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I'm Spanish, just in case some of you think this question is kind of silly.

I watch TV series in English very frequently to practise my listening skills. The words I've heard in relation to children are:

  1. Sport
  2. Champ
  3. Kiddo

I wonder whether they are used in everyday speech or not. I looked up the meaning of sport in a dictionary and it says:

(old-fashioned) used when speaking to a boy in a friendly way.

However, the Urban Dictionary says: "the name your dad calls you by that makes you feel like a total loser".

As for champ, I think it's a shortening for champion, but according to Urban Dictionary it can be used in a pejorative way, "sarcastically to disparage someone's ability".

And the last one is kiddo, so that would be "(spoken informal) used by adults to address a young person". I like this one because it seems that it's always used with endearment.

So, what's the actual usage of these words? Do you ever use any of them? What words do you suggest I use for this purpose?

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I agree with your findings that "sport" and "champ" can be pejorative or at least not-endearing, but kiddo rarely is. The first two are also, in my opinion, losing their foothold in the lexicon of American dads. As well, all three are quite camp-y expressions, and it won't be long before calling your son "champ" will sound just as silly as calling him "sailor" or "cowboy" or some other outdated hero-type of American folklore. –  tylerharms Nov 25 '12 at 12:42
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I agree with @tylerhams, but would like to add that any of these words can be used affectionately or pejoratively – how any of them would be received would likely depend on the speaker's tone as much as the word itself. I remember being called "sport" in a complimentary way at my first job (I was only 14 at the time; that was a few decades ago, perhaps it does sound old-fashioned now). As for what you found in the UD, I wouldn't put too much stock in that, because many of those definitions are written by kids and for kids, so I expect that definition is meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek. –  J.R. Nov 25 '12 at 13:04
    
@tylerharms Those are camp? I disbelieve. –  tchrist Nov 25 '12 at 13:23
    
@tchrist: I call my friend's son "sport" sometimes, and he reminds me that his son is not a dog. –  tylerharms Nov 25 '12 at 13:32
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I think this is hopelessly subjective (i.e. - Not Constructive). Prevalence, acceptability and connotations for "pet names" vary wildly over time, region, and across socio-economic groupings, among other things. –  FumbleFingers Nov 25 '12 at 16:15
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4 Answers 4

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Don't worry about what Urban Dictionary says. While it's true, in some cases, it's not true for everyone all the time. Those three nicknames are a little bit dated, especially Sport and Champ. I wouldn't use those two at all: your son's classmates'll change the first to "Chump" or "Chimp" and the second to "Spurt". I sometimes call my wife "Kiddo", and I sometimes call my son "Kiddo". It's okay for anyone, but not really as a nickname.

Parents call their children by all kinds of names and nicknames. All names can be used pejoratively, especially by children's peers. When I was in high school, a little word game called "mother mock" was popular. My mother's name is Katherine, "Kay" for short. When my classmates wanted to mock my mother, they'd say "Eff you see Kay, tell her I love her" = "F-U-C-K, tell her I love her". I don't remember any others.

My son's English name is William. I call him "Willie" in English to distinguish his name from mine, "Bill", and at school, some of his friends call him "Wei-Li" in Chinese, and some Taiwanese call him "William". His Chinese name is "Yi-Hong", a perfectly normal name, but he doesn't like it and thinks it sounds like a girl's name. I always called him "Di-di", Chinese for "little brother", when he was small, which is what almost all Taiwanese call their sons. Maybe you can use that nickname.

When I grew up, I legally changed my first name because nobody used it: everyone called me by my middle name.

There's no need to call your children by nicknames. I always called my first son David, never "Dave" or "Davy". Now at 44, he calls himself "Dave".

I suggest that you call your son by the name that you gave him when he was born. Names are important. If you give a kid a name and then don't use it, the kid'll wonder why. I did. If you name him "Antonio", why call him "Tony"? If you name him "Archibald", why call him "Arch"? If you don't like the full name, then give him the short name. Just make sure that any nickname you can't prevent yourself from using isn't embarrassing to him, and if he asks you to stop using it, please respect his request.

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Since the O.P. asked, "What's the actual usage of these words? Do you ever use any of them?" I'll throw in that one of my four kids likes to be called Kiddo, and even signs notes with that monikor (e.g., it's not uncommon to find a note on the counter reading: I went to the library and should be home by 7 – Kiddo). –  J.R. Nov 25 '12 at 13:11
    
You named your son Willie? Here's hoping you don't move to England. –  Robusto Nov 25 '12 at 13:12
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@Robusto: Yeah, after Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Willie "The Actor" Sutton, Willie Nelson, and William Jefferson "Slick Willie" Clinton. There's no chance that he'll move to the UK or the USA. –  user21497 Nov 25 '12 at 13:19
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I agree with @Bill Franke's "call him by his name" point completely, and I would also second the ignore-Urban Dictionary-definitions-because-they're-sarcastic argument. However, to offer an answer to the last question, I hear "buddy" and "son" most often. Here are my impressions of the usage of those words.

"Buddy" is a good option because it, hopefully, literally describes a way you see your son. In that sense, it does not replace the boy's name the way "champ" does when it is used as a general non-descript moniker--when your son has not just become a champion. You could easily use "buddy" and the boy's name in the same breath.

Hi, Tim. How was school today, buddy?

"Son" could be used in the above example, but it also has an austere sensibility that I like. It defines your relationship, defines it in its simplest form, and it has a connotation of valuing the distinction between mother or father and son. As such, it can sound rarefied, and this should be considered when using it.

Son, sit down for a minute. Let me explain something.

"Son" would be preferable to create a stern tone. "Buddy," by comparison, would not help to convey that stern of a tone. It would convey a ligher tone, as if the explanation were of something light-hearted and not something serious.

When my dad called me son, he was reminding me that he was my father, that he was in charge. If he called me buddy, the relationship was more balanced.

Full disclosure: This is conjecture as I don't have kids. But, if I am lucky enough to have a son, I will call him by his name first, and then I would use "son" in sincerity as my go-to moniker.

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A good friend of mine once related how his dad would call him son in times of praise ("I'm proud of you, son") and boy in times of trouble ("What's the matter with you, boy?"). The best story of them all happened in the wake of a hunting accident, when the dad, full of concern, rushed to my friend, crying "Son, son! Are you alright?" and when everything was found to be okay (just a scratch), he gave his son a stern look and said, "Now don't be tellin' your mama ’bout this, boy!" –  J.R. Nov 25 '12 at 17:46
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It is probably the overuse of these words on family-oriented television shows that led to their pejorative use by younger people. In a typical scene on the television show, there is a child who is not especially athletically gifted, and the father calls him champ (winner), sport (sportsmanlike athlete), slugger (home run hitter), etc., in order to build up the boy's confidence and encourage him, since the the sport is very important to the boy and he's self-conscious about it.

Children (like myself) who grew up watching these shows began to invent pejorative senses for these terms. The term when used by the younger generation may refer to a male child who is weak, sensitive, and spoiled by his parents. My friends and I in high school (in the 1990s) used terms like these to mock our classmates who were low performers in athletic activities.

Non-sports-oriented hypochoristics for male children like pal and buddy don't seem to be subject to this pejorative treatment.

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I think the Urban Dictionary definitions are more likely apply when the words are used with adults. You're taking a childish nickname and applying it to an adult, so it's likely to be sarcastic, ironic, or condescending (or all three!)

"Good going, champ," he snorted as Bob tripped over the curb.

That said, sport and champ sound pretty dated to my ears for use with children. I still hear kiddo used now and again, but not commonly.

The generic boy/girl nicknames I hear most are "bud/buddy" and "hon/honey", but I expect that's a regional thing. More commonly you'll find kid-specific nicknames based on their name or something like that.

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