Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eoin Colfer, or What's in a nickname?

Like me, Eoin Colfer mourns the decline of the clever nickname. I spent my formative summers at a camp outside Montreal where the nicknames included Hack, Ankles, Ekra, Madman, Eyebrows, Goblow, Rabbi, Smedley, Truck, and Mini-Mack, the last two of them women, and not at all unattractive despite possibly carrying a few extra pounds around the hips. I raise a glass to the folks who bestowed all those names, even though one of the names was mine. 

Then I worked a summer at a different camp, where the feeble diminutives that passed for nicknames warned me that my childhood was at an end and that I was passing into a duller, more disappointing world. Greenberg was called Greenie. Sherman was Shermie, and Dubinsky Dubs. OK, there were Schlong and Kid Pubes, but those enjoyed limited circulation, for some reason.

Here's Colfer, from his new novel, Plugged:
"E Bomb? Christ, what have nicknames come to? The problem is that these guys are inventing their own names. No one christens themselves Four-eyes, or Shit-breath. One guy back in Dublin, did six months for Peeping Tom offenses, guys called him Windows 2000. Now, that's a nickname."
What are your favorite nicknames, whether from real life or fiction?
***
Eoin Colfer will be part of my “CRANKY STREETS: WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT MURDER?” panel on Saturday, Sept. 17, 11:30 a.m.-12:30, at Bouchercon 2011,

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

Labels: , , , , ,

32 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

Nicknaming is a kind of gift, I think.I had a coworker a few years ago who had a knack for it. It's a combination of inspiration and the brazenness to override someone's own name, which in some ways their own sense of themselves. You don't necessarily get a nickname you like. I don't remember any of these monikers, as the other staff members are long gone, but I know she was pretty much unsuccessful at coming up with one for me. I know there was one she tried, but it didn't stick.

September 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I know nothing about the sociology of nicknaming in Ireland, where Eoin Colfer comes from, but the passage I quoted from Plugged put me in mind of American professional sports in the ESPN age, where athletes give themselves nicknames, and not one is up to the standards set by the Babe, Wilt the Stilt, or Joltin' Joe.

I have taken pride at bestowing a couple of cult nicknames at my place of work, which I shall be happy to reveal and explain after the individuals in question are dead.

I should add that my life's journey has taken me from Montreal, where the sports nicknames included Rocket, the Pocket Rocket, le Gros Bill, and le Grand Orange, to Philadelphia, where a great blond-haired player was nicknamed "Whitey," a great lefthanded pitcher "Lefty, and the great hockey Bobby Clarke "Clarkie." My long experience with the dumbing down of nicknames thus predisposes me toward sympathy with Eoin Colfer's feeling in this matter.

My v-word: sylphorb

September 11, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

Hey, Rabbi, how's it goin'

Just kidding, Peter. You are a bit of a tease, though. Giving us those nicknames, telling us one of them was yours but not telling us which one.

I hope you're not going to be coy and refuse to own up to one of them.

Sadly, as a kid who had to wear glasses, I had to beat up several other kids who called me four-eyes. Ah, happy days.

September 11, 2011  
Blogger Glenna said...

Nicknames can be a lot of fun, once they've worn off. I was once known as Punky Brewster...those of you who know who that is would know why instantly if you saw one of my childhood pictures. I really can't say I minded.

Peter, I too think you should revel which nickname was yours.

September 11, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I mostly just got "Graham cracker" as a kid, which wasn't very original, to say the least.

If they'd started calling me Crackers, that would have at least been a step toward the creative. And it might even have been true.

September 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No, Four-Eyes, "Rabbi" was not me. In fact, "Rabbi" was just an abbreviation of the kid's last name, albeit a clever one.

September 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Glenna, Bouchercon attendees generally return loaded down with books. Perhaps I could award one to the first person to guess which name was mine.

September 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana: You, Eoin Colfer, and I think along the same lines. "Graham cracker" is childish -- unless, of course, you'd been from the Deep South and acquired the nickname in the North, in which case it would have been funny. "Crackers" is quite good.

Philadelphia is arid territory in an arid time for sports nicknames. The great lefthanded pitcher Steve Carleton was called "Lefty." Richie Ashburn, who had blond hair, was "Whitey." Bobby Clarke was "Clarkie."

Lenny Dykstra's "Dude" was ss clever as the modern Philadelphia sports nickname gets. I think that if Gaorge Herman Ruth had played in Philadelphia rather than New York, he'd have been called "Georgie" rather than Babe.

September 11, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Although I have to say that I have been known to call an unnamed black cat Blackie.So I understand the uninspired impulse.

September 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, I'm not sure how I'd feel about people who bestow clever nicknames on pets. A cat named :Lefty would be pretty good, though.

September 11, 2011  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

The Nickname is Dead. Samples (all from baseball): The Big Train. Pistol Pete. Highpockets Kelly. Hit ‘em Where They Ain’t. Big Six. Iron Joe. Smokey Joe.

I wrote that 8 years ago.

September 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think we've discussed nicknames before. Bill James had the idea that the decline in popular nicknames coincided with the increasing economic gap between players on the one hand and fans and reporters on the other. These days, he wrote a few years ago, players have private nicknames that they use among themselves.

September 11, 2011  
Blogger Paul Davis said...

Well, there are always good gangster nicknames, like "Bent Finger Lou" in Philly...

September 11, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

With the right cover, A Cat Named Lefty would be sure holiday time bestseller.

September 11, 2011  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown.

September 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, I’ve always been partial to Claude “Little All Right” Ritchey and Robert V. “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson myself.

September 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, it’s the cat book for men who don’t like cat books!

September 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, "Concrete Charlie" is one of the great sports names, even though he didn't get the name for an especially creative reason.

September 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, and mea culpa for misspelling Steve Carlton's name.

September 11, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

it’s the cat book for men who don’t like cat books!

And also for everyone else!

September 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Don't let your man claim that he swallowed a piece of chewing tobacco. He's really choked up after reading A Cat Called Lefty.

September 11, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Seriously--someone needs to jump right on this. I would make it the story of an aging left fielder, washed up, who is befriended by a stray cat with only three legs.

Lefty shows this old codger a thing or two about what's really important in life.

Saccharine? Maudlin? Done before?

But of course.

September 12, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a football player here in the uk called Fitz Hall. Apparently, he hates his nickname "One Size"....

September 12, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Anon, I'm sure he suffers, but it's a brilliant nickname despite that.

September 12, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The pitch: Aging southpaw learns life's lessons from one-eyed tom-cat.

September 12, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Anonymous, we pronounce our aitches here, but the nickname is still good.

September 12, 2011  
Blogger Dom said...

Peter, wasn't Lenny Dykstra known as Nails. At least, he was when he was a Met...
And for a great baseball nickname - Blue Moon Odom.

September 14, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dom, I'd forgotten about "Nails." I seem to recall that he was called "Dude" more than "Nails" when he played in Philadelphia. These days he's more likely to be addressed with "Will the prisoner approach the dock" than either of those.

September 14, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, and you're right. "Blue Moon" Odom was one of the best, a name that could have been from the 1880s or 1940s rather than the '70s.

September 14, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

A former player with Manchester City. Kiki Musampa; nickname, Kris.

Some Hurling and Gaelic Football nicknames
(I don't know their origins)
Michael 'Babs' Keating
Eoin 'Bomber' Liston (why not Sonny?)
Colin 'Gooch' Cooper
Terence 'Sambo' McNaughton
Ger 'Sparrow' O'Loughlin
(perhaps his bird-face features)

September 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or perhaps Sparrow O'Loughlin, if his sport is Gaelic football, is not the most robust of tacklers.

September 19, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

No, hurling; he's a former Clare player and manager.
It might be to do with his somewhat bird-like face

September 19, 2011  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home