top of page

Dateline Detroit: The Name Game

By Judi Markowitz / Detroit

Eli and Alex Weiner at the moment they discovered the gender of their upcoming baby

Choosing a name for a baby is a daunting proposition. There are a myriad of books published yearly with the most popular names to help expectant parents with the selection process. These publications may tout anywhere from 25,000 to over 150,000 names. This can make the process easier for some, but more confusing for others. Having nine months to contemplate the perfect name can be overwhelming.

My youngest son Eli and his wife Alex are expecting their first child in October. This will be our eighth grandchild. My husband Jeffrey and I are absolutely thrilled. A few weeks ago, they had a “Gender Reveal” celebration which indicated the sex of the baby.

Alex's baby bump at 16 weeks
Alex's baby bump at 16 weeks

After having a delicious dinner for our small gathering of family members at their house, cake was served for dessert. But this was not your usual cake — inside was the secret to the gender of their child. The interior frosting was to be the indicator — pink for a girl or blue for a boy. Sometimes the layers of the cake hold the coveted secret as well. The frosting on top does not give away any surprise, as pink and blue are arrayed evenly to add mystery and intrigue to the event.


The Reveal trend originated in the late 2000s and it’s been on the fast track for expectant parents since then. For those who are not familiar with this type of ceremony, it can be done in numerous ways — launching or popping balloons, using colored smoke, streamers, pinatas, sparklers and even fireworks. Some couples choose to have big parties, while others desire a more intimate venue. The list of possibilities for this festive event is endless.


When Alex was 11 weeks pregnant, her bloodwork was checked for genetic/chromosomal abnormalities. Such bloodwork also contains the gender of the baby. If prospective parents want to know this information, they have several options. 


The doctor or office staff will gladly reveal the gender, either in person or by phone. If a surprise is in the works, then a sealed envelope may be picked up from the office and viewed at the discretion of the parents.  Eli and Alex chose to give the unopened envelope to a friend. This valuable information was then taken to a bakery that specializes in these high-demand cakes.

The all-knowing gender reveal cake
The all-knowing gender reveal cake
The verdict from the doctor's office
The verdict from the doctor's office

When Eli and Alex were prepared to take a leap into the unknown, they opted to use champagne flutes, instead of a knife, to dig into their cake. They were excited beyond words and then timed their approach to start the festivities together. The look on their faces was priceless as they gazed at the color of the cake and frosting in their glasses—a boy!

The family gathers for the big reveal moment


After receiving this news, all the names Eli and Alex had contemplated for girls were instantly eliminated. Now the search is on in earnest, and the net has widened for prospective boy names.


When I reflect on names in my family, I am immediately drawn to memories of my parents — Bob and Marian Foster — where the name saga begins. I never heard them call each other by their actual names — not even one slip. My parents always addressed one another as “Honey.” It was a constant “Honey, can you answer the phone”  or “Honey, I’m leaving the house,” or  “Honey, I love you.” It was completely endearing, and I never gave it a second thought.

The author's parents on their wedding–July 2, 1939
The author's parents on their wedding day–July 2, 1939

When my mother was having children from the mid-1940s to the early 1950s, women were routinely administered “twilight sleep.” The Embryo Project Encyclopedia (2019)  explains that this was a common practice where “drugs caused women in labor to enter a state of sleep prior to giving birth and awake from childbirth with no recollection of the procedure.”


The Encyclopedia adds that “scientists first discovered scopolamine and morphine in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but physicians did not use the two drugs to alleviate pain from childbirth until the twentieth century.” These drugs were used because they decreased pain and impaired memories.

My sister, Gayle and I suspect that twilight sleep was the beginning of a name bonanza for our mom. Whatever names she contemplated during her pregnancy became skewed after the event.


Siblings Alan, Gayle and Judi Foster in the early 1950s
Siblings Alan, Gayle and Judi Foster in the early 1950s

When my brother was born in 1944, they affectionately named him Alan Jay — but called him Butch. My sister Gayle was born in 1949. Her middle name is Lorene — which she hated, and my brother teased her relentlessly. But to top it off, my mother never called her Gayle — it was always Lori. Our friends thought there were three girls in the family. It became quite confusing.


When I was born the name Judyth Lynn was bestowed upon me — Bubbles became my nickname. My parents said I bubbled over with laughter when I was a baby. The name stuck.


My mom also told me she preferred the name Robin, but after I was born, she changed her mind. She said that people would call me “Robin Red Breast,” – Judi seemed the safe alternative. I remember asking my mom if she ever thought that kids might tease me and say “Judi Doodie” It didn’t occur to her at the time — twilight sleep was the obvious culprit.


As we got older, my siblings and I carried the tradition of nicknames one step further. When we were teenagers Gayle and I generously provided new nicknames for the family — we added to the craziness.  I was Juba, my parents became Muba and Duba, Gayle was Luna, and Alan became Aloon. My parents still used their original nicknames for us kids, in addition to these newer models.  These nicknames have held for over 50 years.


When my siblings and I married and had families, the nickname saga kept evolving. When I was pregnant, I pondered the consequences of a name — could it be dissected and what nicknames might be associated with a particular name? I wanted to ensure that each of my children had a strong name and I certainly didn’t want a repeat performance of my mom’s naming debacle.


A 2010 article from discusses the psychology behind nicknames. They reported, “A nickname reflects how others view the person and comes to mirror how that person sees himself/herself. Nicknames can affect a child’s self-esteem positively or negatively.” This is definitely food for thought.

The author's kids and first grandchild (2010)
The author's kids and first grandchild (2010)

And sure enough, as the years progressed, nicknames started creeping into the mix. My husband joined our crew with his own nickname — The Mouse.

Our four children acquired varying nicknames throughout the years, some stemming from their first initials and others, well, just because they seemed to fit them. Lindsay became Linny, Lindsay Lou, Linatta, Beezer, and Mina B. Todd was called T., Titto, and Toddy. Chad ‘s nicknames are Wick, Chadwick, and Chochie Evan, and Eli has a few extra names as well — Eenie Beanie, E, and Ennis.


Ironically, my husband and I still use some of these names for our now adult children. My siblings also made up nicknames for their kids. It was a natural progression since we were surrounded with them while growing up. It appears to be in our genes. Even our seven grandchildren have nicknames.

I’m sure that many families share in the pleasure of creating nicknames for their children. Afterall, it’s a custom which dates back to the 14th century. With our eightth grandchild making an appearance in October, I can’t help but wonder what name, let alone nickname will be his moniker. I know that Eli and Alex will choose carefully, but in time, a nickname will be revealed.



Judi Markowitz is a retired high school English teacher of 34 years. She primarily taught 12th grade and had the pleasure of her three sons gracing her classes. In addition, she taught debate, forensics, and Detroit film. Judi has four adult children and seven wonderful grandchildren. She is married to Jeffrey Markowitz, whom she met in high school.

Judi grew up in Oak Park, Mich. which had a stellar school district, with excellent teachers. The city provided activities for all–and there were even sidewalks. Judi moved to Huntington Woods as an adult, which is a half mile from her childhood home. She wanted the same experience for her children as she had growing up, and Huntington Woods provided that. The View from Four Foot Two is Judi’s first book.

bottom of page