the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Teaching Our Daughter About Her Cheeseburger

When I was a child I knew the proper terms for the sexual anatomies of both girls and boys and wasn’t afraid to remind my grandmother to wash my vagina when giving me a bath. My grandmother, however, couldn’t believe she had raised a son who could in good conscience teach his own kids to use such foul language. Oh the horror of her grandchild uttering PENIS! You might as well arm your kids with a gun and teach them how to shoplift! Penis is of course the gateway drug to felony misdemeanor.

At the age of four I was also under the impression that the penis was also called a delicate. The only way I could get my then seven year old brother to stop tickling me was to kick him in the delicate. It worked every time! My father had to pull me aside and tell me that boys had delicate parts and that I could permanently injure my brother’s delicate if I kept kicking him there. Years later when I was able to spell I noticed that the washing machine had a delicate cycle, and I could not for the life of me figure out how boys could detach their penises to wash them in the washing machine. And where was the vagina cycle? I wanted to detach my vagina and stick it in the washing machine.

Jon’s mother also taught him the proper terms for his anatomy, but when she taught him that a vagina was a vagina he thought she said China. For years he would silently gasp when anyone referred to the country or to the tableware, and once when he was at his friend’s house and his friend’s mother began singing “China Girl” he COULD NOT BELIEVE this woman was openly talking about her China. Thank God his mother didn’t sing about her China.

Jon and I are struggling with what we’re going to call Leta’s anatomy when she’s old enough to start talking about it. I do want her to know that she has a vagina, and we will teach her all the medical terms pertaining to her AREA, but when we talk about it casually, I think that calling it a vagina will get tiring. Vagina is such a laborious word. It’s got three distinct syllables and you almost have to chew the word to get it out. What we’re looking for is something cuter. Vagina is not cute.

We also have to consider the fact that whatever we teach her to call it will have its meaning completely altered in her mind. If we teach her to call it her PARTS then whenever she hears the word PART she’ll either be mortified or she’ll chuckle wickedly. The ultrasound technician called it a CHEESEBURGER, but I don’t want her to have to think about her vagina every time she pulls up to a drive-thru.

Some terms we’ve considered:

That place
Um, you know (and then pointing in the general direction)
Bottom System

I honestly can’t believe I’m asking this, but what did you call your parts when you were a kid?

(comments now closed)

  • Sharon

    2004/04/12 at 3:03 am

    Wow! Lots of comments on this one! I am american but have lived in sweden for the last 8 years. Here in sweden a penis is formally called a penis but with children referred to as a “snopp”. My daughter wondered why there was no other name for a vagina so she invented her own. We now refer to a vagina as a “snipp”. Now friends and family have adopted her “friendly vagina name”.

  • jenny

    2004/04/12 at 3:09 am

    your privates

  • Sinta

    2004/04/12 at 3:12 am

    I like the word “poogie” it sounds cute 🙂 My darling, just reading your entry from over my shoulder, decided to make that my pet name. ^_^

  • Jess

    2004/04/12 at 3:13 am

    I always called mine a “pee-pee,” and when I had to go potty I had to “tee-tee” I was never even told what to call a “man part” but that didn’t matter because I’m sure I thought all people were the same. I love reading your blog, by the way. 🙂

  • Michelle

    2004/04/12 at 3:21 am

    Being in Australia our fanny is different to your terminology of it… my girls call it there fanny, well the younger ones do now, not the teen.

  • Eva

    2004/04/12 at 3:22 am

    It was always “down there”. Now my girlfriends and me calls it Julia. It is like another friend of ours to us 🙂 /don´t mean to offend anyone called Julia of course/

  • Pixie

    2004/04/12 at 3:24 am

    My 20 month old already runs around yelling ‘look at my willy!’ and then pointing at mine saying ‘there’s mummy’s willy’ so am going to have to explain sooner than I thought lol! I vote for Willy and Gina (pronounced like china)

  • Leah

    2004/04/12 at 3:41 am

    I’m pretty sure my mom just taught me to call it “vagina.” When I was three, I would introduce myself with my name and end with “and I have a vagina!” Family friends still tell that story to everyone!

    However, I do know that my mom referred to boys differently. When she told me what to do if a strange man tried to touch me, it was “kick him between the legs” even tho I really *really* wanted to “kick him in the head”

  • Amy

    2004/04/12 at 3:42 am

    I grew up in a family where girls had “deedilos,” and believe me, when sex-ed rolled around in 7th grade, my sisters and I were all mighty confused. We decided to go with “private parts” or “privates” for our 4 year old daughter. “Privates” has the advantage of being common (no misunderstandings from babysitters, teachers, or doctors), reinforcing our family policy of “nobody else gets to touch you there/it’s fine for you to touch yourself when you are alone” and the whole idea of privacy, and is something you don’t cringe to hear the current state of bellowed across a crowded public space.

  • liz

    2004/04/12 at 3:59 am

    girls “privates” were called something like a chupka. my family was from poland, so I always assumed that was the proper polish word for “vagina.” now that I think about it, though, maybe it was a slang/curseword. or maybe it wasn’t polish at all.

  • candyk

    2004/04/12 at 4:02 am

    i grew up in south africa and my “front bum” was called “cookie”, which could pose a bit of a problem in the states (choc chip cookies and all that).
    i still like cookie though!

  • Liz

    2004/04/12 at 4:03 am

    my parents used “tee-tee” (girls) and “tee-jay” (boys)– was very confused the first time i saw a TJ Maxx store!

    i like girl bits, coochie, or cha-cha

  • Angela

    2004/04/12 at 4:06 am

    Grandma: This is your beHIND, and this is your beFRONT…

  • Erikah

    2004/04/12 at 4:08 am

    In my family we went with Bits for the most part, although Privates and Parts were both used once in a while. I don’t know why everything had to be plural.

  • kat

    2004/04/12 at 4:12 am

    VULVA! fun to say, plus it is NOT a vagina, it includes a vagina, of course, but there are several other important aspects….can’t forget the clitoris!! don’t you want your daughter to know it’s there? later, i mean? much later? plus, you don’t want her to think she pees from her vagina, the way i did. these are separate things. we say “private parts” when other people are around, but it has been vulva with my daughter since she could say it.

  • jalepee

    2004/04/12 at 4:14 am

    flower! =D

  • Kelly

    2004/04/12 at 4:18 am

    Unfortunatly not as clever, my family called it the Pee Pee Thing. We coined this term for the males and females in the family kowing that all girls had the same thing and all the boys had a different thing.

  • lara

    2004/04/12 at 4:20 am

    It was always just “down there,’ for me, although my mother called my rear end my “moony,” which still cracks me up. Why that?

    My best friend called hers her “cookie,” which presented many issues later in life.

    the little boy I sit for now calls his his “peenee,” but can also say the word “testicles.” nice.

  • scarlettbgonya

    2004/04/12 at 4:21 am

    My mom always referred to it as my “tootie”, but I wanted to use the term I’d heard the neighbors use: “loosy-goosy”. Of course, all those “loosy-goosy”‘s got pregnant before they graduated from high school, so really, it’s a judgement call.

  • cubicalgirl

    2004/04/12 at 4:23 am

    When I was a kid my vagina was referred to by my mother as a “tussy” (which was also the name of a brand of deodorant–was she trying to tell me something?). My brother’s penis was a “berry”. I don’t think I learned the proper names for things until middle school when we had sex ed. It was in this class that I learned one of my favorite names for the penis, supplied by a classmate: “Mr. Mike”. Needless to say, that boy spent the rest of the 7th grade going by the nickname Mr. Mike.

  • David

    2004/04/12 at 4:49 am

    Ummm, maybe it’s been said already (Dear god that’s a lot of comments) but how about “dooce”? No offence intended… but it’s personal, unique and quite frankly, a nice tribute.

  • Beth

    2004/04/12 at 4:49 am

    I was taught to say Winnie, but the neighbor girl said Francine.

  • Dyanna

    2004/04/12 at 4:50 am

    My mother called it a ‘pong-pong’ and my brother had a ‘ping-ping’, however, my friend calls hers her ‘hoo-hoo’ and her son’s the ‘wa-gee’.

  • Stacy

    2004/04/12 at 4:56 am

    My mom taught us to call it our P.B. I have no idea what it stands for, but I still feel weird when some one offers me a pb&j. My dad’s daughter called it her “scrotch”.

  • j.

    2004/04/12 at 5:05 am

    Padoodle-do. Not any shorter, but a lot more fun to say.

  • d

    2004/04/12 at 5:06 am

    a friend of mine calls it her twinkle.

  • heather

    2004/04/12 at 5:10 am

    thanks to’s nasty hedgehogs: axewound, spampurse.

    we called it our “cooty” growing up. now, i call it my “stuff”.

  • giddy

    2004/04/12 at 5:14 am

    We are struggling with this with our 4-year-old daughter now….what I dislike about vagina is that, while it is the analagous part to the penis, it is not what you see when you first look nor what you are washing in the tub. So vulva or labia seem more appropriate, but won’t people think you’re weird for using THOSE terms? When I was little we didn’t really call it anything. With our gal we mostly just talk about washing “the bathroom area,” which includes her “bottom” (which only refers to the backside at our house) and her “front.” We’ve told her about her vagina, as well as about her urethra, but when it comes to bathtime we’re really more concerned about washing off the pee and poo residue so “bathroom area” seems ok!!

    Incidentally, my husband and his 2 brothers grew up snickering whenever they heard “pickles” being referenced, and my dad still has the same reaction to “noodles.”

    Other terms used in the local parlance of our crowd are “cookie” (for girls) and “cracker” (for boys), but we’ve chosen not to go with those for obvious reasons.

    A related question–what about farts? What are you going to call those? We like “toot.”

  • mel

    2004/04/12 at 5:23 am

    chaka, bits or the girl.

  • Sara

    2004/04/12 at 5:25 am

    On the off chance that you can possibly read this far:

    Wooter = Penis (derived from peter)

    Wootus – Vagina (derived from uterus)

    courtesy of my sister-in-law and her kids!

  • dave

    2004/04/12 at 5:27 am

    I was always fond of “gibbly bits”.

    Just like Austin Powers said it.

  • Tiffany

    2004/04/12 at 5:30 am

    My parents gave me the real words, until at age three, I embarassed them at my grandmother’s Christmas Eve party, at which point they took them back. My Grandma had a toilet seat cover with santa on it. When you raised the seat, there was a felted Santa, with his eyes covered. On my way to show my potty trained prowess, I pointed to the felted Santa with eyes covered and asked my gram, “Is that so he won’t see my Gyna?” They died, and I didn’t relearn the word til I was 12.

  • haley

    2004/04/12 at 5:33 am

    With my four month old, we’ve usually called it her ‘girl parts.’ I don’t know if that will stick though when she learns how to talk. Hmm…I kinda like twiffy. I always called it my front bottom when I was little.

  • S

    2004/04/12 at 5:34 am

    At home, the family referred to the parts by their by-the-book names, but at school it was a free for all.
    Personally, I like “yoni” and “betweens” best.

  • Coralie

    2004/04/12 at 5:36 am

    When I was little it was “petite fleur”, now it’s cootch.

  • rebecca

    2004/04/12 at 5:37 am

    I have five-year-old twins who refer to their genitalia as penis and vagina. Last week, for some reason, my daughter announced that “the penis is the vagina’s friend.” When asked how she knew this she replied, “It’s a rule.” And whose rule is that? “It’s my rule.” Let’s hope she doesn’t tell her teachers her rule.

  • Feisty Girl

    2004/04/12 at 5:40 am

    When I was growing up, I knew the terms penis and vagina, but referred to the area as a whole as “my privates” as in, they were private to me. Part of my mother’s whole plan to keep me safe from perverts.

    On a side note…I nannied for a for a family that used proper terms too, and I will never forget the little girl telling me that she needed one more minute in the tub so that she could wash her “ba-gina.”

  • Adam

    2004/04/12 at 5:41 am

    I had a girlfriend in college whose mother taught her that she had ‘chips.’ Apparently, her mother thought that the labia looked just like chips sitting side by side. I really don’t get the symbolism, but I do think it’s funny that you could say ‘chips and salsa’ if you wanted to refer to menstruation (I never brought that little gem up during dinner conversation).

  • ashlee

    2004/04/12 at 5:41 am

    my mom referred to it as tinkle winkle, later moving to private parts.

  • Donna

    2004/04/12 at 5:42 am

    When we were very young we called our privates birdys. Now it’s padinga or for a guy padoogie.

  • Lindsey

    2004/04/12 at 5:42 am

    Oooh I have a few:

    Cookie / Pop-Tart / Hoo / Fur-Pie / Bunny / Twinkie

    At least this is what I’ve heard some of the kids refer to there’s as 🙂

  • Girlpunch

    2004/04/12 at 5:45 am

    I had a girlfriend once who called it a “cootie cat”. She was 25 and still called it that. She didnt last long.

  • buick

    2004/04/12 at 5:48 am

    The name has changed over the years. It started off as my “musn’t touch it” and then became my “ya-ya”. (both my mother’s doing)

    Now I call it my “kitty”.

  • Kimber

    2004/04/12 at 5:50 am

    My mom always referred to it as my ‘suzie’. Looking back, I guess it’s a good thing that I didn’t have any friends growing up by that name. When I was old enough to bathe myself without drowning, she’d always say to me, “Make sure you wash suzie’s face!” lol

  • chelsea

    2004/04/12 at 5:53 am

    My twin sister and i called it “tullu” pronounced “toool-looo” i have no idea why.

  • Lori

    2004/04/12 at 5:53 am


  • Romi

    2004/04/12 at 5:55 am


    thats what i called it when i was little.

  • twomato

    2004/04/12 at 5:55 am

    One son called it his Pirate Place (private). Other son called specific parts his “tentacles”. Kind of a marine theme there, which is odd since we live in the Midwest.

  • Derbs

    2004/04/12 at 5:57 am

    oh my–I got it all mother called it my “butterfly”. I was so confused come jr high. I taught my daughter to call it her vagina..which she called it her “gina” (pronounced china.) My son knows he has a penis and loves to loudly proclaim that to anyone as well as his sister has a vagina. (he’s 4 so he’s still cute enough to get away with that)So,lately we just refer to it as “down south”.. (when lil brother is around)which can get confusing too cause we’re from down South living up North now.

  • Alison

    2004/04/12 at 6:06 am

    Yeah, my mother called it a tutu. Of course, when I took ballet lessons and learned a relative’s phone number (which was x22-xxxx), I couldn’t stop laughing. And remember, there is a distinct difference between your “tutu” (butt) and your “front tutu” (everything else).

1 2 3 12

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

read more