My friend Neals has a post on nicknames. Apparently he doesn’t like them, even the seemingly innocuous Neals. It made me think about some of the nicknames I’ve been called in my life and some of the nicknames I’ve used for others.
With the exception of a few playground taunts, I think most nicknames are terms of endearment. It shows a certain affection and familiarity that I have my own name for you, or a name I share with a close group of friends. Sometimes it’s not the affection you’re looking for or it’s not something you’re particularly proud of, but I think nicknames are evidence of a bond.
I was Nevinin in fourth grade and hated it, though I secretly wanted to ask that girl to dance in sixth grade. I was Jimi in high school, which I grudgingly accepted, though at first I didn’t get it. I was the Jammin’ K-Man to my air guitar buddy Adam, a nickname that came from many Friday night air guitar sessions to Petra.
While none of them are favorites of mine, they all say something about those relationships, and I hold those bonds close.
Nicknames make it acceptable to call my wife Chickenhead and my dog Mazie-butt (Have you see Mazie’s butt? It’s huge!). It’s probably rare that I bestow nicknames on people. I’m more likely to pick up something someone else is using. But the bond is still there.
Naming, I’ve discovered, is a very powerful and deep thing. There is meaning, even in a name as silly as Speak. As we try to come up with a name for our coming child, I’m almost crippled trying to come up with something that works. I end up flipping through the name books and looking for classic combinations, like Swanhilda Himalaya Hendricks.
The most difficult part of giving a name to a child is that the name has very little to do with the child. And that’s why I think nicknames captivate us so. A name usually has very little to do with you. It’s given when you’re born, so it usually has nothing to do with your personality, your likes or dislikes, how you look or anything. It’s what your parents like. Nicknames are given by those who know us.
One of my favorite nicknames is Brick. It was given to my friend Scott after a game of hockey. If you ever try to check Brick into a snowbank you’ll know why we call him that. The name stuck through all of high school, but after high school I’ve been one of the few to keep it up. That’s the other thing about nicknames–they very rarely carry with us through different groups of friends and different periods of time. Now everyone knows him as Scott. But he’s still Brick to me. It’s a connection we have. It reminds me of games of hockey on frozen Michigan lakes, of ‘ring and runs’ with our respective high school girl friends, of good conversations and snapping a pre-dawn picture of comet Hale-Bopp.
I used to give things the name “unnamed” when I couldn’t come up with a name. The Unnamed Column. The Unnamed Web Site. I almost had an Unnamed Radio Show. I think to remain unnamed is to fade away.