NAMES THAT STICK
“Little Mary” is neither little nor Mary. He’s Doug, the son of a construction company owner. Doug was helping on job sites when the movie The Culpepper Cattle Company came out.
The movie had a character assigned as the cattle-drive cook’s helper, whom the cowboys called Little
Mary. Doug was smaller then, and the youngest on the crew, so the guys tagged him with the nickname. Even now, decades later, he’s Little Mary, or just Mary. Strangers within earshot probably wonder why a full-grown man is called Mary.
Nicknames can come on like that. They happen in an instant but sometimes stick forever. Your nickname can define you, but it can’t be forced, and those that truly last must occur spontaneously. Picking your own nickname won’t work. You can call yourself whatever you want over and over, but repetition does not guarantee permanence.
Another example: While planning meals for a wilderness canoe trip to Quetico Provincial Park, we figured Bill, a tall sort of feller known to have a voracious appetite in camp, would eat twice as much as Bob, who was neither as tall nor as hungry, to put it diplomatically. If, for instance, we packed one healthy serving of dehydrated hash browns for Bob, we added two for Bill, so Bill became “Two-bob.”
Some nicknames are earned. Jeff became “Boomer” because of his flatulating prowess. He was proud of his farts. The name originated from a comedy routine making the rounds on an eight-track tape, which gives you an idea of how long ago that was. The routine was about a farting contest, which gives you an idea of how sophisticated we were.
Dan was “Clutch” from making key shots in basketball. His son-in-law, Matt, is “Stump” because of his short stature. Luckily, I escaped without a similar height-related nickname, even though I’m not as tall as I look. Mom, however, was “Shorty” to everyone.
Some nicknames are obvious.
Ralph liked to camp, so he was “Camper.” “Digger” owns an excavation and trenching company; “Digger Jr.” is his right-hand man. Jim wore his hair in an Afro—once—and became “Fuzzball,” then just Fuzz. Arlyn was “Crusher.” During grade-school recess, Arlyn and I once took on the rest of the school in tackle football. Yes, the whole school (granted, it was a small rural school). My job was to hike the ball to Arlyn, who ran through the line dragging screaming, would-be tacklers. Stocky, muscular, tough, and big-hearted, he grew up to become Crusher.
Then, there are the name-based nicknames. Cory is “Pete” because his last name is Peterson. Kevin Bartels is “Bart.” Makes sense. Tod was “Ted.” Tad is “Ned.”
The very best nicknames require some storytelling to explain their orgin. Legend has it that a cowpoke was getting into it with one of our locals in the town bar and said, “If you’re feeling froggy, jump.” One punch settled the matter and earned “Jawbreaker” his new nickname. The story of old Jawbreaker will live on in that little bar, long after the man himself has thrown his final punch.
PICKING YOUR OWN NICKNAME USUALLY DOESN’T WORK. YOU CAN CALL YOURSELF WHATEVER YOU WANT OVER AND OVER, BUT REPETITION DOES NOT GUARANTEE PERMANENCE.