The nickname

Tying the generations together

It is an inescapable part of family gatherings as time goes by. The faces that aren’t there. The chairs that won’t be filled. The voices that won’t be heard.

TotsiThis Thanksgiving gathering of The Legal Genealogist‘s family was no exception. There were children at our Thanksgiving table who never knew their grandmother, my mother. And three — my brother’s grandchildren — who would have called her great grandmother.

And that’s why it was both wonderful and jarring to keep hearing a word at this gathering. One single word. A nickname that has survived through the generations.

My mother’s name, you see, was Hazel. But nobody ever called her Hazel. Not even once, not that I can remember.

My father would occasionally call her Haz. Pronounced like the first syllable of hazard, not like the mists of haze.

Her oldest sister, my Aunt Cladyne, called her LauraBelle. (And why, I have absolutely no idea.)

Everybody else, from the time she was a very little girl, called her Totsy.

Now as Southern family nicknames go, that’s pretty tame stuff. (In my extended family there are a few I wouldn’t use for a pet, much less a kid.)

And it has the advantage of being distinctive. It beats the heck out of Sissy for a girl and Bubba or Brubbie for a boy. (Call out one of those in a large group of kids and see how many heads turn your way.)

But because it’s distinctive, it’s one that your ear is tuned to. And that you miss, miss big time, when for years it isn’t heard. And it hadn’t been heard for years after we lost my mother in 1999.

Until Addyson.

She is my brother’s youngest grandchild, southern born and bred. She has an older sister, who of course answers to Sissy. And an older brother, who answers to Bubbie or Brubbie or Bubba or even occasionally his actual name, if people remember what it is.

And that meant there had to be another nickname for Addyson. (Heaven forbid she might simply be called Addyson.)

No, she needed a family name.

And my niece chose to call her after the great grandmother she never met, the grandmother my niece called Grandma Totsy.

And so Addyson became Totsi.

Just enough different that the nickname is hers and hers alone.

And enough the same that it is both jarring and wonderful to hear it again.

My mother would have loved it.

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11 Responses to The nickname

  1. Paula Williams says:


    I actually did hear Mama Clay call her Hazel from time to time, but, to the rest of us (and often to her), yes, it was always Totsy.

    I never understood LaraBelle, either, but did hear it plenty of times, indeed! I wonder if Kay or Betsy know.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I was trying to remember if I ever heard Mama Clay called her Hazel… and I don’t remember it. Then again I don’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning either.

  2. Dave Robison says:

    I love this story. My father and his entire family were “Southern born and bred”. I have my share of “Cissy’s” and a few “Bubba’s”. But I only recently discovered through some old photographs I was lucky to get into my collection that my father’s mother grew up in Evergreen, Alabama known as “Lulu”! We had nicknames for our kids as most parents do. But here in Massachusetts, you just don’t hear either “Cissy” or “Bubba”. What a great tradition it would have been to adopt the name Lulu for my daughter and carry on (or create) an old family tradition! Thanks for your story and say “Hi” to Totsi for us!!

  3. Linda J Barnes says:

    Another beautiful story that touches our hearts, Judy! You really have a sweet way of reaching right into our thoughts and memories! Love you, girl!! <3 <3 <3 Linda & Tony xoxo

  4. Debi Austen says:

    Totsi is beautiful and carries such a special nickname!

  5. Sharon Crowley Connor says:

    You are so REAL, Judy! Love to read everything you post for us.

    Yes, nicknames make us feel special (or not!).

    In our family, we had a Helen, who somehow got called Bah-Bah, which then became Barbara as an adult, then nicknamed Babs!

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