Sunday, April 09, 2006

Names and Nicknames

Blame it on my effort to come up with a name for this blog. I found myself staring out the window at the bridge (hence, the whole "water view" thing), wondering why Scooter Libby still lets people call him Scooter. I mean, really. Isn't there a point where you outgrow that kind of thing? My take on it is once anyone is eligible to start calling you "Dad," a nickname like Scooter should be retired. Certainly, if some people are calling you "Grampa" while others are calling you "Chip" or "Junior" or "Skippy," it may be time to rethink.

Of course, here in Rhode Island, if you get a nickname, it's with you for life. This is mostly, I think, because Rhode Island is made up of a lot of small towns where everyone knows you from cradle to grave. Heaven help you if you get labeled "Stinky" in grade school. Your obituary will read "John (Stinky) Smith, age 90, died peacefully in his home on Friday. He is survived by his children John (Junior) Smith, Edward (Tiny) Smith, and Lucy (Goosey) Smith-Jones, seventeen grandchildren and thirty great-grandchildren." Nobody thinks this is odd, or minds that we all know who provided most of those grandchildren.

Another thing a Rhode Islander knows from the obit is that Edward was tall, or fat, or both. Big men are nicknamed "Tiny," short men are nicknamed "Stretch," fat guys are called "Slim." I don't know why this is.

I went to college with a girl who introduced herself to me by saying, "I'm Naomi, but my friends call me Nomi." I remember thinking that I didn't know what to call her because I hadn't had time to decide if I wanted to be her friend or not. In time I realized that "not" was the answer, but I had already started calling her "Nomi" just to shut her up.

I also went to college with a girl who introduced herself by saying, "I'm ____ Limoges. As in Limoges." Being a small town girl, I had no idea what the hell Limoges was or why I should be impressed. She was quick to enlighten me. It was years before I found out while reading an article on french pottery (yeah, I find the damndest things interesting, you'll see) that Limoges isn't a brand name that connotes money like, say, Du Pont. It's a region of France where pottery is made. Unrelated reading on life in the Middle Ages taught me that when the population of Europe got big enough to require the use of surnames and people started moving around to find work, it was usually the poor people who ended up with their hometown as a surname. Those with a trade became "Miller," "Potter," "Weaver," etc.

It tickles me to think of this pretentious girl unwittingly advertising her family's humble origins. It doesn't surprise me, though. She once bragged that she liked to go turkey hunting with her dad because it was fun to watch the turkeys get shot down out of the trees.

Now I know the burning question in everyone's mind is whether or not I have a nickname. I have a few, even though my parents went out of their way to give their children names that don't have automatic nicknames. My uncle calls me "Stretch," not because I'm short, but because I had a big growth spurt at age 13 (evidently, moving to California in young adulthood caused Uncle Bob to forget the Rhode Island Nicknaming Code). My siblings call me different permutations of my given name, mostly created by their children. A favorite is "Auntie Red Car," which is what one of my nephews called me before he learned to say my name. It sounds nothing like my name; I drove a red car back when he was learning to talk.

My computer and ISP both call me "Your Highness" because that is what I have them set to do. It amuses me.

1 comment:

Dixie said...

Turkeys shot out of trees! I'm dyin' here!!

My nephews and neice call me Auntie Baba based on my oldest brother calling me Babaloo when I was a kid. I know one of my nephews was about nine before he knew my real name.