What’s in a (Nick)name?

Although I have acquired several labels throughout the first half of my life—daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, mother, wife, and so on—the number of nicknames that have been bestowed upon me has been far fewer.

As a child, Daddy told me tall tales just to keep me guessing or to get my goat. One of his favorites was how I was “born.”  It seems that I did not arrive in the world the regular way nor did that overworked stork wing me into their waiting arms. Oh no!  According to my father, I was found under a mama gator’s belly. Every time he would say this, I would whine: “I was NOT found under a mama gator’s belly!” And, if he was in a less ornery mood (which wasn’t too often), Daddy claimed that I had been plucked from a pumpkin patch, hence my childhood nickname, Punkin.

As I grew and changed, so did my nickname. I progressed from a little pumpkin to Coke Bottle Legs. Skinny as a rail with muscle-bound legs, I reckon my legs resembled inverted soda bottles. Daddy had a kinder explanation for my nickname: “If you’d step on the top of a Coke bottle, your leg would go right through.”

Thankfully, the era of the Coke Bottle Legs was short-lived, and my limbs stretched out even more. With my extremely long legs, I was renamed Grasshopper. (Daddy still would throw in Punkin or Coke Bottle Legs every once in a while, just to make it interesting.)

In school, I received a few nicknames as well, starting in sixth grade. That year, my English class had seven girls, including me, with the same first name. Obviously, that wasn’t going to work for my teacher, so she gave us each a nickname to differentiate us from one another. Some nicknames were descriptive, highlighting a physical characteristic or a favorite hobby. My nickname wasn’t as creative, but I loved it just the same: Katie for my initials, K and T. (Decades later, that nickname is still used by a couple of my childhood friends.)

In high school, I acquired two new nicknames—this time from friends. The neighborhood guys affectionately called me Goody Two Shoes, partly because I adored the Adam Ant song and partly because I did as Nancy Reagan advised and just said no. Another nickname was gifted to me by one of my creative writing classmates, who dubbed me Mary Sunshine because of my supposedly sunny disposition. (Although, I would not refer to myself as a “sunny” individual, who am I to argue with a pal’s perspective?) Soon, other buddies started calling me Mary Sunshine too. (In fact, if you would read my senior yearbook tributes, you’d see that a few classmates addressed me as such in their messages.)

Fast forward several decades to my late 30s. When my younger child was two or three years old, the preschool teacher asked each kid to name his/her family members for a mini family tree. Of course, the staff already knew the name of my elder child who had also been a student there, so that left Mommy and Daddy. Daddy’s first name was provided quickly and was spot on. However, when asked what my name was, the reply was not as expected: “Honey.” Knowing that Honey is not my name, the teacher inquired, “Why do you think your Mommy’s name is Honey?” The response: “That’s what Daddy calls her.”

Originally published 17 January 2019, What’s in a (Nick)name?

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