When I was a kid, my father nicknamed me “At” which was short for “Tom Tom the Atom Bomb.” Evidently I had some kind of explosive anger issue, but I always thought that my anger was one of my best virtues. He used the term affectionately, and I always liked it.
In point of fact, nicknames have been used as a term of endearment for centuries and the term itself derives from the Old English word “ekename,” dating back to 1303 and means “additional name.”
Freud may have been the first psychologist to suggest that nicknames are another form of humor, which he considered to be one of the highest and most mature defenses. In other words, it’s good to be able to laugh at oneself.
It seems that the world of sport has a special affinity for nicknames. In golf, we have The King (Arnold Palmer), The Golden Bear (Jack Nicklaus), and The Black Knight (Gary Player). More recent nicknames in golf are The Terminator (Henrik Stenson) and Boom Boom (Freddie Couples). I asked one of my pros about nicknames and he said that being given a nickname is a sign of status and distinction and if you’re boring or average, you will not be given a nickname.
I think he is right about that. When I say Mr. October, you know I mean Reggie Jackson. If I say Sir Charles, you know I refer to Charles Barkley. And If I say A-Rod, you know its Alex Rodriguez.
In soccer, we have The Blur (Tiffeny Milbrett) and Formiga (Miraildes Mota.) Milbrett was referred to as The Blur because of her speed, and Mota is called Formiga, which means ant in Portuguese. They likened her character to an ant because she is so steadfast, persistent and selfless. You can see that nicknames are a sign of love even if the person named does not think so.
Music gave us Old Blue Eyes (Frank Sinatra), The King (Elvis Presley), The Schnoz (Jimmy Durante) and The King of Soul (James Brown.)
And, of course, as we grow our nicknames may change. Now that I am an old man with gray hair, I am no longer called At by anyone, but the caddies at my club do come up with some funny ones. Over the last decade, one of my favorite caddies calls me Doctor on Fire and my old friend Tom Kirby calls me Doctor Smoke because I still manage to hit the ball a long way.
Perhaps it’s an Italian thing to do, but I am fond of giving my friends and family nicknames. My niece Lucia looks like a young Marilyn Monroe and I call her The Heartbreaker. When I do so, all she does is smile. I pity the poor boys that date her and are thusly left in her wake. I used to call my son Big J because he is 6-foot-5. Then there is a tall youngster at my club who plays scratch golf and I call him Big Guy. I call one of our pros Mr. Smooth because of the way he swings the club.
After all is said and done, I think being given a nickname is a sign of affection and a show of endearment and who couldn’t use a little of that stuff. Life is almost always a trial and a problematic test of will. So it is a very good thing to come up with ways to lighten the load and to be a little happier. One way to do that is the give someone you love a nickname or to take one on yourself.
Although sometimes it doesn’t always sound so good. I asked one of my friends what his nickname was as a child and he thought for a moment and then said, “Oh, I remember they would call me Bob the Slob.” Such is the nature of sibling rivalry. We all suffer blows from the older and the younger ones in our family.
Now that I think back, I remember the year that I had acne, and my oh so clever younger brother would shout with glee when he saw me “Bonjour Monsieur Acahnee.” Oh well, some nicknames are tougher than others, but remember what Sigmund Freud said about humor. It is a way of handling our tragic flaws and our sadness, so for now its Monsieur Acahnee saying au revoir until we meet again.