does it matter what he calls me?  It should be a non-issue, right? We are creating the new, modern family.  Why should the new face of the American family be forced to conform to old, antiquated titles? We are lesbian mommies, hear us roar…and all that crap. It doesn’t matter, right? Except that it does. It matters to me.

The reason it matters is a jumbled, twisted, hodgepodge of emotion—doubt, fear, pride, insecurity—that I have created in my own little self-torturing mind. I think because I do not have that biological tie to Lucas that I have with the twins, I have developed this completely unfounded, ludicrous fear (terror, actually) of being somehow “less than” to Lucas. He was my first born and the child that changed my entire world. One look into his gorgeous blue eyes and I was smitten. To think that I could somehow be less than a world-changing person to him is a hard thing for me to stomach. I look at him and I know that he understands who I am to him. I am absolutely certain he thinks of me as nothing less than his mother. I just wish that he would refer to me as “momma” all the time so the entire world would have no doubt who I am.

I am the woman who brought him into this world. Perhaps not physically…but most certainly mentally and emotionally and spiritually. He belonged to me from day one. And he always will.

What’s in a name, after all?


  1. Amy says

    Shannon, it makes me smile when Lucas calls you Shannon but I sure hope your nephew, Sully, settles on some form of “mom” to call me. Worse than Claudia and Amy, I fear he will start calling us Ralpher and Shig (variations of our last names we affectionately call eachother)!! :)

  2. says

    Names are definitely tricky. We went with Mommy and Mama and honestly, it was great until they went to pre-school and then the wheels fell off the cart so to speak. They quickly got back on board and have stayed there until recently when our daughter started referring to both of us occasionally as Mom. The first time they called Tere by her first name it was really obvious where it came from – ME! I try to call her Mama in front of them but that just seems so creepy. :)

  3. says

    My kids went through phases where they called me Madge and my ex Dennis. It was for added importance when I wouldn’t answer right away. I can see how the mix would be hurtful to you, Shannon. Does he know that biologically anything is different than the twins? If not, he is just exercising his voice to hit buttons in you. Forgetaboutit. He loves you so not to worry about semantics.

  4. Brandy says

    Great article Shannon and I think the name thing is very important and I never understand why other people don’t understand that.

    Amy- I love that name- Sully!

    Oh and I totally call Susan (my wife) mom all the time, at the coffee shop, grocery store, everywhere really and um no wonder we get weird looks. One lady even asked Susan if she was my mom, she so totally doesn’t look like she’s older than me but the woman was clearly baffled. I guess I get that it sounds a little creepy (now that you put it that way Heather) and I guess I’ve known it all along but in the same way that I insist on calling Susan my wife (cuz she is) I think it’s important to embrace the language that suits your family and your life. I know several women that call their husbands dad when the kid is around and although I did think it was a bit creepy when I was without child, now I get it. So, that is my long-winded way of making myself not sound so creepy–how did I do? :)

  5. says

    Brandy & Heather–I call Ruanita mom when talking to my kids, too. I also used to think that was weird, but now that I have kids, it’s the LEAST of the weird things I am doing. I figure as long as I never call her mom in the bedroom (now THAT would be creepy!), I can live with it. :)

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