Why don’t I have a nickname? Someone posted on Facebook that an American Idol contestant was “Mr. Yummy Pants.” It got me thinking about nicknames. I’m not sure I’d like Mr. Yummy Pants, but I might be willing to try it out.
I don’t have a nickname. This troubles me or at least it used to. I wanted a nickname. Something cool like Buzzsaw or Rip. Nothing ever stuck. When I was a lad, I had very blonde hair. As a result, I was occasionally called Blondie. Not very clever, huh? Also, not very manly, not that I was particularly manly then or now.
A couple of people used to call me Harlan because I’m from Harlan County, Kentucky. One was a college classmate. The other was an old boss of mine who couldn’t always remember my name. I’m glad that one didn’t stick. I’m from Harlan County, not the town of Harlan. I’ve never lived in Harlan. I didn’t go to school in Harlan. I lived in Loyall. Calling me Harlan makes as much sense as calling someone from Louisville “Jefferson.”
Growing up in the 1970’s, I was often called “John Boy.” Much to my chagrin, my wife often calls me that, too. I had no interest in being the namesake of one of the pathetic Walton clan.
Why did I want a nickname? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I have a very vanilla name. It’s so vanilla that I am a life member of the TSA “Watch List,” meaning that I can’t check in on-line for airline flights. They have to eye-ball me to determine my dangerous propensities.
I think the primary reason is that I grew up in Eastern Kentucky, the Land of Nicknames. My dad had a nickname–two, in fact. People who grew up with him called him Cootie. Lest you think this was because of a hygiene issue, it was not. Dad played the cornet and trumpet. There was a famous cornet player named “Cootie;” thus, he was Cootie, too. He was also called Sherm, mostly by one of his brothers. This had something to do with Dad being interviewed on the radio to discuss his fictional war exploits. For the interview, he adopted the nom de plume Sherm Cuffs.
My uncles had nicknames. Jack was called Powd. This came from his mocking of how a neighbor pronounced her dog’s name, “Powder.” Paul was called Meek. I never knew why, but I assume it had something to do with being the youngest of seven children. I have a cousin that people called Bird Neck. Another is called Tee. Yet another is Pie. Good God, even my brother’s wife has a nickname.
Harlan County was a nickname paradise. There were Slop Daddy (aka Slop Jar); Mighty Moe; Bubby; Foots (aka Feets); Crip; Humpy; Deacon; Hoss; Dirty Ears; Preacher; Night Rider; Bucky; Rubber Duck; Doc; Courthouse; Tiny; Big D; Ring Eye; Clunk; Peanut; T-Bone; Hambone; Bones; and many, many variations of Junior. One would think I could have picked up a cool name, but it didn’t happen.
Another factor is that I work in the coal industry, THE number one nickname industry in the world. EVERYONE has a nickname. Here’s a typical discussion between me and a mine employee:
ME: “Okay. You muck the No. 1 belt. Do you know the belt foreman, Joe Jones?
MINER: “I don’t believe I know him.”
ME: “Well, he’s the foreman on your shift. You have to know him.”
MINER: “Oooohhh. You mean Whirlybird?”
ME: I guess. Is he the belt boss?
MINER: Yeah, but everybody calls him Whirlybird. I ain’t never heared him called anything else.
This has been repeated many, many times. I always feel a tad inferior because I can’t respond with something like: “Hey, they call me Crow Bar.”
A major problem for me is that I have no distinctive traits. I am not a handsome man, but I’m fortunate that I do not have any obvious deformities. Thus, names like Humpy (he was a hunchback) are out of the question. Lefty won’t work (right-handed). I’m a small fellow, but Tiny won’t work, because I AM tiny. Tiny is reserved for people who are behemoths. I don’t have red hair; thus, the ubiquitous “Red” is out. I have small hands and feet, but I reject “Tiny Hands” for obvious reasons. Coming from German and Welsh stock, I have this homogenous Aryan look to me, which is of no interest to anyone save possibly Mel Gibson.
I did, however, look like this at one time:
One would think that a nickname would have naturally developed. Alas, there is a fine–but important–difference between nicknaming and name-calling.
I also have done nothing spectacular in my life to get a nickname. I heard of guy that got nicknamed Gizmo because of his inept handling of a situation. I could be called Good Student or Mr. Punctual. Nothing seems to work.
If I had been an athlete, I could have had something cool like The Eastin Assassin (Larry Holmes); The Brockton Blockbuster (Marvin Hagler); The Iron Horse (Lou Gehrig); The Worm (Dennis Rodman); Magic; White Chocolate; Crazy Legs; and many others. Based on my athletic skills I would have been something like “Slow Foot” or “Easy Out.” No good.
A nickname has to fit, too. I knew a guy named Hoss. He was a hoss alright. I have a friend called Wishbone. It fits him for some reason. I don’t think anything ever fit me. When I had braces, my little brother called me Long John Silver Teeth, but that’s too long even though it did sort of fit.
You also can’t give yourself a nickname. It’s doesn’t work. In an episode of Seinfeld, George wants to be called T-Bone. It doesn’t take. I know a guy nicknamed T-Bone. I’m sure there’s a story behind it, but I’m also sure he didn’t give himself that name. I thought perhaps will.i.ams would be cool, but turns out it’s pronounced “Williams.” Curb Stomper is cool, but I’ve never curb stomped anyone. I’m much more likely to be tagged with Curb Stomped. I knew an Irish lady who called my Wee John, but I just can’t support that.
So, I’ve abandoned my quest. Hopefully, I won’t get hung with a nickname at my age. Then again, maybe Mr. Yummy Pants will catch on.