story: Fred Hilton photo-illustration: Anthony Casto
Whatever happened to nicknames? When I was a kid, many local characters in my hometown had colorful nicknames. For example, there were two brothers who enjoyed their booze immensely. They were called “Bottle” and “Stopper.” Another set of brothers in town had healthier drinking habits — “Big Pepsi” and “Little Pepsi.” A lovable, but not very bright, fellow once worked for a coal-delivering business and was forever known as “Coaldust.” There was also a guy named “Hammer” and several people with nicknames that would be so offensive today that I can’t mention them.
In high school and college, my pals were known by names like “Bo,” “Boo,” “Baby Huey,” “Butch,” “Demo,” “Frog,” “Meat,” “Panda,” “Piggy,” “Peanut,” “Pood,” “Prunie,” and “Slick.” Nicknames must be a guy thing because all those folks are fellows except for “Prunie.” But that’s another story.
A true nickname has to be one you are called in normal conversation, not just something people might say behind your back, or use in print. It also can’t be a diminutive of a regular name. That eliminates names like “Billy,” “Donnie,” and “Freddie.”
For these reasons, nicknames of presidents are rare. Jimmy Carter and Teddy Roosevelt used diminutives, not real nicknames. “Honest Abe” doesn’t qualify because Mary Todd Lincoln never said, “Honest Abe, why don’t we go to the theater tonight?” And Martha Washington certainly never said, “Please pass the mutton, Father of our Country.” Probably the only president who had a true nickname was Dwight D. Eisenhower. We all have to agree that “Ike” is an excellent nickname.
Nicknames in sports are on the demise, too. The New York Yankees once had players called “Yogi,” “Moose,” and “Catfish.” Today, they have “A-Rod.” Enough said.
Fewer and fewer people go by nicknames. In The Villages, I can only think of two people that have true nicknames: “Wiener” and “Socks.” Wiener’s family ran a meat business and the name has stuck with him since he was a kid. Let me point out quickly that my friend Wiener is not to be confused with that weirdo ex-Congressman Weiner from New York. I shudder to think what his nickname is.
Socks has this habit of plodding around the neighborhood swimming pool in his swim trucks while wearing — you guessed it — socks. Sometimes, they match. He claims that sunlight causes an allergic reaction to his feet. Rumors about concealing zombie-fied feet have been pretty much discounted.