Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What's in a Name?

If you're a normal boy growing up in America, this is almost a certainty:

Your friends are going to give you a nickname. And it will have little or nothing to do with the actual first name that your parents may well have agonized over for months before choosing.

It just happens.

Where I grew up, in small-town New Jersey, almost every kid had a nickname. The derivations varied widely. Some nicknames were based on a kid's formal name, others on their physical characteristics and still others on wholly irrational and unrelated factors.

The photo below, taken in June of 1976, shows a group of my friends hanging out when we were about 13 or 14 years old. Two of the more notable nicknames belong to the kids at each end of this picture.

"Tain" or "Taino," sitting in the chair on the left, had a nickname that was a shortened, easier-to-say version of his Italian last name. A common practice pretty much everywhere. On the far right, elevated off the ground and about to throw a baseball card at the camera, is "Mooch." This moniker later morphed into the less insulting "Moose," or "Moose Man."

Mooch's nickname was based on his practice of always being the first to ask for whatever you were reaching into your pocket to get. He was extremely quick on the trigger, like an Old West gunslinger. And fearless too; it didn't bother Mooch that he didn't know if you were going to fish out a piece of fresh Bazooka or a lint-covered Lifesaver. He just wanted to be the first to ask.

Others in our crowd sported nicknames, at various times, like Nipper, Scray Egg, Bear, Flea Bag, Dean, Low Baller, Panda, Keeg, Joeye, Squeegee, Rick E. Bad and Satch. I was Fere Dow, and later Fere Dog, although I honestly don't remember how that name came about.

Nipper, who was given his nickname by a friend who thought he looked Japanese -- even though his ethnicity wasn't remotely Asian -- at one point decided that he'd re-christen himself "Boomer." But his weak attempt failed miserably; it was nipped in the bud so to speak.  Nobody bought in, and to this day he remains "Nipper" in our childhood circle.

The First Rule of Nicknames is that you can't create your own. Sorry, this is not Denny's salad bar.

I had heard my friend's brother-in-law being called "Stu" for the first 10 years that I knew him. I always thought this was short for "Stuart," which I assumed was his real name. Then, a few years ago, I learned that his name is actually Paul and "Stu" was short for "Stupid." Everyone in the family calls him that.

Two examples of physical attribute-based childhood nicknames stand out in my memory.

The first involved a boy from the other side of town who had a severely pronounced hair lip. It affected his speech to the point where you sometimes couldn't understand him. Being the compassionate and sensitive human beings that my friends were, they came up with the nickname of ..."Lipper."

Another guy in town, about 5 years older than us, had a very prominent (read: long and large) nose. He was not considered especially attractive by most people's standards (I'm exercising a little 2010 political correctness here...)

This fellow, we'll call him Vinnie (since that's his name), had a younger sister. Unfortunately for her, she shared many of his physical characteristics, including a protruding nose. They looked very much alike. I don't think I ever knew her real first name; I only heard her referred to by the nickname my friends created. So what was it?

"Vinnie with the Long Hair."  Ouch. 

Here we see a photo of Eggman (first name = Greg, hence the derivation) and Moon Baby (derived from the song "Beach Baby," by the British group The First Class) sitting on a ride designed for young children in the mid-1970s. Doing something like this today would probably get them listed in the Megan's Law directory. Or the Mickey's Law Directory. [Editor's Note: This picture is not all that relevant to this topic, but I wanted to post it anyway to embarass them.  They both read the blog.]

The creation of mean nicknames isn't restricted to children. Years ago I worked at AIG with a guy who, for some inexplicable reason, never wore undershirts beneath his white work shirts. As a result, he would develop large yellow perspiration stains under his arms ("Eeeeewww!" I can hear you saying to yourself, and you'd be right, it was "Ewwwww"-worthy.)

Whenever someone would stop by his cubicle, this guy would lean back in his chair and clasp his hands behind his head, thus giving the visitor a full-on view of the two huge yellow stains gracing his shirt's underarm area. One of our colleagues came up with a fitting nickname for this gentleman: "Old Yeller." It was only used behind his back, of course.

However, saddling someone with an insulting nickname can sometimes have the unintended effect of motivating them to overcome their situation and really excel in life.

For example, I could tell you that the picked-upon child with the hair lip, "Lipper," grew up to start his own internationally-famous mutual fund rating system. Eventually it would lead to the creation of Lipper, Inc., a subsidiary of Thomson Reuters.

I could tell you that, but it would be a big fat lie. No such thing happened.

Let me know if you believed it though, I'll have to start calling you "Stu."

Feel free to post comments with your favorite nicknames, your own or someone else's.  The more the merrier.  And please consider "liking" The LG Report on Facebook if you're a member.  Thanks for checking in!

COMING SOON: The LG Report's 50-State Interview Series Continues and, separately, an exclusive interview with the cast of "Jersey Shore."   


  1. Fere,

    Love the post and the photos. Good stuff. However, "Beach Baby," was recorded by The First Class, a band of Brits, nonetheless.

    Keep up the fine work. Really enjoyed the Mother's Day/stolen sign post, as well.

    Moon Baby a.k.a. Flea Bag a.k.a. Low Baller

  2. Enjoyed the post and had a nice laugh, but cringed slightly a little at the level of brutality we inflicted on some. I was just really happy you did not mention some of the other recipients of nick names or their genesis. Does Ring Ding, Sculley Baby or Mr. Corey's class ring a bell. Keep the pictures coming. JM

  3. I have an intesting comment. My name is Lisa and some call me Lee. I won't answer to Lee. If you see me and call me and scream Lee, I won't turn around. However, my BFF from childhood always called me Lee. I always answered. Today she lives in one of those Carolina states, and when she comes to Philly, she always says "Hi Lee" and I always respond. Not as interesting as your blog, but interesting to me. We did not have such interesting nicknames. We were just Lisa, Arlene, Dawn, Kim, Pattie, etc. Maybe girls aren't like boys. Hmmmmmm. Something to ponder...

  4. and yes, I put my name in my comment and put it under "Anonymous" just for kicks!!! Hey, maybe that could be my nickname, Anonymouse! LOL!

  5. I would just like to say for the record that I'm merely just a passenger in the Chuck Wagon. That's Moon Baby driving. Hey LG, Didn't we have full aliases too? A la Art Vandelay, Dr. VanNostrand, and Kel Varsen on "Seinfeld"?

  6. I am a nicknamer, have been for as far back as...well - pretty far, lets leave it at that. I'll have you know that I have a written blogpost currently awaiting actual posting regarding nicknames - not nearly as funny as this, but I just wanted you to know if you do happen to run across it on my blog, I wrote it first, and I wasn't copying you. Because that would be uncool. And I am cool. Hence my childhood nickname: Jet. As in, cool your jets. Actually, I think it had nothing to do with jets, or cooling them - but the other reasoning is just plain boring.
    **love your blog, you give me a laugh with every post**

  7. I can't believe I never knew his other nickname was Moon Baby... Arrh, the missed opportunities. And, I believe the original Moon Baby name was from Frankie Avalon's character from the movie Gigit.

  8. Fere,
    Thanks for the post. As I looked closely at the first picture, I see you have caught our Mayor at a very young age...the one with the fro & wearing #43. Also, don't let Eggman fool you, the last time I checked my law book, whether you are driving the vehicle, or just a passenger, you are still guilty of the crime ;)...sorry Eggs. Also, your readers should know that whenever our group of neighborhood kids get back together, or just run into each other, 99% of the time, the given nickname from 35+ years ago is still used.
    Ps. Long live Scott's Stadium!


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