I read an interesting article yesterday about nicknames for professional athletes, and how there aren't any good ones anymore. Think about it - how many people out there know "Babe" Ruth's real name? What about "Magic" Johnson, "Yogi" Berra or "Crazy Legs" Hirsch? Followers of a certain age can recall some of the great ones - William "Refrigerator" Perry, Julius "Dr. J" Erving, Carl "Mailman" Malone, Dick "Night Train" Lane and of course Jack "Golden Bear" Nicklaus.
The article wasn't trying to point out that no one knows the aforementioned athletes' first names - but rather showing that no one has a really good, creative nickname these days. I mean come on, "A-Rod"? "Big Baby" Davis? "Big Ben" Roethlisberger? Even Chad Johnson of the Bengals legally changed his last name to "OchoCinco" to reflect his new moniker, for crying out loud.
The article hypothesized that there could be a couple reasons for this decline in the use of and creativity of nicknames today. Perhaps all the good nicknames are taken... or perhaps with media communication the way it is nowadays, there's no reason to have to learn another name when the athlete's complete bio is at your fingertips in an instant.
After reading it over, it got me thinking - why do we give each other nicknames in the first place? More importantly, what does the nickname one receives by family or friends represent? Forget about nicknames for athletes for a minute, and think back on the nicknames you either had yourself or knew of growing up. What did they mean and why did people use it instead of your given name?
I'll be honest, I've had a few nicknames given to me over the years from my family and friends. When I was an infant and toddler, I was known as "Pooh Bear" or "Poohdy" because I used to watch that cartoon all the time. As I got older and sports became such a large part of my life, I naturally gathered some more. In high school I was simply known as "Meibers" or just "Meibs" on the football field and track. One guy on the football team called me "Snowman" because I wore jersey number 88 - which looked like two white snowmen because my jersey was never dirty. (Insert any bench-riding jokes here).
I went off to college and a few more rolled around. A guy I played football and ran track with called me "The White Flash" because of my speed. A few of the track guys began calling me "Mastodon" Meibers - I'm not going to divulge details as to why... draw your own conclusions on that one. Once I hit the Real World, some of my collegeues referred to me as "Ice Man" due to my partial resemblance to Val Kilmer's character in Top Gun. I kindly remind folks that I look like Val Kilmer did in 1986 - not today.
Anyway, the article talked about why groups (sports teams or families even) do this: "When we gave (someone) a nickname, good or bad, it meant that we cared," said Ernest Abel, a Wayne State professor of psychology and obstetrics. "You don't give someone about whom you are indifferent a nickname. The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference."
That last sentence really resonated with me. If you've been around my family long enough and we like you enough, you'll get a nickname eventually. We may not come up with the best of the best for each other, but it doesn't matter... its the meaning behind them that really counts. Perfect example: my younger sister has been known as "Bacon" for the last 10 years or so. My older brother has had his current nickname since he started high school. Mommy B has been known as "B-ritt" for the better part of a decade too.
I think everyone in my house has a nickname. Mommy B and I are pretty much "Mommy" and "Daddy" now. Even Scarlett has had a dozen nicknames in her 3 years with us - "Scar-little", "Scarley", "Mole/gecko catcher" and "Hole digger" just to name a few. But don't even get me started with our kiddo - I can't even remember the last time I used her full first name. In just six months, Allison Ruah Meibers has become "Alli", "Alli Ru", "Ru-ster", "Roo", "Long legs", "Toofers", "Piggy", and "Mommy's little alarm clock". I'm sure there have been more, but those are the most used lately.
Moral of the story - giving someone a nickname (good or bad) is more than just calling them something other than the name on their birth certificate. It's about a mutual affection and camaraderie, no matter the connotation of the name itself. I'm sure Alli will accumulate more in the coming years just like I did - and hopefully she understands what it really means to be given a nickname by those around her.