A lot of folks, especially men, in Smalltown go by a name other than that which appears on their birth certificates. On East Street alone, we had a “Peeno”, a “Nuckie”, and a “Frenchy”, to name a few.
I’ve noticed that the use of nicknames is far more common in rural America than in our cities. I haven’t spent much time in big cities, but wealthy men, like Thomas (don’t call me Tom) Sullivan and William Robert Howell, own vacation homes on Shadow Lake. I can tell you from experience that Mr. Howell doesn’t go for being called “Billy Bob”.
Some nicknames are derived from a person’s physical attributes. I suppose that practice applies mostly to guys, because most women don’t care for labels like “Porky” or “Sweathog” or “Potbelly”. To the contrary, my flatulent buddy “Stinky” Groves considers his nickname a badge of honor. I saw a couple of exceptions to the gender rule at the county fair a few years back. There were a couple of talented female entertainers: “Busty” Galore and “Booty” Jackson performing there. They had funny names but looked like nice girls.
A lot of nicknames seem to be abbreviations of either the person’s first or last name. In Smalltown, Leonard Smith is known as “Smitty”, Albert Johnson is “Johnny”, and “Munzie” Munson’s real name is Eugene. Roosevelt Greer was 300 pounds of muscle and a lineman for the New York Giants. YOU tell him “Rosie” is a girly name. I think it’s a fine name.
Some guys are nicknamed for a particular talent or area of interest. Johnnie “Guitar” Jones can play the blues; Michael “Touchdown” Guilbeault could run with a pigskin. William “Schlitzy” Robinson is about two years older than me and I think he stole the nickname that, based on my interests as a twenty-something, should have been mine. It may be just as well. Thoughts of an Average Joe by Schlitzy Wright doesn’t have the same ring to it.
In some families, including mine, a homely name is perpetuated because . . . well, I don’t know why. My grandfather was named Rufus Ralph Wright. I’m thinking his father, my great-grandfather, was either mean or just had a twisted sense of humor. (Winnie says I come by it honestly.)
Gramps didn’t go by Rufus (imagine that); everyone I knew called him “Skip”. He was a commanding officer in the Army, and “Skip” was a shortening of “Skipper”. Still, he felt compelled to pass Rufus Ralph on to my Dad—I think he passed along the strange sense of humor, too!
Dad goes, of course, by Jim. My Nana didn’t want to call him Rufus, Jr., or just plain old “Junior”, so naturally he became Jim. In my 58 years, I’ve never, except for the time Dad bluffed my Uncle D.I. out of a $12.00 pot at the poker table up to deer camp, heard anyone call him anything other than Jim, Dad, or Grampa.
My older brother is Rufus Ralph Wright, III. I know . . . why? He goes by Sam. The story I hear is that my folks didn’t want to call him Rufus or Ralphie. Again . . . imagine that. Mom and Dad called him “Sandy” when he was a little guy because of his hair color, and “Sam” became the obvious, more masculine, shortening of “Sandy”. Now, it makes sense, right?
Sam has no sons, but has two lovely daughters. I think you’ll be relieved to know that neither of my nieces is named Rufus Ralph Wright, IV.