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 stories about nicknames through a nickname website. So that is what this blog is all about, collecting and sharing these nickname stories with you. Unraveling the implied intimacy of them, and the role they play in their lives. Like nicknames themselves, I hope and trust this blog will take on a life of its own.

In my future blogs, I'll be exploring where nicknames come from: I'll be doing man on the street interviews at summer festivals, musical events, professional sporting events, softball diamonds, bowling alleys, kickball fields, local bars, and heading from the inner city to the suburbs, all in pursuit of nicknames, and sharing those stories with you. I'll also be exploring larger issues related to other ways that labels impact our daily lives in ways I'll bet you've never even considered.

Lastly, I also invite you to share your nickname stories with me via OnMilwaukee.com and this blog. You can also visit my website at nicknamestories.com. We want this to be a forum and a storytelling repository that enlarges our sense of community here in Milwaukee, and beyond. We know ourselves only to the extent we allow ourselves to be known by others.

Thankfully, the stories will tell themselves. Be a part of it. Help make it better.

Talkbacks

salts | June 22, 2011 at 2:34 p.m. (report)

I too share your passion for nicknames. I come from a long line of men known only by their nicknames. Mine was given to me early on, Salts. When I was a little kid, I once dumped close to a whole shaker of salt on some eggs and proceeded to try and eat them until my Mom stopped me. "You sure must love that salt" my Mom used to say, God bless her. The name stuck. I don't necessarily like salt and rarely add extra salt to my meals. But sometimes we can't choose our nicknames
Through school I was known as Salts because my older brother took what would have been a family nickname and made it stick amongst my peers. It even followed me to college. A close knit group of us went to the same university and it continued as it always had. My wife is the only one who calls me Paul. She's not as big of fan of nicknames as I am. But wouldn't you know, I'm Uncle Salts to my nieces and nephews.
I've always been sorta ambivalent to Salts. But I will say it's better than Shorty or Fats or Greasy or any other nickname one may receive over the course of their life.
The fascinating part of nicknames is their ability to lock in a moment in time. One could be known the rest of their lives for something that happened in just one instance. A handful of seconds that came and went, forever branded on your character. A lot of folks think I have that nickname because I'm salty. While I'm no Sunshine or Sparkles, I wouldn't say I'm the salty type. I just tell people "I dumped a bunch of salt on my eggs as a little kid, I'm actually a pleasant fellow."
I have to say, one of the greatest things about the internet is that there's so much info on nicknames. I love reading about old ballplayers nicknames and historical figures and how they got theirs. The wife doesn't understand my interest. She always says "Paul, are you hogging the laptop again looking up something about nicknames?" She never had a nickname.
I have a son on the way. Only time will tell what his nickname will be. Maybe he'll make it till 8 years old before a good one sticks. Maybe he'll have one and then it will change to a better one later in life, one that better suits the man he will become.

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salts | June 22, 2011 at 2:33 p.m. (report)

I too share your passion for nicknames. I come from a long line of men known only by their nicknames. Mine was given to me early on, Salts. When I was a little kid, I once dumped close to a whole shaker of salt on some eggs and proceeded to try and eat them until my Mom stopped me. "You sure must love that salt" my Mom used to say, God bless her. The name stuck. I don't necessarily like salt and rarely add extra salt to my meals. But sometimes we can't choose our nicknames
Through school I was known as Salts because my older brother took what would have been a family nickname and made it stick amongst my peers. It even followed me to college. A close knit group of us went to the same university and it continued as it always had. My wife is the only one who calls me Paul. She's not as big of fan of nicknames as I am. But wouldn't you know, I'm Uncle Salts to my nieces and nephews.
I've always been sorta ambivalent to Salts. But I will say it's better than Shorty or Fats or Greasy or any other nickname one may receive over the course of their life.
The fascinating part of nicknames is their ability to lock in a moment in time. One could be known the rest of their lives for something that happened in just one instance. A handful of seconds that came and went, forever branded on your character. A lot of folks think I have that nickname because I'm salty. While I'm no Sunshine or Sparkles, I wouldn't say I'm the salty type. I just tell people "I dumped a bunch of salt on my eggs as a little kid, I'm actually a pleasant fellow."
I have to say, one of the greatest things about the internet is that there's so much info on nicknames. I love reading about old ballplayers nicknames and historical figures and how they got theirs. The wife doesn't understand my interest. She always says "Paul, are you hogging the laptop again looking up something about nicknames?" She never had a nickname.
I have a son on the way. Only time will tell what his nickname will be. Maybe he'll make it till 8 years old before a good one sticks. Maybe he'll have one and then it will change to a better one later in life, one that better suits the man he will become.

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winds001 | June 20, 2011 at 7:19 p.m. (report)

Ever since I was learning to talk I've been called Little Lee by my dad. My name is Kellie and he would try to get me to say "Kellie" but instead it would come out as something sounding like "little lee" so I've been Little lee ever since.
Another nickname I have is Wendy. For some reason multiple teachers accidentally called me that at one point or another. The classmates that payed attention still will call me Wendy now and again.

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