When I was growing up there were all sorts of nicknames — and no one had ever heard the term “politically correct,” so they weren’t all particularly flattering.
The ones that first come to mind are the ones that keyed off of some characteristic of the person. I’m thinking of ones like Red, Curly, Shorty,Tubby, Slim, Fats, Gimpy, Blackie, Happy, Freckles and Blondie.
Others interesting ones I can think of were Spike, Slick, Bub, Birdie, Digger, Dub, Gonzo, Boots, Howdy and Dude.
Some of the men and boys in my own family had some interesting nicknames. Mama’s brother was named Ira, but I grew up knowing him as Uncle Spuds. I can only assume that moniker came from some event in his childhood involving potatoes. Uncle Spuds then named his son Ira, Jr., but the son was always called Junior. If it was such a great name, wouldn’t you think at least one of them would have insisted the family call him that?
One time when one of my sisters was flying somewhere, she was making conversation with the man in the seat next to her. He mentioned that he worked for a large insurance company in California. Sis said, “Really, well my uncle works there too. Do you know Ira B.?” Why, yes, he did know Ira. When they began to leave the plane, Sis said to her seat mate, “Next time you see my uncle, call him Spuds, and see what he says.” A few days later Sis got a call from Uncle Spuds. He said the man she had met had, in fact, called him Spuds, and he was shocked to hear that family nickname used by one of his co-workers. He immediately asked the man, “Which one of my relatives have you been talking to!” His family nickname had followed him all the way to California.
I had a cousin named Glenn, who was called Buster. He was a contemporary of my older siblings, so I didn’t know him as a child, but I’ve been told that he was a cute little chubby boy with curly black hair, who had an unfortunate way of regularly making bigger kids mad. It was also unfortunate that Buster, as Mama described it, “ran like a sewing machine needle — all up and down!”
A favorite “Buster” story goes like this. One day after school, he was walking home with my brother and sisters and angered (as usual) some bigger boys who started chasing him. Mama said she looked out the kitchen window and saw my siblings all standing at the edge of the yard, looking down the alley, yelling “Run, Buster! Run, Buster!,” encouraging Buster on as he inefficently churned out the last few feet into the yard. Buster would be safe if he could just reach the yard, because Mama was well known in the neighborhood as a strict disciplinarian (no matter whose kid was involved) and the older boys would have been fearful of incurring the “wrath of Mama” by stepping onto her turf! So Buster did make it to safety.
Buster must have gotten better at either not angering the older boys, or at running, because he did live to be an adult, who we always called Buster. When I knew Buster he was a teenager and he was such a nice person, so it was hard for me to see him as the not very fast, routinely-made-older-boys-made little boy described in the story.
Another way of individualizing names is by calling people by two names and this seems to be more prevalent in certain parts of the country, or certain families, like mine. I had sisters, cousins and friends of sisters and cousins who were ALWAYS called by two names, for example, Betty Rose, Jean Marie, Martha Lou, Cora Lee and Jimmy Sue. And I had a childhood friend who was always called Phoebe Ann.
There was one elderly lady in our family, who I’m pretty sure I never met because she lived way out in California, but my parents always referred to her as Cousin Bertha. When I was little, I thought Cousin was her first name. I have no idea whose cousin she was, but she must have been related to us in a cousin-ly way somehow!
There were two famous people in the early 1900′s with the nickname of “Babe”. Of course, you’ve heard of the star baseball player, Babe Ruth, but not quite as well known was a woman golfing champion named “Babe” Diedrickson.
And finally, my all-time favorite nickname was in a radio show that we used to listen to in the evenings (way before TV). The show was called Fibber McGee and Molly. Remember, you were just listening to this show — no pictures, except the ones you imagined in your head. One of the on-going jokes on this program was that whenever Fibber McGee had to get something out of the closet, when he opened it you heard lots and lots of stuff falling out and falling out and falling out. That joke may sound a little lame now, but we were much more easily entertained back then. Anyway, I am just assuming that Fibber was a nickname. But if in fact it was a given name, it just boggles the mind to think what a child named Fibber’s siblings might have been named!
Now in the days of political correctness you wouldn’t dare call people by some nicknames that we used to hear. Who knows — if you called someone “Spuds” now, you might be sued for somehow infringing on the rights of the “legitimate” potatoes!
Those were simpler times, with more interesting nicknames.