Hm. This almost makes sense.
Hm. This almost makes sense.

"Vanity" plates come with a story, but what is it?

Two of my favorite nicknames stories from the past three years involve cars. In one instance, a 1949 Cadillac was given the nickname "The Patty Caddy." It is a promotional vehicle for the Cedarburg hamburger stand and restaurant called Wayne's. The other story involves a vanity plate for a 1966 Chevy. The vanity plate simply reads: "Woot 66," an obvious play on the famous Route 66.

Like so many other people I've spoken to over the years, they are at least intrigued, if not at times fascinated, by vanity license plates. I have always found them curious, if not somewhat revealing as well. So on June 1, I decided to devote two quick hours of time to cruise a few parking lots and to photograph some vanity plates in Ozaukee County. During that time, I captured over 65 vanity plate nicknames.

Part of my vanity plate quest involved being on private property, so I had to secure permission. When I told the approving person about my project, she very eagerly shared that, "Sometimes when I see a vanity plate I don't understand. I want to catch up to them, roll down my window, and ask them what their plate means." We all know this is a very popular and shared sentiment.

I also called the DMV in Madison, to ask them if they would share with me their best guess as to what percentage of the total registered vehicles in Wisconsin are considered "vanity" by their definition and what the current fee is for a vanity plate. The current annual fee is $15. The woman I spoke to was unable to cite actual figures, but her best "guesstimate" was about 10 percent.

So after reviewing the 65 plates I photographed, I determined that I needed help with about a dozen of them, and they are in need of an explanation. I'll share those with you now, and see if you can help:


To be sure, there were plenty of the obvious ones: RGR8MOM, Be Wel, Re Valu, BNANA 4U, Ski Bug 1, Stok Dok, Yelow SB and 1st Pony.

In only…


What's in a nickname?

Do you have a nickname, or know someone with one? I'll bet if you do, there is a certain amount of emotion, pride, humor, family history, or even a playground story related to it. As human beings, we live in the stories we tell ourselves, or live into the labels and stories we allow others to tell about us. Flat out, nicknames intrigue us.

Nicknames are living conversations. They can reinforce who we are, or who we want to be. They provide us with a sense of identity, an emotional connection, and they always seem to have certain amount of intimacy imbedded in them. They can even invoke status, or overwhelm us. I have known some people that are so well known by their nickname, that their given birth name is unknown to their roommate, or close friend.

Nicknames also involve both the giver and the receiver of them. I'm actually much more adroit at giving them than getting them. Providing them allows me to remember something distinguishing or memorable about someone. And it is funny how universal they are, as other people are so quick to see the same attribute in someone else. Nicknames are therefore dynamic, participatory, and living conversations, that make a difference in both the giver and receiver.

Nicknames can also raise more questions than answers. Where do they come from? Why is someone nicknamed "Fifi the Hat Lady, or "Wheels," or "Piano Legs," "Pablo," or "Screwdriver Jones"? How do you possibly overcome a nickname you don't like? Once a nickname is out there, they are pretty difficult to reclaim.

Nicknames are also the rage in popular culture, and in social media. Think about how many professional athletes, politicians, celebrities, and musicians are known by their nickname alone. Does anyone really know Snooki's birth name from Jersey Shore, (Nicole Polizzi) or Tiger Woods real birth name? (Eldrick Woods).

Needless to say, I've fascinated by nicknames, and how we label so many things in life. I have spent the past three years collecting and sharing sto…