“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.

Outdoor Life - - OFFHAND SHOTS -

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.


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