ORIGINS OF A NICKNAME
I had a perfectly happy childhood, nearly without complaint. I owned almost every single G.I. Joe, tried every brand of breakfast cereal (even the boxed kind!), and generally enjoyed all times as a young one. However, there is one enormous, gaping void in my soul that no little boy should have to suffer with, even worse than the one created by, say, sharing a room for the first sixteen years of my life with my younger brother. It is my lack of a nickname.
That’s right. I have no nickname. I am without my happy, boyhood moniker. No Buddy, Sport, Red, Knuckles, etc. I even have a great name for nicknames: Wood. The possibilities were endless, albeit problematic and, on occasion, slightly dirty. Yet sadly, no one has ever deemed me worthy of a lasting handle, nothing that identifies me as special or unique.
Now, I’m not talking about those slapdash, precipitate little nicknames where parents find it really cute to transform a Bartholomew James Smith into a “B.J.” This is a product of an unoriginal society. Back in the good old days, kids got their respective titles from accomplishment (“Hey, there goes Rubber-Shorts, from scout camp!”), physical anomalies (“No, I don’t want to pick Duck-Face! You pick Duck-Face.”), or those lucky guys who were blessed with last names that were already really messed up, usually of German ancestry (“Kuchenschlager, my man! Yo!”).
Among my friends growing up was one Brent Gubler (sounds like Goobler), who was fortunate enough to be born into a family with the best surname on human record. His name was so rife with possibility that I frequently forgot he had a first name, and was only reminded of his Brent-ness on double dates when girls were present. “Is Brent going to be driving tonight?” “Uh, I thought Goobs was going to drive, but he can if he wants. I didn’t know another guy was coming. Is he your brother, or something?” To me, he was, and is eternally, just Goob, or Goobs, or Gubler, or Goobie.
Some parents worry that giving their child a nickname might actually be damaging to his psyche. If a kid is given an embarrassing nickname like Tubby, self-esteem can be lowered and the child could be permanently scarred. Fortunately, most parents seem to be more sensitive and careful than that.
However, it can be said that “Tubby” is always going to get invited to the party, whereas “Steve” might not. And who doesn’t want to be friends with someone like “Bobo,” or “Billy the Human Sponge,” or “Communist Dave.”
One of the greatest evils of our time is the trend for sports players nick-naming themselves. Gone are the days of sportscaster-dubbed Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Ted “the Splendid Splinter” Williams, Babe “Herman” Ruth, Barney “The Rampaging Penguin” Fleckenstein. We now are privileged to listen to Tracy “T-Mac” Mac Grady, Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez, Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal, Roger “Roger” Federer, and other intellectual and creative players describe themselves with highly imaginative epithets. Kids see these guys, and they stop thinking up original names for each other, like “Stinky” and “Sasquatch,” and they start calling each other “O-Dogg” (which brings up the issue of malformed English skills, but that is another tirade for another day).
All I really want to say is that it is important for the spread of democracy and lasting drug prevention and wage increases and the cure for acne and everything else that is good and holy that we preserve the practice of the nickname! One of these days, you’re going to be sitting at home, and there will be a session of the Supreme Court running on the television, and you’ll say “Hey! It’s Chief Justice Bob “The Woodchuck” Mortenson! I went to junior high with him!” And your heart will fill with familiarity and pride.
Finally, to all those out there with a nickname, enjoy it wholeheartedly. Anyone willing to donate an old, used nickname can send them to Mike “Babyeater” Tyson, who would like to make an exchange.