April 1, 2023
Nearly 20 years to the day, I penned an article titled “On Names and Nicknames.” I think we all know what a name is. But a nickname? Here what Webster has to say:” a name given instead of the one belonging to a person, place, or thing, usually descriptive and given in sports … to misname.”.
In any event, and to be sure, names and nicknames have always fascinated me. Their origin and ability to survive the test of time is a tribute to the importance we place on names. Some are shocking, some simply do not make sense, and others are as appropriate as one would expect. Take my last name for starters: Theodore. It is a Greek name that means “gift of God.” I have told my wife Mary on numerous occasions that a loose interpretation of the name is “God’s gift to women.” I will pass on her comment.
At the local level, many of my neighbors live in either Williston Park or East Williston. Now, East Williston has several parks, but I am still trying to find a park in Williston Park, although I am told there are some.
There are also names associated with other towns, cities and village, Here’s a few in our country: Boring (Oregon), Bland (Missouri), Pray (Montana), Due West (Georgia), and Hell (Michigan). To add to the mix, Baby Island can be viewed from Honeymoon Bay in the State of Washington, while in Iowa, the town of Fertile is adjacent to Manly, and then due north and east of Iceland, there’s ice-covered Greenland.
Here are some anomalies: Learned, Mississippi has no public schools. Ballplay, Alabama lacks a baseball diamond. Bottom, North Carolina sits at the top (northern) end of the state. Zigzag, Oregon lies on a perfectly straight stretch of road. The temperature in Cool, Texas once reached 115°F.
I annually hosted a pre-Super Bowl reunion with my Astoria gang that came to be defined by my family as the “animal” party. The group consists of Damon Runyon characters with nicknames like Willie the Buff, Louie the Lob, the Hawk, The Big Guy, Marty Cool, the Phantom, Jake the Weightlifter, Bobby the Rat, the Creeper, Superman, Steve the Greek, the Great One, Tony the Snake, the Scavenger, Zack the Animal, the Gaylord, etc. Even the girls had nicknames: Marie the Dancer, Betty the Booper, Mary Gloves, etc. Everyone, and I mean everyone, had a nickname. Mine was the Gaylord. How I came upon the name must be buried in my subconscious. I have no recollection of its baptismal founding, but many of my friends still (affectionately?) call me “Gay” and / or “Lord.”
Earlier in my career, I would often make tough-to-get reservations using my last name – Theodorakis – prior to it being changed. I would also claim I was with the Greek Embassy. Believe it or not, it often helped.
The racetrack is also notorious for unique names and nicknames. The group I hung out with carried such monikers as : Johnny Stash (moustache), One Punch Vito, Nunzie, Frankie Budweiser, Stretch, Joe the Cutter, etc. I always thought Joe had been in a knife fight, but it turns out he worked as a cutter in the garment industry. Vito was never in a fight; however, he was notorious for making large bets on one horse, with the teller only punching out one ticket. Frankie as you might suppose, drove a Budweiser truck.
Now a lot can be done with names. I often pick up a phone and announce “this is Bruce Willis” or “this is Tom Sellick” or “this is Denzel Washington” or “this is Horatio” or “this is Felix.” Some people believe me initially. Many years ago, I called a colleague at the USEPA in RTP, NC. The secretary answered: “May I ask who is calling?” “This is Dan Quayle for Charley Pratt.” There was a long pause and I heard the phone drop with the secretary yelling hysterically: “It’s the vice-president!” Several years later, Charley’s secretary would announce with a wink “The White House is on the phone.” “What in hell do you want this time?” Charley asked. Believe it or not, it was the White House calling to invite Charley, the newly elected President of the International Air and Waste Management Association, to a dinner in Washington.,
So much for names…and nicknames.
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I always enjoy your newsletter. Georgia