What’s In a Nickname?

The Biggest Bluff is among the books I’m enjoying of late. I you haven’t come across it, the premise is: A PhD behavioral psychologist sets out to understand the balance between luck and skill in her life by conquering poker. The author, Maria Konnikova, studied confidence scams for her doctoral work–hence a game that blends probabilities with bluffing appeals to her–and this is her third NYT bestseller.

I like the psychological insights about everything from why we fall for well told lies, and why we have little instinctive sense for how probability works. I like watching Maria’s progression from novice to pro, but what has interested me most about this book are the personalities.

Every world-class poker player, eventually, is given a nickname on the tournament circuit. “Chewy,” might be the handle given to Elliott Funk, because he looks like Chewabaca, doesn’t say much, and never misses a trick. “Ironman,” goes to some guy named Arthur Winchell, because he does pushups during breaks. The Charminator reels you in with his friendly table talk, but watch out, because he can bluff anybody.

There are two kinds of nicknames, though. There’s the moniker conferred by the collective wisdom of your peers and competitors, and there’s the handle you choose for the online tournaments. One is the label the worlds gives you; the other is the label you want the world to associate with you.

I like this idea of intentional naming. I get to do it in books, choosing who is a Hiram and who is a Sebastian, for example, and I chose my pen name. The name conferred upon me at birth was a foregone conclusion, because one of my mother’s patron saint’s name days was in the same week. That all important first name, by which I will be called a million times in life, was just a function of when I popped into the world.

My pen name, though, was my decision, based on who I wanted my shelf neighbors to be (Loretta Chase, Joanna Bourne, Mary Balogh), and what name I thought resonated with my brand.

If you were going to choose the name by which you would be known among friends or co-workers, a brand new name selected to fit the persona you want to project, what would it be? Conversely, have you ever been given a nickname? Regency society dubbed Sally, Lady Jersey, “Silence,” because she was a compulsive talker. Wellington’s men referred to him as “Old Hookey,” because of his proboscis. And the nickname Lord Bryon applied to William Wordsworth was not very nice AT ALL.

To one commenter, I’ll send an ARC of Miss Delectable. This title goes on sale May-June, so the ARCs will come out in April.


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22 comments on “What’s In a Nickname?

  1. The only nickname I ever had was “Mollie Darlin” which was give to me by my maternal grandmother. She was the only one who ever called me that.

    My given name is Mary which was the most popular girl’s name in 1944 when I was born. Besides that, we are Catholic and Mary is a very popular name in the Church. But I was really named in honor of a great aunt who raised my father.

    I don’t recall ever wishing for a different name. I have always been satisfied with my name. Actually, just kind of took it for granted.

  2. My nickname, given to me by my father, is Teenie. And yes, my first name is actually Marie but I don’t FEEL like a Marie. I was named for both of my Grandmothers–Marie Anne and Anna Marie(Anna was actually her first name but she was called Marie). My mother’s name was Rose Marie and there are many cousins with the middle name of Marie. When I came along, to differentiate me from all the other Maries, I was called Teenie Marie by Dad because I was so small. This was gradually shortened to Teenie. I was four when I began Kindergarten and didn’t respond to Marie (they thought I had hearing issues)because I didn’t realize it was my name. My Mom had to explain Marie was actually my name!

    I feel like a fraud when I’m called Marie. My spouse and his family call me Marie and all my professional colleagues call me Marie but it doesn’t feel right. My Dad and my siblings still call me Teenie and it feels so good and natural. I recently decided when my kids marry, I’d like my future daughters-in-law and grandchildren to call me Teenie. Up until recently, the girlfriends have called me Mrs. A or Marie, but think it would be nice to have them use that name instead of Marie.

    BTW I am the shortest of my six siblings, so you could say I’m still TEENIE!

    • Oh wow, my first name is Ann-Marie and my sister’s name is Rose Marie! I read your comment and it was like, cool! Coincidences!

      • My two brothers married women named Annmarie and Roxanne. And my In-Laws are all Marys; Marybeth, Maryrose etc. I used to say no one had any imagination with names. 🙂

  3. My mum was convinced I was going to be a boy and she had the name ready,I was to be named Keith.So when I arrived it was a rushed and panicked name.I do not like my first name but I have accepted that I am a Brenda and it could have been a lot worse.My surname was Tumber and I was called tumbleweed because I liked playing cowboys and indians.My childhood legacy.Happy mostly but still a tough and rough tomboy type of girl.I could take on the local bully and reduce him to tears(training from my dad on how to box).It was a bit of a shock to my friends when I decided that I did not want to be called tumbleweed anymore and that I would no longer be climbing trees because I was a young lady.The sudden change because of a crush I had on a new boy in class.A discovery indeed of growing up.such innocence and hopefulness.Sixty years have passed but I can still remember those feelings all part of becoming who we are today.What a journey.I still enjoy a good western film though!!!!

  4. When I was a baby, when I got home from the hospital my sister immediately nicknamed me “Annie.” I’ve been called “Annie Banannie” too… when I was a child. Lately (as of the last several years) I’ve been using “Annabeth” as an online preference, and I really do prefer it–it’s a hybridization of my first and middle names (Ann-Marie Elizabeth). But years ago, at the time when I met my best friend, I was using “Lily” online–and she still calls me that! She got so used to it that it stuck and even though she knows my real name (and sends letters and packages addressed as such) Lily is the name she knows me by. I’m a (mostly) unpublished writer and I picked a pen name for that too–Annabeth L.R. Martin (and the L.R. stands for Lily Rose, in honor of that name from years ago and my sister’s name). I guess I always thought Lily was pretty and I’ve always loved my sister’s name, so it seemed fitting.

    I think that’s about all I have to say about names… 🙂

  5. So my Dad always referred to me as “Dove” but I had other nicknames placed upon me by friends and also a “nom de plume” given to a story I wrote by my 5th Grade teacher. I do not remember what the story was about but she entered it into a children’s magazine. I won an honorable mention. So my friends called me “E” or “EL” but two of the guys in my class called me “Bardahl” (They would never tell me why) My maiden name was Ellen Bancroft. However my 5th grade teacher gave me a pen name of “Betsy Enderson” by reversing my initials. She used my paper and my pen name in teaching us about the words “Nom de Plume” and Pen names PLUS she had everyone write a story to fit the rules of the magazine, and used it as a writing exercise, a mini-competition in class and she submitted the 5 winners to the magazine. One other girl and I won an honorable mention. The “Nom de Plume” has never left my memory even if I can not remember one word about my story.

  6. A beloved uncle dubbed me Rusty Foot for the color my feet turned from running barefoot on Appalachian hillsides. I spent every summer of my life with them & my shoes came off the minute I hit their porch & weren’t resumed until school started & I had to go home. I arrived a tenderfoot, but my feet hardened each summer until I could run barefoot on gravel roads. Needless to say there was mandatory foot washing along with hands before I was allowed in the house for meals. A cake of soap lived in a plastic box next to the garden hose & an old towel hung over the glider.

  7. I sing in Sweet Adelines choruses. In one of my choruses, I was one of three ladies named Beth. To tell us apart, we adopted chorus names, variations of Beth. I became Lizzie Beth. My chorus name seems to give me that extra bit of confidence, that persona of a bit more flamboyance as a performer.

    And now when I am asked to give a name when waiting at a restaurant or wherever, I give the name Lizzie, a name that can be heard over crowd noise better than the flat sounding Beth. It also makes me feel just a bit more interesting and mysterious.

    Thank you for all your wonderful stories.

  8. Ok, this week’s topic has me a bit stumped. I don’t wish for a nickname, and I have no idea what I would pick for one if I had to choose. I guess I might like something that referenced my brain?
    There was a year in grade school when I was called by a diminutive of my full name, but I didn’t like it and quickly corrected the teacher the next year to get back to my real name

  9. My father and an uncle badly wanted me to be named “Cindy Lou,” so that’s what my uncle ended up calling me most of my life, even though Mom won out and named me Bonnie. A cousin also came up with “Lulubelle,” which I absolutely hated. Another uncle came up with “Bonnie Blue,” because of my love of the color, and that’s a nickname I really loved.

  10. As teens all my friends were choosing nicknames. I unimaginatively chose Tami after my initials which were Tina Ann Marie & my maiden name began with i. When I was younger, say up to around 10 or so, I hated my first name, mostly because I was surrounded by Susans, Joannes, Debbies, all more common names than Tina (plus I got very tired of telling people that, no, I was not Christina, merely Tina). By the time I was in my teens I had come to appreciate my name specifically because it was not all that common. I didn’t come across Tinas much! The other issue with my name, which has plagued me as I’ve aged, is that my first name is actually Tina Ann. In these days of filling out forms on the web, most first name fields won’t take a name that has a space, leaving me with a choice of Tinnann or lying and using only Tina. Conundrums!

    • Okay, this is wild. You’re the second person in this thread to have the commonality of my/my family’s names! My name is Ann-Marie (and I feel your pain on the computer thing; nothing takes a hyphen either) and my mom’s name is Tina! How cool is that?

  11. I was named after my paternal grandmother before my mother came out of anaesthetic, although she and I share a middle name, Elisabeth. Through school I was known by my last name as there were 3 Mariannes in my class. The Marianne with a twin sister got to keep her name, as there were 2 of them with the same surname.

    There were 3 Laura’s in my daughter’s six/seven class, all 3 of them being Laura M. Our Laura became Laura Six, which kind of stuck for a couple of years.

  12. Well, I’d pick ‘Pam, who is retired’ as the name I’d most like my coworkers to call me. Hopefully before the end of the year. I plan to forget everything I ever knew about work as soon as I walk out the door.

    Other than that, I don’t think I’ve ever had a nickname other than an abbreviation of my name (Pam for Pamela). As one of six kids, we had enough names to remember. My mama used to just string the names together when she was calling one of us. She might have to go through several before she got to the right one.

    I like Lady Jersey’s nickname. It’s clever.

  13. I’m Elizabeth Ann. As a kid, I told people I was named after a queen and a princess. I was really named after two Catholic saints. My brother, however, called me Lizard Lips! Not a nickname I want to answer to today. My father called me punkin (like pumpkin). My husband just calls me honey, and that’s the nickname I’ll keep for all my days. ❤️

  14. Goodness! I have no idea what new name I would choose. That is something to ponder… I’ll start making a chart of possibilities as soon as I hit “post” on this! 😉

    I’ve never had a nickname… for good or ill, I’ve always just been “Karen”. I don’t know if it’s because I’m so non-descript or I’m just naturally good at disappearing into the background.

    … names… names… names… I must go find a list of names to ponder!

  15. I was born a Rosalyn but my mother legally changed it to Lynn because her nasty brother in law called me Rosie to tease her. My maiden name and my married name are also one syllable. I have always thought my name was too short and plain. If I had a choice I would have picked Alexandria as a first name. That sounds so much more interesting.

  16. I (and half the female population of my generation) am named Susan. My family called me Susie. I use Sue as an adult because at least it is short. The best names I have been given were bestowed by my preschool students. I was introduced to them as Ms. Sue and one student called me Ms. Soup while another called me Ms. Zoo. Those are the two best ones that pop into my mind.

    P.S. both of my daughters have long elegant (in my opinion) first names and cute nick names.

  17. I like my name Hazel but often someone will shorten it to Haze – which makes me feel very touched.
    I think nicknames reflect people’s love and acceptance of you.
    My darling dad called me Ha Jo which I loved as he was the only one and I know he loved me.
    HaJo is short for Hazel Joan.
    So I hope others like their nicknames.

  18. My dad used to call me pumpkin. But other than that I have not had a nickname. I always wished for one but apparently I don’t have the personality that encourages nicknames. I do like Belle as a language variation on my name Linda and sometimes I use it when playing games online. I loved how Sycamore became Cam in The Last True Gentleman.