Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 8, 2019
What's in a (nick)name?
Husband Art has commented that he doesn’t think people use nicknames as much as they used to. Over the years, he has been called
Ham Fat, Humphrey Hogasus, Butch, Big A, Art the Fart, and Sparky - and those are just the ones people have used to his face.
I’ve certainly had my share too: Glo, Glor, Glory B, L.E.E., Big G and Farl Glor, to name a few. Daughters Mariya and Katie have been MB or Mariya Bethers, while Katie is Katie Jo, Kater Bater or Kates.
Art warns others he meets that it’s only a matter of time before he comes up with nicknames for them. His older daughter Karen went from Karen to Kare to Kare Bear to Kerry Berry to Bear. Art calls Mariya’s wife Miriam “M&M” because she likes M&M’s candies and because her first and last names both begin with M.
Several called Art’s mother “The General” because she always seemed to be directing everyone’s activities. His father was known as “Honest Abe” because of his integrity in dealing with others. His uncles Art and Pete frequently called each other “George,” although no one, including them, knew how that began. His Uncle Art’s son was also Art, so everyone called him Chip - as in “chip-off-the-old-block.”
When Art’s brother Tommy was little, he couldn’t say Grandpa and Grandma, so he said “Buppa” and “Bumma” instead. Eventually “Buppa” and “Bumma” were shortened to “Bup” and “Bum.”
When Dad drove the school bus, students called him “Twinkle Toes” because he was a cautious driver. Dad - Edgar, and Mom - Edla, were often called “Ed and Ed” by family and friends. And when they got together with my Uncle Bud (whose given name was Ellis) and Aunt Edith, they were known as “The Four E’s.” Brother Dave went from Freeland to Freeloader to Loader, a name a few classmates eventually called me, and sister Gaila was often called Gay for short.
From Merriam-Webster, I learned that the word “nickname” was originally “ekename” - meaning “also-name” in the late Middle Ages. Then, it eventually became the easier-to-say version we use today.
Occupations have always been a good source of nicknames: “Doc” for a doctor, “Sparky” for an electrician, and “Chief” for the boss. So are physical characteristics: Slim, Ginger or Red, and Lefty. Art has called me “L.E.E.” - Little Elf Ears - because I have smallish ears, and “Big G” - a tongue-in-cheek name since I’m not really a big person.
Some nicknames are kind of mean: Four-Eyes, Metal-Mouth, Chatterbox, Sad Sack, Pollyanna. Some may be taken as either a compliment or a ding: Einstein, Sherlock, Geek, Genius.
Many are variation of a person’s real name: Greta, Kay (Kathleen), Stan, Art, Dave, Jo, Nate, Xan, Bella.
Diminutives are also popular: Charles becomes Charlie, Tom becomes Tommy, Dick becomes Dicky.
Before he retired, Leon Smith was our septic tank cleaner. He called himself “Shitty Smitty” and had it on his pump truck. But not everyone was amused. One woman refused to allow him to provide his services when he arrived at her home because she was so offended by his nickname.
Our German “daughter” Nadja thought nicknames were cool, but we explained they had to “fit” in some fashion and were usually given by someone else. One day when Leon was pumping our tank, Nadja laughed when she looked out the window and saw his “crack.” Then she stopped, but it was too late. Art tagged her with the name Smitty. He even stitched “Smitty” on the stocking we gave her for Christmas one year.
Some nicknames cross languages, so while we may call someone “Honey,” we’ve heard German friends call a spouse “Honig” - German for honey.
Art has been known as “Butch” since the nurse called him that when she handed him to his mother.
Years ago, Art saw in the paper that one of his students had been charged with being in possession of a “controlled substance.” After that, Art called him “Controlled-Substance Bob.” Another student apparently liked to partake of the weed and Art tagged him “Marijuana Dave.” He then shortened it to “M.D.” and finally to “The Doctor.”
Art’s colleague Bill often adopted these nicknames. One day Bill saw Dave in the recruiting area at the university and hailed him as “Marijuana Dave.” The words had barely left his mouth when it occurred to him that such a nickname would probably not enhance Dave’s standing with a potential employer.
Art had a boss who was almost as wide as he was tall so he gave him the moniker “The Human Bowling Ball.” Later, he changed it to “HB-squared.”
I became Farl Glor from a time when college friend Deb and I were goofing off in art history class. We were exchanging notes, and at one point, Deb meant to write “You fart!” but didn’t cross the “t.” So we’ve called ourselves Farl Glor and Farl Deb - Farl Friends Forever - since then.
The younger generation may not be as fond of nicknames as people used to be, but when Art was still teaching, his students gave him one he still uses. The dean had been visiting General Dynamics in Texas, where a bunch of Art's former students were working. They gave the dean a tube to give to Art. When Art opened it, he could hardly stop laughing ... and then gave himself the nickname "Eyta." See why in the picture below.
Left: friend Deb shared a scrapbook of letters using our mutual nickname in the title; middle-top: Art's grandmother was under 5-feet tall and had a sweet voice. So while his family called her Bum, Art's Uncle Art thought "Birdie" was more fitting and even had the name sewn into her Christmas stocking; middle-center: Art's brother has always used Tommy instead of his given name of Thomas; middle-bottom: our German "son" Tim often refers to me as "Big G" and Art as PB for "Papa Bear;" right: poster given to Art by former students. The caption was "Expose Yourself To Art" - or Eyta!