To me, one of the funniest traditions in life is how parents worry over their children’s names.
They’ll research for months coming up with the perfect name, say Charles Robert. Their reasoning goes something like this: “It’s the baby’s two great-great grandfather’s first names. The parents will usually agree that it is a respectable name for the child to have the rest of his life.
What’s more hilarious is how Mom will insist he or she always be called by that name. Take, for instance, the name “Charles.” She’d never call him to a meal by shouting “Dinner time, Charlie!” or “Dinner’s ready, Chuck.” No, it’ll always be: “Dinner time, Charles.”
If Dad starts calling his little man “Chuck” or “Chas” he’s in big trouble. She has no intention of letting her son be known as just plain Chuck. So, for the first four or five years of the boy’s life he answers only to Charles. It is his name and his ONLY name.
All that formal name-calling comes to an abrupt halt when little “Charles” starts attending school. When classes begin he is at the mercy of children his own age. These kids could care less what his mother wants him to be called. In fact, there will come a time, not too far down the pike, when she will probably be happy to hear her boy called something as amiable as Chuck.
He might be known by his friends as “Toady” or “Stinky” or even “Maggot.” Anyone who has spent more than a couple days in a public school knows what I mean.
The difference between the name a mother gives her child and the one put on him or her by its peers is also worth mentioning. The mother names her child before or soon after he or she is born while nicknames often come after years of living.
Nicknames can be truthful or deceiving. Sometimes they are opposites. If a boy is unusually slow you can bet he will be known as “Speedy” or “Lightning.” If he has trouble talking to girls he’s probably going to be called “Romeo” or “Don Juan.”
You can bet that if he grows up to be a head taller than anyone else in the class his name will be “Tiny.” If he is the quietest kid in class he will be “Gabby.”
Then there are the names that go right along with his personality or stature. The boy who is out to get the best of a situation will probably be known as “Slick.” The kid who excels at his schoolwork is “Einstein.” The guy who is known as the main man in school is “Duke” while the one who rarely takes a stand is “Mouse.”
Much to the distress of many a mother is the fact that these nicknames may stick with their offspring the rest of their lives while the one she gave him is all but forgotten.
I know I’ll probably draw a little wrath from some of the mothers reading column, but I have to say this in closing. Mothers usually do a good job of naming their offspring, but thank goodness for some the nicknames. Without them some of our best people would never have left the mark in life that they did.
Babe Ruth will always be remembered as one of the greatest baseball players while George Herman Ruth hardly raises an eyebrow. Marion Robert Morrison has long been forgotten, but “The Duke” John Wayne will live on forever.
(Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He lives near Cambridge.)