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Monday, August 18, 2008

Weekend Assignment #229: What's in a (nick)name?

This week's question from Karen:
Weekend Assignment #229: Tell us about a nickname - yours, or someone else's. Did you come up with it, or was it bestowed by someone else? Is it still in use? And most of all, has it benefited the nicknamed person, or caused them grief, or both?
Extra Credit: Have you ever tried for a nickname that just didn't take off?

Karen notes in her own Assignment that "(I came to the conclusion that) nicknames are bestowed, not self-assigned," and I think she's right. I haven't been terribly fond of some of the nicknames bestowed on me during my lifetime, though, to be honest.

My parents gave me a very long name, particularly when you consider what a small child I was (even by small-child standards), and they always called me by that name in full. (You knew you were in trouble with my mom when she yelled out your first, middle, and last name.) The only one in my immediate family that was regularly called by a shortened name or nickname was my dad.

But outside the house, the smallest kid in the class was frequently addressed as "Midge" or "Munchkin," and let's not forget "Four-Eyes." None of these are names one really wants to embrace.

When my family moved from Connecticut to Florida when I was in middle school, it seemed that I met more people who were stumped by how to pronounce my name. I'm not sure why, given its similarity to the name of the state we lived in, but I was frequently asked by people if they could call me "Flo" instead. For the first two years of high school, I gave in...and then I took a stand.

Do you happen to remember the TV sitcom Alice? It was fairly popular during my middle- and high-school years, and you may also remember another character from the show...Flo.

I decided I didn't want to be associated with a mouthy, gum-chewing, brassy redhead best known for telling people to "kiss (her) grits," and so I put the kibosh on "Flo." She and I just had nothing in common. There's a handful of people from the brief period when I did not object to the nickname whom I've never been able to re-train, but no one new has addressed me as "Flo" for at least 25 years - unless it was an inadvertent mistake, and I will politely but firmly set them straight. (It happened in the comments on one of my blog posts here last week, actually, but the person was nice enough to apologize for it on Twitter later that day.)

During my college years, after I'd put "Flo" to rest, someone in my family decided I needed a nickname after all, and my sister christened me "Nina." It derived from her pronunciation of my name as "Ninna" and then "For-ninna" when she was learning to talk, and so we've built family legend around it, but it honestly never was a childhood nickname. However, it is one diminutive that I actually do like, even though no one but my sister has ever really made much use of it. Her sons do call me "Aunt Nina," though, and I hope they will for many more years to come. My boss, who is a pretty nice guy but has a frat-boy tendency to nickname almost everyone, occasionally calls me "Flor;" I don't mind that one, but I don't like the fact that it sounds like the what we call the surface we walk on.

I've never really been one to assign nicknames myself - except to my dog. She has at least a dozen of them.

I once tried to get "Effie" going as a nickname for myself - based on my initials F.E. - but I didn't really get any takers. I'd still be open to that one, but I'm just not going to go with the Flo.

Do you have a nickname, or are you the one who gives out nicknames to everyone else? What's your favorite nickname, and has anyone ever tried to give you one you just can't stand? (Nothing unprintable, please!)

13 comments:

  1. Apparently my baby brother called me "DeeDee" for a while when he couldn't say my name. It didn't stick - except for one uncle who still uses it.

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  2. Daisy - I suspect younger siblings in that learning-to-talk stage may be responsible for coining quite a few nicknames. Did anyone else acquire one that way?

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  3. Hee Hee. Flo would not be good at all! :)

    I would probably call you Flor too, just because I tend to shorten everyone's name to one syllable. I don't know why. I'd stop if you told me too, though. :)

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  4. Today is my daughter's 22nd birthday, and to this day I call her "Peep" - a diminutive of "Peeper", Peepster and "The Peep." She earned that nickname from the gate because she'd peep up at me while she was nursing and smile. She doesn't seem to mind the nickname - even though the genesis of it is, in her words, "GROSS." Hahaha. Score one for for the momster...

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  5. Mike - Shortening names at least makes sense, Michael :-). What I don't get are the nicknames that add syllables. Don't even THINK about calling my husband "Paulie."

    TheNew30 - Hey, Lucia! Happy birthday to "Peep"! That's the kind of nickname story that a daughter never wants a parent to tell a boyfriend about... :-)

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  6. Interesting stuff! "Flor" could be redeemed as "Florie," but only if you like it. You start to lose the shorter name advantage, though.

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  7. Karen - I'm named after my grandmother, and "Florie" was her family's nickname for her. I actually tried to get that one going for myself when I was in grade school, but it didn't catch on.

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  8. I'm not crazy about it, but every now and then someone calls me "Apey." And I'm monkey enough to answer to it!

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  9. I LOVE nicknames! I have so many for my children, my husband...pretty much everyone in my life. Boomer, Pookie, Doodlebug, Spanky...no one is safe!

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  10. April - "Apey"? Girlfriend, you are nicer than I am to answer to that one :-). I'd have to put the kibosh on that even quicker than "Flo."

    Anna - OK, so who's "Spanky"? :-) Nicknames can be fun, but for some reason I don't use them much except on the dog, so they're pretty much wasted.

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  11. In high school I gave myself the nickname Raven. My brother was the only one who ever used it--and that was rare. I'm not sure why I picked that particular name. That was before it became so popular.

    Other than that, most of the nicknames I have were assigned to me. I have a friend who calls me Gwendolyn, even though my first name really is Wendy. I've never minded. Wen is a favorite of my husband's and a few close friends. There's an intimacy and familiarity in the shortened version of my name.

    There have been others--more in teasing than anything else.

    Literary Feline is probably my favorite nickname--one I chose--but that's strictly online and most people call me Wendy anyway. Not that I mind at all. I really don't. My plan to remain anonymous in the online world went out the window when I couldn't keep my real name to myself. Haha

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  12. Literary Feline - It does take less time to type "Wendy" than your blog name :-). Then again, since you do book reviews for other sites under your own name, it was bound to get out sometime.

    I think Wendy derived from Gwendolyn originally, didn't it?

    But I'm wondering how your husband got his blog nickname - I've been assuming it was one of his gaming characters.

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  13. There is some controversy over the birth of the name Wendy. It's questionable whether the name was ever actually used as a nickname for Gwendolyn or even Guinevere. Popular opinion is that the name was first used by J.M. Barrie in his play Peter Pan.

    As for Anjin, my husband needed a name for the Wing Commander game years ago. He had just seen the Shogun mini series and latched on to Anjin at that time.

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Now it's YOUR turn - speak your piece, please! Or just let me know you were here; I always like that. But you'll have to leave a name - I've disallowed anonymous comments due to some recent spam problems. Thanks!