What’s in a Nickname?

In Great Britain, more than 120,000 online voters recently suggested “Boaty McBoatface” as the name for a British polar research ship. The Science Ministry in Britain overruled the popular choice, choosing instead to name the ship after naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. Although I loved the silliness of “Boaty McBoatface,” I wasn’t surprised it didn’t make the cut. But it did remind me of the power and persistence of nicknames.

Some nicknames are just plain stupid and annoying like the ones I was given in high school. And no, I’m not giving them new life here! Other nicknames are mocking and hurtful. I never knowingly bestow those names. If I know that someone dislikes one of my nicknames, I try to drop it.

But for me, nicknames are sign of affection—a name I give someone to acknowledge our special connection. Or they can also be a humorous name for a car or pet. For example, my ’67 Chevy BelAir was “the Blue Whale,” because it was enormous. Sometimes we called my collie Tasha, “Slosha,” because of the way she dripped all over the floor when drinking.

When I was growing up, nicknames were common in my family, and my father originated most of them. They were affectionate (or at worst, teasing) and often nonsensical. I don’t know why he called my oldest brother, who certainly wasn’t smelly, “Big Barnsmell.” None of the rest of us called him that, so my brother tolerated the name with good grace. Dad called my next brother, “Sport,” which at least made sense, because that brother was athletic.

Sport called me “Snickersnee” because of my sneezing and allergies. Eventually that was shortened to “Snee” or “Snee Baby.”

After hearing my oldest niece call her younger sister, “Shorty,” I adopted that nickname for my younger sister, because she’s several inches taller than me. Stupid, I know, for a grown woman to call her younger sister “Shorty,” but I’ve done it for years and she’s never smacked me. Lately she’s taken to calling me “Shellen.” Aside from the rhyme, I’m not sure why she’s given me that name, but I’m OK with it.

My siblings and I also had nicknames for my father although we didn’t always say them to his face—“Big D” for Dad or Don (his first name).

It was probably inevitable that I’d have nicknames for my sons. I’ll spare you (and them) the dippiest names, which tended to be variations on their first names. However, during his middle years, I called my youngest, “Larry Bob,” which had nothing to do with his real name, but it sort of went with the goofier side of his personality.

When our sons got muscles and grew half a foot taller than me, I began calling them “Otis” and “The Other Otis”—kind of like calling them, “You big galoot”—a teasing way to acknowledge how much bigger they are than me. So far, they’ve tolerated it pretty well. No doubt they have names for me too.

Do you use nicknames for your family and friends? How about your car? Pets?

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This entry was posted in American Culture, Family, Friendship, Humor and tagged , by Ellen Shriner. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ellen Shriner

I write short memoirs and personal essays. I have also completed a workplace coming-of-age story that takes place in 1979 and 1980 during my first year of college teaching. I write on topics of interest to working women, middle-aged mothers, Baby Boomers, people who love to read and write, and those who belong to writers' groups and book groups.

4 thoughts on “What’s in a Nickname?

  1. My father called me Bette Boop when I was very young. I didn’t discover who she was until I was grown up. My first car was Bessie. My niece’s car was Talulah (love that one). I had a cat that I named Lily, but she had many names over her 17 years – Miss Lily Louise, Missy, Lily Lou, Louise and finally, Weezie. She never seemed bothered by her name name changes though!

  2. Luna the cat became Tuna, Tunes, and Fishy. The black Subaru was El Presidente and the silver Toyota was Sylvia Plath. The first car I ever owned was a red Subaru, Maybelline. I could go on…

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