the film, “Gangs of New York” actor Daniel Day-Lewis
plays a character by the name of William Cutting. Cutting has a
nickname, “Bill The Butcher” and he lives up to it in
every respect. “Boss” Tweed, the Czar of Tammany Hall
also figures prominently in the film. There was a time when nearly
everybody had a nickname, now days nicknames are far less common.
Whatever happened to Squeaky, Slim, Stitch, Stretch, Goon, Plato,
Radar, Apple, Dutch, Butch or Buzz?
You can’t be a Rapper without one: Puff Daddy, LL Cool J or
Snoop Doggy Dogg and the movies have J-Lo, Jennifer Lopez.
Maybe the reason nicknames have disappeared is because names themselves
have changed. I mean who calls their kid Robert or James or Mary
or Jean anymore? Thirty years ago Heathers and Jennifers became
fashionable and have given way to Britenys and Tiffanys. How many
guys named Dylan did you know before there was Bob or the Welsh
poet who started it all? Seems today it’s trendy to have a
handle more bizarre than the next guy. You can blame the children
of the 60’s for Dweezel and Moon Unit Zappa or China Phillips
or River and Spring and all the other Phoenix’s. ‘Course
there was Princess Summerfall Winterspring, so maybe Howdy Doody
had a hand in it, too.
Nicknames often become permanent substitutes; even long time friends
don’t know your real name. My father had one like that, he
was “Speed” for at least eighty-four of his ninety-six
years. Outside of family, nobody knew his real name.
Some people change their names legally. I once worked in radio with
a fella named Don Goldberg. I hadn’t seen Don in years and
was walking through Port Authority one day a few years back and
ran into Don. He said he was between busses, heading back home to
San Francisco. “I’m not Don Goldberg anymore either,
I changed my name to somebody famous.”
“Who, John Wayne?” I asked.
“No,” he mumbled pulling out his wallet. There it was,
right on his California driver’s license, “Somebody
I never had a nickname. “Red” and “Carrot Top”
never took. Either I was too serious or the scowl and evil-eye response
curtailed any further discussion on the matter. I wanted to be dubbed
with some great nickname, but it never happened. I once asked my
mother why she hadn’t given me a cool name like Hoppy; fortunately
that one didn’t stick either. In considering nicknames I thought
it would be fun to review some of the best ones.
Elizabeth has: Bess, Bessie, Beth, Betty, Betsy, Bitsy, Liz, Liza
and Libby. Margaret has its share: Madge, Midge, Maggie, Maisie,
Meg, Greta, Daisy and Peg. There’s Patsy, Penny and Polly,
Nellie and Ollie, Sadie and Sally, Tilly and Theo, Winnie and Tad.
Now these are all familiar forms of real names, but then there are
those relating to behavior.
Baseball made a huge contribution to the nickname game. Ted Williams
was “The Splendid Splinter.” George Herman Ruth rated
two, “Babe” and “Sultan of Swat,” as did
“Joltin” Joe DiMaggio the “Yankee Clipper.”
There was Ty Cobb “The Georgia Peach,” Fred “Bonehead”
Merkle, Walter “Big Train” Johnson, Mordecai “Three
Fingers” Brown, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, “Hammerin’”
Hank Aaron, “Dizzy” Dean, Stan “The Man”
Musial, Willie Mays the “Say Hey Kid,” Reggie Jackson
“Mr. October” and of course “Charlie Hustle,”
Royalty and world leaders had nicknames, too. Where would the world
be without, Alfred or Peter the Great, Ethelred the Unready, Edward
the Confessor, William the Conqueror or Scottish sub-king Thorfin
I, the Skull-Splitter?
In Bingo a “Kelly’s Eye” is the number 1, “Little
Duck” is 2 and “Tom Mix” is 6.
Love is filled with nicknames, often called pet names: Angel, Angel
Baby, Baby Cakes, Baby Cheeks, Baby Doll, Boo-Boo, Bunny, Cupcake,
Cutie, Cutie Pie, Honey, Honey Bunny, Honey Buns, Honey Muffin,
Muffin, Pookie, Snuggle Bunny, Sugar, Sugar Pie, Sugarplum, Sweetie,
Sweetheart, Sweet Pea and Sweet Cheeks.
Nicknames have always rated high with the notorious. Baby Face Nelson,
Big Nose Kate, Billy the Kid, Black Bart, Bluebeard, Bugs Moran,
Bugsy Siegel, Frank Nitti “The Enforcer,” Issy “The
Rat” Buchalter, Legs Diamond, Lucky Luciano, Machine-Gun Kelly
and Machine-Gun Jack McGurn, Scarface Al Capone, Paul “The
Waiter” Ricca, Joe “Bananas” Bonanno, Frank “Don
Chick” Gambino, Dutch Schultz, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity
Jane, Robert “Butch Cassidy” Parker and Harry “The
Sundance Kid”Longbaugh and of course, “Tricky Dick,”
Music had Skeeter, Smokey, Dusty, Dolly, Ringo, “Little”
Richard, Anthony and Stevie, “Slow-Hand” and “Big
Mama” Thornton. Oh, and how could we forget TVs “Lumpy”
Brannum, he was Mr. Green Jeans.
You probably have your favorite nicknames, maybe even one of your
own. If you don’t, pick one before somebody tags you with,
Squiggie, Scooter, Odor, Brud, Mimma, Bubba, Bones, Bipper, Biff,
Muffy, Buffy, Lefty or Worm.
We’ll talk next time From The Road.