Quiet Desperation

Nicknames can be enigmatic, charismatic, emblematic, problematic


Most of us, including me, have nicknames.

Most of us who have nicknames didn’t nickname ourselves, and that’s where this column comes in.

Like everything else that we say and do these days, nicknaming someone has come under scrutiny.

There are even those who feel strongly that nicknames should be banned because, as one psychologist said, they can be a form of condescension, and control.

Three guesses what my high school nickname was. It wasn’t “Babaganoosh” or “Lollipop.”

It was “Smitty.”

Some nicknames are necessary. Mike Krzyzewski reportedly can’t even spell his own name. No one can. He’s called “Coach K.”

(Coach K is 72, but he looks exactly like he did when he was 32.)

The word “nickname” comes from “ekename” (c. 1300), meaning “a familiar or diminutive name.”

Some nicknames are a snap. “Beth” from Elizabeth. “Joe” from Joseph. However, I will never understand “Jack” from John. Or “Dick” from Richard.

Some nicknames are uncomplimentary, and refer to appearance or behavior. That goes for most of the Seven Dwarfs.

The dwarfs were unnamed by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the collectors and publishers of “Snow White.” In 1937, Walt Disney staff provided the names we now associate with the dwarfs. I sure wish I had been in the meeting that day when names were proposed.

I’m told “Pizza Face” was rejected.

Here’s a little test. We all know what George Ruth’s nickname was. How about George Anderson? Wilmer Mizell?

How about “The It Girl,” “The Oomph Girl,” and “The Sweater Girl”?

Dwight was “Ike,” and Ronald was “Dutch.”

Manfred von Richthofen was “Red Baron,” and Charles Lindbergh was “Lucky Lindy.”

Louis Armstrong was “Satchmo,” Mel Torme was the “Velvet Fog,” and Bruce Springsteen is “The Boss.” Who was “Yardbird”?

Who was “Scarface,” “Bugsy,” and “Pretty Boy”?

My favorite baseball player was stuck with “Splendid Splinter.” Willie Mays was “The Say Hey Kid.”

You really know your nicknames if you can name the ones given to these two guys: Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis.

Cities have nicknames. Can you name Cincinnati’s? New York City’s? Manhattan’s (the one in Kansas)?

Schools have nicknames. They are often called “mascots.” The most common school nicknames are “Eagles,” Tigers,” and “Wildcats.”


Some nicknames are entirely unique to the school: “Cornhuskers,” “Crimson Tide,” and “Ichabods.”

Bonus points today for identifying the school that is associated with the Ichabods.

Jennifer said, “What’s a Boilermaker?”

A craftsman who builds and maintains steam locomotives, and Purdue students.

Whenever I wear one of my University of Michigan shirts, someone invariably says, “Go Blue.”

Whenever I wear one of my UCLA shirts, someone invariably says, “Go Trojans,” and then there is a fistfight.

Here are your answers: George Anderson was “Sparky.” Wilmer Mizell was “Vinegar Bend.” Clara Bow was “The It Girl.” Ann Sheridan was “The “Oomph Girl.”

Lana Turner was “The Sweater Girl.” Sheridan hated the nickname, by the way.

Charlie Parker was “Yardbird.” Al Capone was “Scarface.” Benjamin Siegel was “Bugsy.” Charles Floyd was “Pretty Boy.”

Doc Blanchard was “Mr. Inside,” and Glenn Davis was “Mr. Outside.” Both starred for the “Brave Old Army” teams of the 1940s.

Cincinnati is the “Queen City,” New York City is “The Big Apple,” and Manhattan is “The Little Apple.”

Whenever the Ichabods take the field or the court, they are representing Washburn University.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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