Muammar: A note on my mother's nickname

My mom's name has been in the news a LOT lately. About six or seven years ago, at some point, she began referring to herself as "Muammar," a take on Muammar Ghaddafi's name, but we would most often spell it simply "Momar." If you hadn't guessed, this is more than anything a play on the word Mom, nabbed from a popular culture and global reference--my parents having been around during the '80s, the last time we had a serious confrontation with the rather loony man.

We are a family of nicknames, indeed. My parents have adopted several alternative names over the years, which always end up on their birthday cards and Christmas gift tags. My dad has been Clark, after Clark Griswold in the National Lampoon's films, for many years--it's a name my Mom really started many years ago (I was either young or not born yet). His actual name is Mark. And due to the operatic stylings she has been known to bust out, we dubbed my Mom "Blanche Munchnick," after Madeline Kahn's similar-singing character in one of our family's favorite movies, Mixed Nuts. As if you needed to shorten a one-syllable name, my brother Neil has become simply "Ne." Paul has been "Paulio" ever since his days of addiction to the Paulio string cheese brand. I began calling Carl "Carola" I think partly because of the Toyota Corolla, and that has caught on as well. Much of this playfulness comes from my Mom, who uses "Ralphie" as an interchangeable name to refer to or call any of the men in our family.

But Ghaddafi might be the one we've giggled about the most over the years, as an almost absurd title that wasn't supposed to stick quite as well as it has. I mean, there are many days when my Dad might answer the phone and say he's "passing me over to The Colonel," or simply to "Ghaddafi." Yes, we've adopted all forms of the wacky human-rights violator's name as a set of endearing names to call our matriarch.

Grotesque? I don't think so at all, because Muammar, as I have referred to for many years, has a separate persona entirely from, a handy nickname that fits and has detached long ago from an conjuring up of the face, or the history, even. That has obviously changed vastly in the last few months, and I do not mean to make light of an extremely grave situation in Libya, but it does give me a smile sometimes to think of how often it's in the news, this name I have used for many years in a very personal, loving way.

When we first began calling her that, I remember her having to explain who he was to me--that's how young I was when the name caught on. Then, for a long time, I imagined this far-flung African figure as someone who must surely have long-died, a tyrant the sort of which did not exist anymore, someone who maybe struggled for independence throughout the World Wars but had since become part of those sagas gone by.

So until recently, with him being largely out of the news for at least a decade, the name really didn't bring about thoughts of destruction and death, and crimes against humanity.

But for me, it rarely does this. His voice and his face and his actions create far more vivid a picture, of a man who has too much pride and confidence that he is what Libya needs to thrive. For me, the name belongs to someone else entirely.

I tell my mom nowadays, it looks like very soon she will be the only Ghaddafi left, and that sounds nice.