When I was a kid, we were instructed to call my mother’s sister “Aunt Ethel.” And to call my mother’s cousins “Aunt Babbie” and “Aunt Dorothy.”
The first one was legitimately an aunt; the second and third were, technically, cousins. We were second cousins or once removed or something like that. But since they were grown-ups and we were kids, we were not allowed to call them by their first names and had to put the “Aunt” in front as a sign of respect.
But that wasn’t a big deal to us. Well into my adulthood, I continued to call these ladies “Aunt” – whatever – and couldn’t imagine calling them by their given names. (And, okay, so technically, “Babbie” wasn’t her given name. But she rarely used her first name, which was Louise.” I‘m not even sure where the name “Babbie” came from!)
But I digress. As usual.
The difference is that our parents are from New England. And they pronounced A-U-N-T as ““Ant” as so many of our friends from the Midwest called their relatives.
As kids we didn’t like being different, so whenever we could get away with it, we used the Midwest pronunciation. And by “getting away with it” I mean whenever my mother wasn’t around.
If she was within earshot and heard us use the “Ant” pronunciation, she’d sternly correct us: “She isn’t an ‘ANT’ that crawls around on the floor,” she’d admonish. “She’s your ‘Ah-nt’!”
If Mom wasn’t watching, we’d usually roll our eyes and then dramatically repeat the title loudly using her pronunciation.
Even though we thought it sounded strange and weird. We weren’t, after all, from New England. We were from Ohio. And Ohioans pronounced it “Ant”!
But we somehow managed to survive our childhood. And rarely was an “Aunt” harmed with whatever pronunciation we used. They knew we loved them no matter what we called them!
Fast-forward to my sister’s kid, Chloe. My sister instructed her to call me “Aunt Jane.” Unlike our mother, however, Chloe was not required to call me “
“She isn’t an ‘ANT’ that crawls around on the floor,” she’d admonish. “She’s your ‘Ah-nt’!”
My sister and I just grin at each other. And, okay, so we still roll our eyes.
Just a little.
Chloe complies with Nanna’s admonishment, but even she will dramatically repeat the title loudly using Nanna’s pronunciation.
Until this past Christmas, however. Chloe is now 12. And you can’t really tell a 12-year-old the ways of the world without their checking Google. So Chloe Googled “Aunt” and it spit out the verbal pronunciation as “Ant.”
True enough, there is another pronunciation in Google – the way my mother pronounces it. But Chloe somehow avoided that one altogether.
Her Nanna, on the other hand, doesn’t really care what Google thinks. And she continued to remind Chloe about the correct pronunciation.
Apparently Chloe likes saying my name – so eventually she started spelling it. “’A-U-N-T’ Jane,” she’d say, “will you play a game with me?”
Eventually it got to the point where she would spell “A-U-N-T” Jane so fast, it almost sounded like she was calling me Auntie Jane – and that just made me laugh.
I started calling her “N-I-E-C-E” Chloe, but that just didn’t roll off the tongue as easily, so eventually I stopped and reverted to my affectionate name for her, which is “Little Missy.” She usually laughs whenever I call her that, so I haven’t stopped.
It will be all too soon, I imagine, when she’ll just roll her eyes if I use that term of endearment, so when that happens I may stop.
But no matter what she calls me, I know Chloe loves me. And that’s what counts – right?