April 13, 2006


Nicknames are big these days, we're told. (Did you know the word "nickname" is derived from "eke-name"?) It may not be that there are more nicknames, but that people are nicknaming themselves. I remember when George Costanza tried to do that. It wasn't cool at all.

Is there something about email and the internet that makes self-nicknaming different now?
[T]he process of acquiring a nickname was changed by the advent of e-mail in the 1980's, when users had to create their e-mail handles.
"Handles"? You're making it too easy to remember the CB-radio craze of the 70s. I think self-nicknaming goes back a little farther. But it you trace it back too far, it will seem less trendy. Possibly even hopelessly dorky.
GEORGE: Well, Jerry, I been thinkin'. I've gotten as far as I can go with George Costanza.

JERRY: Is this the suicide talk or the nickname talk?

GEORGE: The nickname. George. What is that? It's nothing. It's got no snap, no zip. I need a nickname that makes people light up.

JERRY: You mean like...Liza!

GEORGE: But I was thinking...T-bone.

JERRY: But there's no "t" in your name. What about G-bone?

GEORGE: There's no G-bone.

JERRY: There's a g-spot.

GEORGE: That's a myth.

George takes a bite of his sandwich and gets a piece stuck to his chin.


HaloJonesFan said...

I think that "handles" may have more do to with IRC and online gaming than they do with e-mail. IRC developed from the same place as CB (and ham radio), and handles were typical there. And in online gaming, who would you rather be--"Jim Heffman" or "Mister.Fabulous"? "Frank Jones" or "Quasimodo"? "Sally Smith" or "ROCKET COCK 5000!"?

Anthony said...

My dad was from the south and grew up in the 1930s and '40s when nicknames were king. Growing up we'd hear him talk about all sorts of people hardly ever using their real names. The nicknames were most often based on some physical defect, so maybe it's a good thing we're giving ourselves nicknames instead of relying on others. Some examples:

-- Jackrabbit Roberts
-- Carbide (he was formerly something else, but then he got his face somewhat disfigured after blowing something up in a can)
-- Hogeye

I'm sure more will leap to mind.

Anonymous said...

The Annster... the Alternator... the Annmeister! Postin' entries!

Saganashkee Slough said...

I was a kid (under 10) in the Chicago of the 1940 and I can assure you every kid was tagged with a nickname by his friends. In my case, with a last name of "Zerkel". "Zerk the Jerk" was a natural for the kids I didn't get along with, but my buddies taged me with "Kirks". There was a soap company in the midwest called Kirk's American Family Soap Co. Must of been founded by some ancient ancestor of James T Kirk. Anyway this soap compant made American Family Bar Soap for the kitchen sink and American Family Flakes for the ringer washing machine. Didn't like it but at least wasn't the "jerk" option, so I lived with it. Thankfully it died by the time I went to high school.

Gerry said...

"It wasn't cool at all."

It wasn't cool back when I was a tyke, either. One of the worst experiences of my life came from my very first day of kindergarten. The teacher had everyone stand and in turn asked us our names, and if we had any nicknames that people called us.

I was a pretty backwards kid, who had not really been around other kids much previous to this, having been brought up mostly by my great Aunts and older brothers who were so much older as to not really be peers. And I had always thought, in my kid-brain-thoughts, that nicknames were affectionate, and that I wanted one. It didn't help that I hated my name, Gerald, since Flip Wilson's "Geraldine" had been turned into a taunt by some kids at the local playground. I wanted a nickname, and a different one, one of my choosing.

So when she asked this, I gave her one. "Speedy". I was mortified when everyone in the class burst out in laughter- and not of the "we're laughing with you" kind. It did not stick as a nickname, but did get used as a taunt for quite a while and my naive effort basically destroyed my hopes that school would result in me finally having lots of friends.

It took until I was in High School that some started calling me by a nickname in a manner that wasn't intended to be mean-- an affectionate nickname. Dales. I still use it to this day for most screenname choices on the internet (my use of Gerry on blogger notwithstanding).

Bruce Hayden said...

I do think that it is more a guy thing than a girl thing. I remember the scene in Animal House, where they were giving out nick names. Flounder didn't like his, but it sure stuck.

It wasn't quite that way in my fraternity. Rather, it was a lot more informal. Yet, by the time we graduated, almost all of us had them, and we still use them, some 35 years later. By now, they are clearly terms of endearment.

We did have nicknames for a lot of the women who hung around the house, but they weren't ever as good sports about it as we were - and within ten years of graduation would be mortally offended if you used their college nicknames in public.

What is funny is when I am in a group that includes some of them and some others, I go strickly by my nickname, and sometimes people there who don't know me are surprised when they find out my real name.

Another observation - it is almost as if the more nicknames you have, the more popular you are. One friend from the fraternity has at least a half a dozen by now, from high school, from the fraternity, from medical school, and now from the hospital where he works. So, it is a bit disconcerting at first in a mixed group when one group uses one nickname for him, and another uses another. But we catch on, and even start using the other nicknames.

Finally, my father's former senior partner, and the president of the S&L my father represented for almost 50 years and sat on the board for 40 was called "fuzzy" when he was an undergraduate. They would occasionally get calls into their office for that name, and my father though it humorous.

We did too. By the time we knew him, he was bald as a billiard ball, and would be over 100 if still alive.

chezDiva said...

I agree with Bruce, I think it's a guy thing. Pilots have "nicknames" they are "call-signs" Maybe it's just easier for guys or at least in the case of pilots to call some guy "maverick" instead of his real name, John Doe.

I think nicknames also help create a mental image about an individual that may or may not be a true representation of the individual. For example some guy may be called "pee wee" and that makes me think about a weak, small guy but in reality he may be a strong tough guy - with a weird nickname.

$CAV3NG3R said...

Bruce: You're right about the 'guy thing' statement. What I found amusing was how the girls in my secondary school (boarding school) usually called you by your full first name and foregoing the shortened form. I've often wondered why. Guys on the other hand went by nicknames almost always entirely so much so that it inspired a test when we were in the final year of school and some guys tried calling others by their real names, it was funny to see some guys not respond thinking another person was being called.

Christy said...

I'm a girl who tends to give everyone I like a nickname. Maybe it is a Southern thing. I am always astounded by those who dislike (and many intensely dislike) nicknames.

Jeremy said...

Thanks Ann, for the link to the Seinfeld script. I was cracking up all morning about that and it made me think of George's other nickname, given to him by his gym teacher - Cantstandya. Haha

Brendan said...

Ann "Hanging Judge" Althouse. Works for me.

Alan Kellogg said...

My non-de-net is pretty simple, though the background is not. I was the rules expert for the Mythus RPG and took a handle for the Internet that reflects my status as an expert in the system. A 'mage' if it were, since in Mythus a mage is a particulary potent role. Thus, "Mythusmage".

Mark the Pundit said...

I think Chris Berman would say your name as:

Ann "is in da" Althouse!

john(classic) said...

I think this is a regional thing.

In the Southg, at least where and when I grew up, every child, boy or girl, got a nickname. Each was called by his nickname until in his midteens when it would be supplanted by a real name (or possibly a new nickname).

It wasn't a sometime thing. It was invariable. The only variability was in what happened post-puberty -- one's real name or a new nickname.


Al Maviva said...

Nicknames are pretty prevalent in sports still. I played ball for a couple years with a guy that I only knew as "Stinky" and "PigPen" before I found out his name was actuallly Mike. He was a really clean guy but had uncooperative hair and a permanent 5 o'clock shadow, so he always looked filthy... 15 years on, he's a successful doctor, and still known as Stinky. He doesn't seem to mind.