Angela Vasquez-Giroux poses this question “What if names, nicknames, don’t simply attach a series of sounds to make it easier to communicate, but actually somehow denote and in turn FORM the essence of the thing they’re pointing to?” In her article The importance of being Ernie, not Ernest, or, how nicknames make legends. She concludes that nicknames offer a direction, something to become and begin the prophetic cycle of a legend. Without them who would they be?
Dana does not lend itself easily to nicknames, thank goodness. Of the few I have had over my lifetime, the one I have kept, the one that has lasted is “Great Dane”. Not being a fan of nicknames I am glad no one calls me it any more but in 8th grade at 5’ 11” it seemed to fit. Then the other day I came across this photo; Coco Chanel and a Great Dane and there in the essence of this simple image “Great Dane” was reborn.
Most of us have been given a nickname at least once in our lives. Sometimes they are considered desirable, giving us a feeling of acceptance or belonging in a group but I have found more often they can be a form of ridicule. That Additional description “four eyes”, “brainiac”, “lefty”, “string Bean” that seems to stick. Your mom calls you “Sweet pea” as if a subliminal cue to how she wishes you would act. Or you secretly refer to your “Monster-in-law”. Any wonder why I am not fond of nicknames.
A name is truncated to Bobby, Mickie, or Franky; usually for someone else’s convenience and with implied familiarity. As if calling President Carter Jimmy we become closer to knowing him and he becomes more accessible to us. Don’t even get me started on Bennifer, Brangelina, and TomKat! Oh Vay!
Sometimes there is a time-honored tradition in giving nicknames as a means of identification like in the game of pool- “Handsome Danny” or the infamous Rudolf Wanderone…I mean “Minnesota Fats”. Take horse racing as another example “Big Red” for Secratariat and “Man O War” for Pan Zareta.
Finally the unending litany of nicknames for athletes is almost a prerequisite. Take the scene from The Sandlot when Smalls doesn’t know who the Great Bambino is. His friends believing he must be from another planet the following ensues:
Squints: You’ve never heard of the sultan of Swat?
Kenny: The Titan of Terror.
Bertram: The King of Crash, man.
Timmy: The Colossus of Clout!
Tommy: The Colossus of Clout!
Ham: The Great Bambino
In unison referring to him by his “real” name, Babe Ruth. Ahem… I mean George Herman Ruth.
I once worked for a man whose wife was also named Dana so he referred to me by my initials to avoid confusion. This often occurs in a social group where more than one person has the same name. Their last name becomes their moniker. My Father and brother both obtained “Borg” in this very manner. I later commented that to become part of our family was to be assimilated.
There are the seemingly random nicknames like “Daybanuba”, some strange middle school derivation of pigmy Latin; which today seems a little too close to George Bush’s “Dubya” for me. Or the accidental nicknames created by mispronunciation making my grandmother “Bomma” instead of Grandma.
Lastly the terms of affection: Honey, Baby, Sweetie, Darling. These commonly used pet names that many of us have come to believe make us uniquely connected to the whisperer. However I have come to learn that today I may be his “Girly Girl”, but someone else will be after the divorce. Perhaps as Zsa Zsa Gabor explains, “I call everyone ‘darling’ because I can’t remember their names.”
As you might guess I’m still not a fan of nicknames. Personally I believe they often separate us from one another creating a barrier to intimacy and giving a false sense of connection. A good marketing tool best left to sports, politics and movie stars. But whatever your feelings may be about nicknames they are part of our vernacular, often detested, occasionally fitting, and usually lasting.
So if Angela is right and nicknames point to a direction and an essence of something to become; I stand Tall, Dignified, Strong and Elegant with a friendly nature and lover of things French. A Great Dane, a “Gentle Giant”.
Image: Coco Chanel at La Pusa with Great Dane from Baudot, Francois.