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My son Albert is 10 years old. My wife and I have been calling him sweetie. I guess it is appropriate for my wife to call him that way.

I'm his father and I want to develop his manhood. What should I call him?

By "develop his manhood" and "his manhood", I mean raise him to be a real man, e.g. strong-willed (in a good way), brave the challenges, etc.

The concern about I calling him sweetie is that sounds I treat him as a little boy rather than a man. To be honest, I don't know whether I'm right and that's why I posed this question.

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    What does ‘develop his manhood’ mean? And, are you okay with answers saying ‘don’t do this’, or are you specifically looking for answers that accept your premise (that developing his manhood is correct)? – Joe Aug 20 at 13:58
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    What is your definition of "his manhood"? How does an affectionate nick name affect "manhood"? E.g. my kids were called Boots/Boo, Sweetie, Honey, etc., regardless of gender, well into adulthood. They're "normal", "successful", married to opposite sex people. But "normal" and "successful" have specific meanings to different people, as does "manhood". Details matter. – anongoodnurse Aug 20 at 14:01
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    I'm not sure that your edit exactly answered my question. I'm trying to get at whether there's a cultural/language meaning underlying the words, mostly. Are you concerned with him being specifically "masculine" as opposed to "feminine"? Or are you more thinking from a "maturity" angle, ie, he's getting closer to an adult so let's use more adult language in general? Is your culture one where "masculinity" has a particular import? – Joe Aug 20 at 15:39
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    My interpretation of what the OP is saying is not really about manhood or all that. it's just that he thinks it sounds a bit weird, in Western norms, for a dad, specifically, to be calling his son, specifically sweetie, specifically past a certain age. What's wrong with just using his name? I don't think it has anything to do with manhood so much that it just sounds weird once the boy is able to walk and talk more or less. What wrong with just using his name? Isn't that what it is there for? Or the really obvious ones like "son". – DKNguyen Aug 20 at 22:03
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    I don't think I even believe in any sense of 'manhood' to pass on to my son. All I've learned all my life is that concepts of manhood are used to make people feel insecure and to push usually a negative agenda. – Mark Rogers Aug 21 at 19:50

14 Answers 14

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There is no nickname on God's green earth that will make a person "a real man".* That comes from teaching by example what a real man is every single day for a couple of decades. There's a reason that there are lots of folksy sayings to point this out (e.g. "like father, like son" and "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.")

I can see no serious problems with a nickname derived from a loving feeling and used lovingly. One of my sons had some mighty strange nicknames: "Boodie-Boo", "Boots", and "Pokey". The latter came about because when he was about three, we were all in a shopping mall where he was walking slowly, and I said, "Come on, Pokey, or we'll lose you", to which he responded, "I'm Pokey the Stranger." I doubt he knew what "pokey" meant, and it was so strange and funny that we called him Pokey the Stranger for a while (which he loved), which then got shortened to Pokey.

Another son was "Peasom", "Possum", and "Blossom" for a long time, because when I was pregnant, I referred to him as "Sweet Pea"; while he was indeed very sweet, after his birth it seemed he was too male to be a sweet pea, so it became Peasom, then (because language works this way) "Peasom Possum" and "Possum Blossom", among less strange nicknames. Neither my husband nor I thought this was emasculating in any way. He was just so much loved that just his regular name was not expressive enough of that love.

That said (and understood), there are lots of nicknames that aren't loving or kind. There are depersonalizing nicknames ("Kid", "Champ"), overly masculine nicknames ("Cowboy", "Stud"), over-achiever nicknames, etc. Avoiding them helps with self-esteem. Also, as A. bakker pointed out, only use loving nicknames when there's no harm of humiliation in front of friends/family/others.

I guess all I'm saying is that in the course of life and loving a child, nicknames are born. They make someone feel loved. The first son I mentioned confessed to me recently that he likes it when I call him Boots, so I still call him that (he's 30 now, married, and has 2 kids.)

Names don't make a man "manly". A good life example does.

*Johnny Cash has a funny song about A Boy Named Sue.

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    I like how this answer emphasizes the personal meaning of nicknames that is divorced from the meaning of the words in other contexts, but I think this also holds true for the nicknames cited as "depersonalizing". Depending on your relationship with the speaker, kid or champ may not be at all depersonalizing as I understand it. From a stranger, sure. But not from your dad. – Cecilia Aug 20 at 21:51
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    Emphasis on the child liking the nickname is important. If the child shows any negative emotions, regardless of how funny you think it is, drop the nick-name; you keep using it, you're telling the child your personal entertainment is more important than his emotional wounds; THAT would be emasculating. A real man has emotional freedom to express his hurts. – Nelson Aug 21 at 1:08
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    @Cecilia - I know what you're saying, but it does have significant enough potential to be used to put a bit of emotional distance between two people, as if, say, a father can't call his child "Sweetie" because it's too "feminine". I actually agree with @ dxh about this. It would be like calling your dad, "Old Man". It depersonalizes to an extent. I'm sure some kids call their fathers "Old Man" with a lot of love, but how did it start? Kiddo has special connotations for you, but it started for a reason only your dad may know. – anongoodnurse Aug 21 at 3:07
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    Couldn’t agree more. Ours still get called their nicknames as terms of endearment (never in a negative or even neutral way, it’s not their name). And I see no problem whatsoever. – Stephie Aug 21 at 5:18
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    +1 for Boy Named Sue :) – HaemEternal Aug 21 at 10:30
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Teenagers can be acutely embarrassed by such appellations whether they be male or female.

There may come a time, possibly before his teens, that he will start to wince at being called "sweetie". Then is the time to take stock and take pity. Don't wait for him to complain - simply ask how he would like to be addressed. This may differ in public and in private.

I remember at school having to reveal what was to me an embarrassing middle name. It came from a grandmother's surname but sounded vaguely 'rude'. I actually changed my name by deed poll in later life and removed that middle name. I don't regret it.

Incidentally you may be interested in the scientifically unsubstantiated but nevertheless anecdotally plausible phenomenon of nominative determinism - it might be relevant.

Nominative determinism is the hypothesis that people tend to gravitate towards areas of work that fit their names. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nominative_determinism

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    This is the only tangible reason I can think of to not call his son sweetie. And even then, just due to Western societal norms, his mother could still keep calling him that at that at any age and no one would blink an eye. A mother could call either daughter or son sweetie, or a dad could call his daughter sweetie for their entire lives and no one would think anything of it. His dad calling him that would be considerably more embarrassing to his friends IMO. What's wrong with just calling him by his name, anyways? – DKNguyen Aug 20 at 21:53
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    So Albert is probably going to become some genius? This wikipedia link to some unsubstantiated "theory" is really not helpful. – henning -- reinstate Monica Aug 21 at 9:54
  • @henning - I apologise for adding a humorous aside. – chasly - supports Monica Aug 21 at 9:56
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    @chasly-reinstateMonica well, it was completely lost on me, although I think it's funny now. Humour is tricky on the internet. – henning -- reinstate Monica Aug 21 at 9:58
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    @henning--reinstateMonica It isn't unsubstantiated. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nominative_determinism#Empirical_evidence (irrespective of whether it's a good idea for your nicknames to be based on it) – b a Aug 21 at 13:56
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Terms like sweetie does not devalue his manhood in anyway, and well it's just a motherly thing to call your child. That being said, reduce it to private situations only, so don't call him sweetie when shopping/when his friends are there. Not because it's not manly, but because it is embarrassing even if it were concerning a daughter instead of a son. If you want to be more mature towards him call him by his name or a shortened version (Like Mike for Michael, but nothing that belittles the name like Mickey)

But if you want to make him "manly", find something you both have interests in and beat him at it. Why? the best way to become stronger is through failure. For example with sports or gaming or what ever. Start playing together and when he has the hang of it against each other. You should both beat him and support him continuing after being beaten.

This way you will teach him that you can't always win, but you don' have to. As long as you don't give up you will become better and eventually win. Also help him become stronger, because another important lesson is that there is no shame in asking for help :)

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    The best way to start hating sports is by feeling that you are bad at them. Friendly competition is great, failing constantly or being constantly beaten is not. – Michael Aug 21 at 6:44
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    @Michael that's why you keep supporting it :) if you always win or win from the start you won't appreciate it as much and often get an inflated ego. – A.bakker Aug 21 at 9:43
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    @A.bakker "and beat him at it." Or, more specifically, don't let him win just because he's a kid. My mother grew up with four older brothers. When she was old enough to join in with their games (both physical and card/board games), her mother would say things like "Let [my mother] win, she's only [young | a girl]". My mother was forever thankful to her brothers for refusing to do this, and insisting she played on a "level playing field". – TripeHound Aug 21 at 13:07
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    @TripeHound my point exactly, got 4 little cousins, i did let them win a few times at the start when they got better and eventually i didn't have to let them win and they were able to do it themselves. – A.bakker Aug 21 at 13:28
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Your edit introduces some wiggle room that I didn't notice in your first post, which I'll seize upon to say that, no, I don't think you're on the right track in this ambition.

I think that we can't know the particulars of what the masculinity that will prosper in our children's lives will look like, but I have a feeling it will not be exactly what masculinity has been for us. It is my impression that the idea of masculinity among young people today is a lot more permissive than what I grew up with. Obvious speculation aside, what I think holds true regardless of whether we'll see a change in the zeitgeist, is that the current masculine norm is inhibiting and harming men. I think in sticking with the loving nicknames, you are sending a powerful signal to your child, and ot just that he is loved by both his parents, but that access to and ability to express affection and love is not a trait that inevitably has to be lost in the transition to an adult male.

I definitely vote "sweetie". If you're not persuaded, however, the straightforward answer to your question is to go with "kiddo", like Christian Slater in Mr Robot. It carries all the emotional detachment that'll signal that "boys don't cry" vibe.

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    I think the emotion that comes with a nickname is very personal. My dad called me kiddo very lovingly as a child, as in "Heya kiddo, are you feeling alright?". There is no universal answer for what nicknames will feel loving vs detached. It's about the relationship and tone of voice. – Cecilia Aug 20 at 21:48
  • "[Kiddo]...carries all the emotional detachment that'll signal that 'boys don't cry' vibe." Love that analysis. – anongoodnurse Aug 21 at 3:10
  • Thank you. Does "Emotional detachment" mean "an inability or unwillingness to connect with other people on an emotional level. For some people, being emotionally detached helps protect them from unwanted drama, anxiety, or stress" (src)? – JJJohn Aug 21 at 5:45
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    @JJJohn "emotionally detaching" from your ten-year-old son sounds like an absolutely horribly bad idea under almost all circumstances. – Shadur Aug 21 at 10:10
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I default just call my kids by their names, ever since they're born. Calling him Albert should be fine. It acknowledges that he is a person, with his own individuality, responsible for his actions.

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One very common solution that I don't think anyone has mentioned, is to simply call him "Son".

Come on Son, you'll be late for school!

Okay Dad!

It wasn't used in my family but I've heard it used it the UK and US.

This usage is not at all formal, it has the same level of informality as "Dad". It has an affectionate quality about it - an implication that the father is proud to let the world know that this is his son.

Incidentally, to my knowledge, this is much more common between father and son than it is between mother and son.

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I remember many boys in my school making the transition from diminutives, like Danny or Johnny, to using their full names such as Daniel or John around this age. I think in terms of your son feeling like he's growing up, an outward facing change like this one, is probably more important than what he is called at home. If he has a diminutive that he has been using at school, you might want to discuss with him if he wants to transition to the full name.

At home, using a nickname like "Sweetie", signals the special relationship that you share with your son. If you stop using that nickname, he may worry that your relationship is changing, which can be scary. I agree with other answers about asking him whether he would like a new "grown-up" nickname.

He may prefer to keep the old nickname. At about this age, I stopped calling my mom "Mom", because I thought it was childish. She came to me and told me that she would prefer to be called "Mom" because it signaled our relationship, so I continue to this day. Knowing that she valued being my "Mom" was a special feeling.

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    Wait, what did you call her if not mom? I thought people graduated from "mommy" or "mama" to "mom". My sister and I are 35 and I thought it sounded super forced and weird she suddenly started using "mom" right around the time she got a boyfriend. I didn't think people at that age cared like that. I still call her "mommy" or "mama" depending on what language I am speaking in. – DKNguyen Aug 20 at 22:05
  • I called her by her full name. Most adults around me called each other by their full names, so I thought that's what adults did. – Cecilia Aug 20 at 22:07
  • I went from mama to mom around age 3. – Cecilia Aug 20 at 22:07
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    Different strikes for different folks I guess. I would get slapped if I called my parents by their name, even at this age. – DKNguyen Aug 20 at 22:08
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    Funny comment chain! :) I recently had an extended stay with my son and is family. Because of my grandchildren, I called him and his wife "Daddy" and "Mommy". Funny to think of calling your child "Daddy". – anongoodnurse Aug 21 at 2:58
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"Son" is a very traditional term that would be used. It emphasises the father-son relationship but is not a 'kiddie' term and has overtones of warmth without implying disrespect. It also is of course a strongly 'male' term rather than 'sweetie' which is perhaps a little feminine, if you want to instill traditional conservative values (reading between the lines, I might be over-thinking this).

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You should focus less on what nickname will create the desired 'growth' of your son, and more on what nickname you and your son like.

This is not just because of regular parental advice to let your son grow as he wants, but because his connection to you is the one thing that will encourage positive growth as a man.

Your son will model his behavior after what he sees you do, based on how strong your bond is with him. So pick a nickname that you like, and use it if he likes it too - if he doesn't, pick a different one.

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Sometimes people ask this sort of question because they can feel a problem with the relationship and have suspicions about contributing factors. So I'll treat it as such.

If I had to be very succinct, I would say that you need to call him something that does not cast him in the "role" of a man, but rather that conveys respect for some of his qualities. (Of course the respect must be something you genuinely feel.)

It could be something like "my strong man" or "brains" or fighter or keen-eyes or whatever is significant to you. Even "sonny" confers you are proud of him as a son. You have to be careful it doesn't go to his head. Everyone is different but you know him well and probably have a good idea of how it might affect him. Some things will be more embarrassing in public than others. And you don't have to limit yourself to one nickname.

The nickname by itself isn't that big of a deal, but your choice to change it would be rooted in a deeper change in your attitude and would thus be symbolic of it. In turn it would be symbolic for him. People today underrate the importance of symbols, IMO.

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  • Some cultures have name changing as a part of maturation. This seems to have the same thinking process. – axsvl77 Aug 23 at 18:06
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I just don't want to fall into the pit of discussing gender issues and gender stereotypes, so in a framework of my question I'll define for myself what you name "developing manhood" as developing ability to be a responsible, strong and responsible member of society. I honestly don't think that this has anything to do with gender but I can answer to a question "Does calling my soon-to-be a teenager son sweetie somehow affects his chances to become a psychologically secure and responsible adult".

In my opinion (and my experience) it doesn't. Call your son whatever you and him feel are fine with. It's not like that you will be disappointed in his life choices and blaming it on calling him sweetie.

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Talk is not important.

Do and (if applicable) involve him.

That's how children absorb personality from their parents.

You have a complete freedom about "Do" as long as your son can see, hear and (at least barely) understand.

Dealing with other people, sports, DIY projects/repairs, filling a tax forms, your actual work, whatever. Everything is good.

If you do something not in the best way (as you see it), improve yourself. The son will follow.

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I see that you're getting flak over the way this was asked. I agree it comes off as a little "archaic".

But I also empathize with the underlying premise of your question, and think it's perfectly valid.

In my own experience, I bristled (to put it lightly) at being called my childhood nickname into adulthood. I started hating it when going through puberty. Repeatedly confronting the parent in the style of a "good man" (calm and business-like) didn't work. But finally doing so in the hyper-aggressive style of a "real man" did the trick.

(And that's an important distinction. Think of attributes popularly used to describe a "real man". Hyper-aggression as in action movies, the emotionally dysfunctional detective, songs about ramblin' man, Freebird, etc. Generally, self-destructive, socially dysfunctional, unpredictable, unreliable, violent. Then do the same for a "good man". Notice how they differ. My own nature tends toward "real man" but I constantly strive and struggle to be a "good man". Mostly because I've seen up close and personal, how destructive a "real man" often is.)

I'd recommend letting him develop in the "manliness" department however he's going to do it no matter what you do or say. What I've learned in my many years is that gender identity and sexual preference, are deeply baked-in at a genetic or epigenetic level, and have more to do with levels of the complex brew of hormones that are present during development.

We all have testosterone and estrogen, for example. They are all present to varying levels in everyone, man or woman. Tweak that balance, and everything changes.

No nickname or lectures in the world will change that, but not supporting him no matter what his personal choices are, as long as they aren't socially harmful, will absolutely determine whether or not you have an ongoing adult relationship with him at all.

You aren't going to get a persistently "rough and tumble boy" who loves to sit on their friends and fart on them - to act with deep empathy, sensitivity, and social responsibility - any more than you're going to get a sensitive bookworm who identifies more with his female friends, to be like a hard-ass stoic John Wayne fictional character.

I don't think it would matter what the nickname is, or whether it sounds tough and masculine, or feminine. Either way, kids need to leave certain markers of childhood "behind". A childish nickname - or any nickname associated with one's own childhood - being high among them.

In my case, once puberty hit, I just wanted to be called by my freaking name.

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  • I had a girlfriend where after she heard my sister and parents call me by my childhood nickname (which is a diminiuitive form of my first name), refuse to call me anything else. It happened within minutes after she heard it for the first time. She said my actual name had too few syllables and didn't sound right or was ackward to say, which I can sort of see with the way her accent worked. – DKNguyen Aug 23 at 4:40
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If you wife calls him sweetie until he's 18, that's fine. Call him whatever you want that makes sense to you and that he likes, tiger, boss, champ, tarzan, and variations of his real name.

Everyone needs a good name for their close ones, check nicknames related to albert: https://bestnicknametees.com/boys-names/letter-a-boys/albert/

https://nickfinder.com/Albert

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