Saturday, October 10, 2009

What's in a name?

There was a time when nicknames were predominantly stylish or a testament to awe: Joltin' Joe DiMaggio, Broadway Joe Namath, Air Jordan, Wilt the Stilt. Elvis Presley was the King of Rock and Roll. Frank Sinatra and his crew were the Rat Pack. Growing up, we had a friend and her Dad's nickname was Sharky Easy. I thought it the coolest nickname on earth, and how awesome that we, the kids, could call him that too.

My husband has a great nickname from college and one night over many refreshing beverages, my friends heard it. They didn't know it was meant to be reserved to a certain band of brothers so they started referring to him as JohnnyMac. I did too, and before long, my entire family and my friends followed suit. Only months and months later did he let me know, the name was more of a reference point to a certain era of his coming of age. Well, not any more. I told him I can't wait until our son and his friends can call him Johnny Mac. My own in-house version of Sharky Easy.

When you are a kid in elementary school, nicknames are rarely beneficial to your social status. While I was on the front end of peer pressure, I still had my turn. In junior high school, a sassy rascal pants-ed me. This was an unhip version of snapping bra straps (I had no bra straps! dammit!) So I got the nickname Peach Fuzz. In 7th grade, puberty was a long train ride away for me. This was the drawback and benefit of living in an era where all the dairy and meat products were not laced with steroids and antibiotics...girls grew at a normal pace. In 9th grade, a wretchedly sassy troublemaker donned me Flatty McPatty. Again, no bra straps!!!! And who knew I wouldn't grow out of it until high school, literally.

Once that lazy and late visitor puberty finally made me grow upward and outward I was free! Only to find out that creepy Teddy Ruxpin (his nickname because his name was very close and well, he was tiny) would don me with a new nickname that was even worse. I remember my step-dad telling me this pearl of wisdom: Don't react to it. Are you kidding me? I remember thinking....ummmm, I am a teenage girl. Control emotions? You might as well have asked me to wear a prom dress made of scrambled eggs.

A friend once asked if he could set up my roommate with his friend "Porkchop." Ummmm. No. Why the curt response? We were 31 at the time. Do you want to be called Porkchop at 31?

Of course, all of my close girlfriends had nicknames in high school that were more hypocoristic than destructive. Ditto that for girlfriends from college. It is challenging for me now NOT to call my girlfriends those names: TazBudPoo, FernBernWern, NatSprat, Tigger (who was also Snortin Norton), Action Jackson, Bell from Hell, Muppet, Jodio, MarciaGarcia, ShaNaNa.

I am certain this induction into the fun of nicknaming honed my creative skills and I have coined a few nicknames myself over time. And since the universe is fair, I think I have earned the chance to give a few out.

Believe me, none as socially demoralizing as Peach Fuzz. My intent is descriptive rather than malicious. I will admit, I ran with a wickedly clever crew in law school and in the middle of learning about Criminal Procedure and the elements of Tort Law, we spent inordinate time were the absolute worst about nicknaming. I think back and it was a long, long list: RedLegs, Gargamel, The Porpoise, Frosty, Wrinkle, DomPerignon...ahhh, the mere recall transports me back in time.

Once, at my best friend's house, we were discussing her pregnancy and potential name choices. She and her husband were not in agreement. She suggested Hub tell me his selections which I immediately deconstructed by demonstrating the many (and awful) nicknames we could create from said names. His wife, my friend, laughed and said, "SEE! I told you we can not name our baby ___, ____, or _____."

When we found out we were pregnant, as we discussed names, you know I put my brain in overdrive to test and retest the potentially ill-fated nickname our yet to be named baby might suffer. I worked those names from every angle and since the baby's sex would be a surprise, we landed on two very solid names. One for a boy, one for a girl. I think it is every parent's duty to consider the nickname potential. Fun nicknames are one thing. Porkchop is another. And PeachFuzz, well, thats just mean.

The day may come, when my son has a nickname. I hope its a good one. The day may also come where he dishes out nicknames to his friends, or worse, us. Maybe it will only be Johnny and JennyMac.


Judy Sheldon-Walker said...

Nicknames can be fun or torture. I've had my share. I use one of my nicknames for my log in at various sites and the name of one of my blogs. I enjoyed reading this. I clicked on it thinking it was affiliated with the magazine.

quietly_making_noise said...
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Anonymous said...

Hey, is this my 15 minutes of fame? :) You are the only one who still calls me that.

xcetrachick said...

The *carefully* selected people I give nicknames to all seem to find them very endearing. I couldn't imagine being stuck with an uncool one though. Luckily, the ones I've collected have all been pretty fun. Cheers,


Simone said...

Great writing....I love it, very funny :)