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Nicknames: An interesting form of identification

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Lynne D. Schwabe Lynne D. Schwabe

Lynne D. Schwabe was owner of Schwabe-May of Charleston, ran her own marketing consulting firm and is a nationally recognized motivational speaker. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Women's Wear Daily, and has appeared on CNBC's Power Lunch. She is now director of development for the National Youth Science Foundation. She can be reached at

Nicknames are a social convention that largely escapes me. Plunked solidly in the middle of the middle class, my parents knew people who called each other by their real names. Oh, with a maiden name like Duncan, I was occasionally called "Dunc." And "Linka," the Slovak short form of Lynne, was a household nickname bestowed upon me by my Slovak mother, "Milka," whose own name was the short form of Ludmila. But, by and large, everyone called each other by their given names: Terrance, Richard, Susan or Charles.

When I moved to Charleston, I met a group of people who were only called by nicknames. I found it baffling and challenging to remember who these people were: Howie, Betsy, Barkie, Woozy, Belsie, Chuckers, Butch, Stuffy, Stuie, Buzzy, Baba, Ikie. Not only was I baffled and confused, but I felt left out because I didn't have a cool name. "Lynne" is just plain. I aspired to being a "Stuffy" or a "Baba." You didn't even have to know these people; their nicknames telegraphed bright, sparkling and entertaining personalities. So, when Howard Johnson asked me what my nickname was, I thought quickly and responded, "Hambone," a tongue-in-cheek response that turned into an unfortunate choice, as he took great delight in calling me Hambone from then on in front of large groups of people.

Friends from Morgantown moved to Charleston, and they too noticed the prevalence of nicknames, which is when Margaret became "Midge" and David became "Biff." Dave Pope, called his love, the late Candy Galyean, either "Sug" (short for Sugar) or "Princess." My children got into the spirit of nicknames (although I think name calling is especially prevalent in childhood), anointing each other "Dorfbucket" and "Annabricks." My own daughter (aka Dorfbucket) calls her daughter Be "Chicken."

Names are oddly evocative of the person. I've always had problems with grown men being called by the diminutive form of their names: Tommy, Stevie, Jimmy. My ex-husband, Albert, was nicknamed "Bertie." It was difficult for me to call such an imposing man "Bertie," which seemed a bit delicate for a man of his size. However, as he was fond of saying, "If it was good enough for the king of England, it's good enough for me."

As if all of this weren't bad enough, I became a grandmother. Suddenly, I had to have a grandmother name, and hopefully one that didn't conjure up walkers, white hair and hearing aids. I chose G-Ma. My suggestions of Zsa Zsa or Slim were resoundingly rejected. I can't think why.

Regular or "real" names are fascinating too. I have written about the odd names that celebrities choose for their children. These children are in desperate need of nicknames: Rosalind Arusha Arkadina Altalune Florence Thurman-Busson (Uma Thurman's daughter); Antonio Kamakanaalohamakkalani Harvey Sabato III (Antonio Sabato's son); Flynn Christopher Blanchard Copeland Bloom (Orlando Bloom's son); Nakoa-Wolf Manakauapo Namakeaha Momoa (Jason Momoa's son); Henry Gunther Ademola Dashtu Samuel (Heidi Klum's son). Spelling alone is a challenge here to say nothing of just remembering what your name is! These poor kids; just think what their first day of school will be like. All this agony, when a simple "Hank" or "Judy" or even "Hey You" would suffice.

My sister has always been fascinated with names, and what started as amusement for her, turned into "Characters in Search of a Novel," a book of names she thought were funny and profiles of the people bearing the names that she imagined. Beyond "funny" names, there are certain names that instantly make you think, "glamour." Chance Voight (he was a polo player, natch). Or "money," Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Or "someone who is beyond interesting," Mortimer Adler. Or "rampant sexuality," Paul Newman. Or "adventure," Jack Reacher. Or "aristocracy," Phillip Naylor-Leyland.

I remember a nurse at CAMC telling me that the trend a while back was naming children after body parts or illnesses: Vagina and Edema come to mind. A new trend is naming children after fonts: Trebuchet and Verdana, for example. One family named their little girl Arial; an African-American couple named their child Arial Black. Fortunately, I haven't heard of anyone naming a child Wingding!

In light of all these naming conventions, nicknames suddenly seem like a streamlined way of identifying oneself. Hmmm, Hambone Schwabe. It has a certain down home ring to it! 

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