Tuesday, July 24, 2007

what did you just call me?

I was thinking about nicknames and how some people have them and some people don't, and how some people are more prone than others to give nicknames to their friends and family. My dad has always been a 'nicknamer'. I think that must go back to the days right after WWII when he and all his fraternity brothers had nicknames for each other. He was "Fish", of course, (with a last name like "Fischer" that was an easy one) and they had an assortment of strange and colorful names that he referred to them by.

Both my brothers and I had nicknames our dad gave us when we were kids, and in fact, I had several. I hated them all. I was "Wee-cee" or "Sissy" or, worst, and most enigmatic, "Mabel Bollinger Krause". Wee-cee was for my middle name, Louise. Louise is a family name in my dad's family, and there is at least one in every generation. My dad's eldest sister was Louise, although her nickname was "Weezy". Sissy was what my younger brothers were encouraged to call me. I don't really know why my dad started calling me "Mabel Bollinger Krause", but I am sure he only continued it because I hated it so much. It always sounded like teasing when he called us by the nicknames he gave us, and, boy, I hated to be teased.

Our son Tom was called "Tommy", of course, until he was in the 6th grade, and he asked us to please call him "Tom" from then on, and we always have. We sometimes called him "T.J." when he was little, but that never really stuck. We sometimes address him as "Mr. T" or just plain "T", and for a while we all called him "Big Brother", which we picked up from Julie. I am pretty sure she got that from the way Sally addresses Charlie Brown in the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Julie, who is mostly just called "Jules" now or sometimes "Sister", had a plethora of nicknames as a child. She had so many that at one point when she was nine or ten, we sat down and made a list of them all, and I am sure there were more than twenty. Zowels was among the first, and I think perhaps came from Tom's inability to say "Jules" when he was very young. Fazouls and Fazouli sprang from that root, I believe. I will have to ask her; I am sure she remembers most of them.

Our newest dog, Rufus, has not yet had time to collect many nicknames. He is called Sir Rufus or Mr. Rufus or Roof-a-lator or sometimes Muffin, since he is a little black dog just like Muffin in the Country. When we are feeling Irish, he is Boy-o. Lucie is sometimes Lucie Lou or Lucie Luebner, or we call her Girlie or Girlie-pie or Girlie-pop because she is just such a little girlie, and both dogs answer to a host of miscellaneous terms of endearment sort of interchangeably.

Now, Dominic was a dog who collected nicknames. The most frequently used and best beloved was Bobo, and that is how we all really think of him. We gave him that nickname maybe the first summer after he came to live with us. Ben and I had gone to a large antique show at a fairground in central Ohio. There were lots of dogs there, but the one that caught our eye was an old bichon frise one of the dealers had brought to the show with her. We stopped to chat with her about her dog, and she told us his name was "Bobo". "How nice," we said, but "How silly!" we thought. But, don't you know, we came home and started calling Dominic that, and Bobo he was until his dying day. He was also Sir Bobo, though, and Mr. Bobo and Bobo-san and Bobo-sani. Sometimes he was Bobo-lator or Bo-bin-ator. Tom always insisted that it was inappropriate to call a dog by a term of such respect as "Bobo-san", but I always thought it suited him. He was also known as "St. Bobo the Long-suffering", which I felt was particularly apt when the kids dressed him up or carried him around in their backpacks.

When we hired a new receptionist recently, although she was younger than both my kids, she had the unpleasant habit of nicknaming people in the office, then persistently calling them by the nicknames she had created for them. I will not miss being called "Miss Mancine" all day long.

Oh, and I don't answer to "Annie" either.

Note: I know that I have not been at all consistent with the use of quotation marks in this post, and I do apologize for that. It is just too exhausting.


Julie said...

So Lucie's got some other nicknames too, including "pumpkin pie," which vaguely suits her color, and then "pumpkin patch" and "pumpernickel," derived from the first. It occurs to me pumpernickel suits Rufus better, but oh well!

I heard mom calling Rufus her "bean bog" yesterday, and I think Bobo used to get that nickname too on occasion.

I suppose it's only natural to give your pets nicknames. What I wonder about is the people that just don't seem to attract them. Did they fight against attempts to be nicknamed? Does a name that comes with an obvious nickname (such as a shortening or adding "y") just not draw many efforts to come up with something else?

tom said...

I'm not sure why I resist nicknames. It's not something I do deliberately, and although I think the "-y" theory is fine as it goes, I've never permitted people to call me Tommy :)

My high school friends called me Tom, and so did most of my college friends and grad school friends; my coworkers call me Mancine. Only family members pretty much call me T.

Don't forget Lucie's forbidden nickname "Penny" :P Our dogs haven't picked up nicknames, other than an assortment of collective nouns like "fur children" and "little monkeys." Lately I've taken to referring to a singular dog as "little mama."

Ben said...

I loved the title of this post. I can just picture you saying this to your (ex-)coworker Loren (Lauren?) after she calls you "Annie". "What did you just call me?"

Some nicknames are really sticky. You should try being in your 50's and being called "Little Benny".

It is my understanding that many Italian-Americans are assigned nicknames by their, um, coworkers. For example, the Best Man at my parents' wedding was Eugene "The Animal" Chisolo. Honest to God.

I always enjoy listening to Grandpa Fischer rattle off some of the characters he knew at Ohio University. Puts me in mind of my old gang at Kent State in the mid-'70s: B-Squared, Banana, Half-Deck, Strawberry, Caboose...

anne mancine said...

Fortunately, no one has tried to call me "Annie" for some time. I was just issuing a general warning.

anne mancine said...

Perhaps if I set that sentence apart...

There, that seems clearer.

Bryan said...

My sister-in-law's family is quite Italian and very big on the nicknames. Her mom is called "Bob," and there's apparently some unflattering story behind it. My brother, naturally, became Bird, and by extension the rest of us are Bird's Brother, Bird's Mom, etc. My parents aren't too keen on these names, so I've warned my friends not to address my mother as Bird's Mom, since they call me "Bird" too. Stu refers to me as "Uncle Bird" when speaking to his infant daughter. :D

Our latest dog, Mandy, hasn't garnered many nicknames yet. I guess "Mandy-Dog" is the closest I have, and that was largely a borrowing from "Belle-Dog" (in sing-songish voice) with our previous dog. Belle also had Belle-flower, Dingle-Belle, and Little Dogette. Probably the most common one for Max was Macca (or alternately, "The Macca").

And of course, I've called all of our dogs most frequently simply "Dog," just as my fish was called "Fish" for about 5 years until my mom named it Francine.

anne mancine said...

Yeah, nicknames are funny things, and I think Julie raises an interesting question about why some people seem to attract them more than others.

I love that you had a fish named "Francine", btw. What a good name your mom picked out! And, wait, it lived for five years? What the heck kind of fish was it?

Bryan said...

The fish is like Castro; it just won't die. I won it at the Apple Festival the last time I went as a kid, which was either '92 or '94, on a Sunday when they were giving them away even if you didn't win.

Francine lost her coloring after about a year, but grew to fit our 10-gallon tank, which means her body is probably 6 inches long, not including the tail. She has survived the arrival and death of several other carnival-prize fishes, and the week I was away at DisneyWorld when my mom forgot to feed her for 5 days.

We don't even keep her tank all that clean. (Or rather, when we clean it, it gets dirty rather quickly.) We have no idea why she's still alive.