“Baby Girl.” That’s what James Evans, the father on Good Times, called his daughter, Thelma. Years later it’s also how Bernie Mac referred to his youngest niece on his self-titled TV show. Baby Girl is a familial term of endearment within the African-American community. In my family I’ve had many pet names including – but not limited to – Boo, Slow Poke, Madam, and She Who Must Be Obeyed 2.0.
Calling someone outside your family Baby Girl can be both casual and intimate depending on the speaker’s tone, intent, and the receptivity of the listener. Some people like it. Some people don’t. So it’s best used with caution.
In a way it reminds me of the book Dune written by Frank Herbert. When the main character, Paul Atreides, becomes one of the Fremen (a tribe of people native to the desert planet Arrakis) he assumes two names. His public name is Paul Muad’Dib. His private name – only for his wife and family – is Usul.
That’s how I feel about Boo. If you don’t know me, please don’t “Boo” me. That feels like you’ve just walked into my house bold as you please without an invitation. It triggers my “You-don’t-know-me-like-that” button. It’s all a matter of personal taste really, which makes its colloquial usage so tricky. It could earn you a date or an ass whipping.
I guess because I didn’t grow up with it, Baby Girl doesn’t feel as intrusive to me. While I’m no longer a baby or a girl, I am not un-fond of the combo term. I’m sure it should raise some feminist hackles, but I’m honest enough to admit that on the rare times I’ve ever been called Baby Girl it made me smile.
And so when I was standing at the bar of a Greenwich Village Comedy Club, I thought nothing of it when a silky-voiced man standing behind me said, “Hey, Baby Girl.” From his tone I didn’t assume he was hitting on me, per se, just being respectfully familiar. At a packed bar on a Saturday night a little courtesy goes a long way.
As I turned, drink in hand, to give Mr. Baby Girl the once over I saw that he was all eyes for the guy next me. Ooh, it’s like that? Oh well. A reminder of why we should never assume. But it’s still a good thing I had a tight grip on my wine glass – and my jaw – so neither dropped to the floor.
In case you’re wondering, I was not at a gay bar, just a bar. And while there are many venues that cater to specific groups, we’re all free to congregate and imbibe where we wish, except maybe in Indiana.
Also, the guy next to me was adorable with a capital “A.” And I could tell from his happy smile that he didn’t mind at all being called Baby Girl, especially since the one doing the Baby Girlin’ was a hottie too. Nice…for them. It kinda left me feeling like She Who Was Being Ignored. No worries. It’s just sobering to mistakenly bring your “A” game to a team you don’t play for.
I vacated my spot at the bar – I was leaving anyway – to let love and liquor work its will. I smiled at the cutie next to me and thought, good luck, Baby Boy.