Monday, April 22, 2013

What's In a Name?

Today I thought I’d rattle on a bit about nicknames. It’s always amazing how some people have them and others don’t. There are the obvious ones like the bald guy called Curly. Then the ones that make you wonder, like my own uncle who my mom called Bob–his name was Charles and apparently he didn’t know his real name was Charles until he went into the army. Why’d my grandparents name him "Charles" when they decided to call him Bob? Beats me.

Then there are the nicknames that are based on some attribute. There was this homeless guy who used to live in the local parks in California. A lot of people called him "Moses" because of his striking resemblance to Charlton Heston in the biblical epic film. His real name was Jim.

And those childhood names like Stinky. Those are interesting. Some of them are tossed out and stick like glue, others not so much. We called one high school classmate Fritz for a long time. I also recall a Fish and even a Red (not a redhead). I had one myself for a while from coworkers at a job and won’t list it here.

So, they come out of nowhere. They stick or they don’t. And the reason I’m bringing them up is, as an editor, I’ve wondered why there are so few of them in stories I see. I hardly ever see characters named things like Fingers, Tiny, Curly, Weasel or even the mob type nicknames such as Fat Tony or Jimmy the Greek.

People in stories all seem to be Mike and Kevin and Sally. I’ll admit I’m guilty of this myself. I don’t recall using many nicknames. You just don’t always think of it in one’s zest to create lifelike characters. I did call a character in a short story Lizard once. That was a cool nickname.

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