Despite being generally libertarian about nicknames for children, I believe that there should be some ground rules on what you call your child. I have sons so I’m particularly interested in establishing some guidelines on that front. More specifically, I don’t think anyone should call their little boy “buddy” because doing so displays either a disconcerting level of patronization or a questionable undercurrent of aggression. Often both. Your child is not your pet. Your child is not your friend. Do not call your kid “buddy.”
There are so many words in the English language, so many terms of endearment, so many permutations of the name you gave your child. Buddy, a weirdo f#$king word that is at once specific and vague, is a cop-out. Worse than a cop-out, it’s a bad cop-out. As anyone who casts a shadow knows, buddy is not purely a term of endearment. Buddy, according to no less an august source than the Cambridge Dictionary, can be used as a form of address “when talking to a man, sometimes in a friendly way but often when you are annoyed.” The example they give is “Drink up and go home, buddy.” But in my mind, because I didn’t go to Cambridge nor am I a bouncer, buddy is always part of the phrase, “Hey, buddy, go f#$k yourself.” Obviously that’s not what I want to tell my kid — at least not all the time.
The raison d’etre of a nickname is not only to indicate a level of familiarity but to encapsulate, in a pithy way, some unique character of the subject. Sometimes that is as simple as a permutation of a given name. Steve becomes Steve-o. Matt becomes Mattie. Blake because B. But Buddy? C’mon. That’s hurtful. The nickname implies a lack of actual character traits. It’s like calling your wife “Spouse.” Except that it’s also a misnomer. Etymologically speaking, the word “buddy” seems to come from either the Middle English word for brother or from a phrase for workmates that implied sharing booty, in the treasure sense of the word. Either way, it’s a term of familiarity that may actually be more akin to calling your wife “Papa.”
And even if you use buddy as a term of endearment rather than a nickname per se, why use a word that, later on, will be the source of suffering for your child? Think about it. One day your son will be standing in the bike lane waiting for a light to change and a bicyclist (probably me) will pass him and say, “Hey, buddy. You’re in the f#$king bike lane!” And in your son’s mind, great disturbances will transpire because buddy was what you called him and yet he is now being called buddy by someone who wishes him ill. “OMG,” your son will think, “My dad hated me.” And the love he carried in his heart for you will sour into bile. The last thought he will have, before being plowed over by a biker (he won’t move out of the way, because as a son of “buddy”-users he was not raised properly) will be a curse upon your head. You will deserve this.
Whether you felt too silly or self-conscious to call your boy “my love” or “sweetheart,” whether you could not find in your mind reserves of creativity to forge a better nickname that actually pertained to the child at hand, whether you were called “buddy” by your own father and therefore grew up sideways, will not matter. All that will matter is that you called your son “buddy,” and “buddy” is not anything to call your son at all.