Thursday, December 17, 2009


The evolution of nicknames is a source of fascination for me. Nicknames are given to us. We don’t really have a say in them. Someone just points at you one day and calls you by something other than your given name, and before you know it, people you’ve never even met are calling you Kipper. Even more fascinating, though, is the way a nickname changes over time. Eventually, people tire of the original “aka” and feel the need to doctor it up even more, or dumb it down even less. But the journey from Nickname A to Nickname F is one that can never be predicted. Could you ever have guessed that when you first got the nickname of LuLu, five years later they’d end up calling you Strutless Wonder? And yet, you can trace Strutless back to LuLu, listing all the in-between permutations, showing us how it connects naturally, one eventually leading to the other. Predictable, though? Hardly ever.

I have a friend who was given a nickname by her family of Juddah Ben Hur. Eventually, the family abbreviated it to Buddha. (To this day, she still has a brother that calls her that.) From Judaism to Eastern Philosophy in one nickname. Nicknames connect the world.

I was called Miss Dameana as a child. Apparently, I dabbled in petty theft, swiping stock from the lower shelves of drug stores, as my mother wheeled me in my stroller. No, actually I have no idea why they called me that. Later on in life, I was given a much simpler name of “Mi” (pronounced like “me”) which is what my youngest sister called me when she was one year old. Everyone has a nickname story. And we like to tell them don’t we?

What I’d like to know is what constitutes a nickname the STICKS versus a nickname that doesn’t. Is there some formula for success? A catchy factor? Number of persons present when using the term? Frequency of usage over a given period of time? What?

I’ll tell you the surest way NOT to get a nickname off the ground. Don’t tell people what you’d like your nickname to be. Again, it goes back to the first point: people give you nicknames; you don’t give one to yourself. In grade school, I wanted to be called Joey. Please don’t ask why. Fine. I wanted a name like one of the orphan kids on Annie, all right? But do you think anyone ever called me Joey, in spite of my aggressive marketing for weeks to my friends at school? Of course not.

Just a little thought for today.

Yours truly,

Mary-Miss-Dameana-Mi-MiMi-Marangue-Rang-Murry-Paka-Richard-Mariachi, etc.


Kelly said...

My parents and my grandpa had a nickname for me, but I was pretty nickname-less (except for the names I was tormented with in 4th-6th grade, which I won't go into) until I met Jason. He has multiple names for me, one of which (Kellito) has been picked up by a couple of our mutual friends. A couple of weeks ago he prefaced a question with "Kelly" and it took us both aback for a second. I can't think of the last time he called me that. Maybe during our wedding vows...

Hannah said...

And then there are those of us who never had, but always longed for a nickname. Unless you count things that rhyme with your name (like Banana).
I got over it though. I'd rather have no nickname than an embarassing one!

Hannah said...

This also makes me think of "The Richmeister" on SNL years ago (played by Rob Schneider): "Hey, Bob! Bob-oh. Bob-meister. Bobarooni! Bob-arama..."

Anonymous said...

Mary@McCormick: I never had a nickname and always wanted one. However, in the 6th grade I decided I would just change my name from "Mary" to "Marie." I started writing "Marie" on all of my assignments. This infurated my sixth grade teacher. He blasted me for trying to change my name in front of the whole classroom and that was the end of that. So its just plain old "Mary." But I now I think "Mary" is a great name!! I'm sure you agree.