Friday, August 10, 2012

Call Me Twiggy

RHYS: Britain has a new hero--Bradley Wiggins, winner of the Tour de France and Olympic gold medal in cycling. All the headlines here read Sir Wiggo. They want him to be knighted. But what struck me was the Wiggo appelation. It seems that sports stars are the only ones with nicknames these days.
I am a big San Francisco Giants fan and I go to see Panda and the Melkman. I used to adore Will the Thrill (Clark). But apart from sports it seems that nicknames have gone out of fashion. What made me think about this was that the house I'm staying in has a library to die for. I could be cheerfully locked up here for a month and never emerge to watch Olympic events or meet friends. I've been reading in every moment of my spare time and one of the books I've most enjoyed was a biography of the Mitford Sisters. Nicknames played a big part in their lives. Everyone had a nickname, including their mother--either Muv or TOW short for The Old Woman.

As you will know if you read my Royal Spyness books, nicknames are an intrinsic part of British upper class life. Children were baptized with stodgy, ponderous names and then given nicknames as terms of endearment. Thus Georgie's brother and sister in law are Binky and Fig and their son is Podge. When I first married into John's family I heard people talking Fig and Dude (yes I confess to borrowing the nickname) and Mitty and Podge and wondered who on earth they were. All cousins with respectable real names. And British boarding schools were notorious for dubbing everyone with a nickhame (sometimes not too flattering--as in Fatty Foreman and Tubby Halliday at my school)

Children in nurseries were always given a pet name. Our own oldest daughter was Toots, I used to be Cookie, a cousin was Bumpy. But this practice seems to have died out completely. Nobody uses nicknames any more... unless one is Pablo Sandoval or Bradley Wiggins.

So what are your thoughts on nicknames: have they died out? Is this a good thing?

JAN BROGAN - I am a big nickname proponent because I think it gives a person options. I obviously believed in naming my children one name and calling them something completely different. I named my daughter Eilann, which no one could pronounce so immediately she became the simpler Lannie. I named my son after my brother, Frank. But since we never called my brother Frank, i felt no need to actually call my son Frank, so he became Spike. Which everyone, even the teachers called him, until he went to college and reinvented himself as Frank. But again, it gave him the option.

In fiction I think nicknames are great - especially for me - because as far as I'm concerned there just aren't enough interesting male names for characters At least not contemporary names. Now that I'm writing in the 1860s, the male names are much more varied.

LUCY BURDETTE: We have a constantly evolving stream of nicknames in our house. I won't go into John's or mine for fear of deep embarrassment, but Tonka the wonder dog for example might be called simply "T" or "Teaser" or "Cheese Toast" or "T-Tonk" or "Mr. T" or "Tonky-Toes" or "Tonky-Tuna" or "Mr. Twizzles", or in certain select cases, Knucklehead:). You get the idea...

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Rhys, I think you're right. I see among my friends with young children a very strong desire that the children's names should NOT be shortened. Olivia will be called OLIVIA at all times and never Liv. I have some sympathy, as I hated my nicknames as a kid. No one now dares call me Debbie, or deBORah (my cousins' name for me) or God forbid, Little Debbie Cupcake. I have, however, adopted my British friends' nickname for me, Debs. I named my own daughter Katharine thinking it would give her options, which it did. She goes by Kayti--her spelling, not mine. But I've realized my main characters are never called by nicknames. Hmmm. But Duncan is not going to be Podge!

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Like Lucy's dog Tonka, Max, my golden retriever has a dozen nicknames including the excruciating Cuteus Maximus and Maxi-poochus. He owns us.

I've only used nicknames in my books to describe a character that the speaker doesn't know well (or at all.) So I think I've had Biker Boy and The Fish Lady.

( that a title?)

My own nickname when I was a wee thing was Blossom. What about you girls?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Nicknames run rampant in my family. My mother was Mutti (we lived in Germany for many years) Mumford, Mumphy and Madge. My sister is Zoom. My brother went through a series of nicknames as a cute youngster which I won't detail here for fear of my life, and is known today as Herm. Short for Herman. (His given name is Patrick.) Both I and my children have one uncle who is simply known as "Uncle."

Your mention of Twiggy is actually spot on, Rhys - believe it or not, I was called Twiggy before puberty caused me to, ah, blossom. Since then I have been Big J, Juju and Jule.

My own children are called, at various times, V, V'jer, Vicey, Spencerus Rufus (from Latin class,) Ginger, Gingy, Gingersnap, G-snaps and The Love Hamster.

Rereading this, I see we can give the Mitfords a run for their money...

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: My dear cat Lola was Lolita, Lola T. Cat, Lolita-Burrito, and, eventually, The Burrito.

Hanky Panky and Hank the Tank being the only possible nicknames for me, I have avoided them like crazy. Growing up as Ann, I was Anzio, Anzio Beach, and Anushka. Anushka, I liked. (My sister Nina was The Kobeena, Nancy was Fancy Nancy, Liz was Leez and Chip was inevitably, to his dismay, Potato.)

My favorite, though, is our next door neighbor's uncle, who they call: The Badger.

DEBS: I should mention that my husband's given name is David Derrick, but he's been called Rick since babyhood. Go figure. But it makes legal documents very confusing. Further complicated by the fact that we have different last names, as I am still legally Crombie, even though that was my ex's name. It puts me in a good place on the bookshelves:-)

RHYS: So confession time everyone--did you have a nickname growing up? What about your own kids? Are nicknames dying out?

HALLIE: No nicknames growing up. My daughter Naomi is sometimes Yomi. Molly sometimes is Molls. My husband has given me two. Smedley. Prunella. Why? I'm afraid to ask.


  1. My college friends called me Cricket. Not sure why. My family nickname was Mona, which I hated, but not as much as when people asked--and still do!--if I was The Brave or The Pest.

    My family has a thing going on on Facebook about nicknames. Last year, for my older sister's birthday, my brother tried to post "Happy Birthday Big Sister" on her wall, but auto-correct changed Sister to Duster. So it appeared as "HB, Big Duster." He left it that was because he thought it was funny. I piped in and said, if she's Big Duster, I must be Little Duster. My cousin Jennifer piped in and said, then I'm Cuz Duster. This went on. Now we have a whole clan of Dusters. A year later, we're still doing the Duster thing.

    Yeah, I know. We are easily amused.

  2. Family have called me "K," "Special K," "Tiger", and "Puddin'". I think Puddin' is a southern thing.

    Ramona, Big Duster made me laugh out loud!

  3. Life experiences dictated this one as nicknames and teasing names were one and the same when I was growing up, making me adamant that my children would be called by their names, not by a nickname, and their given names are ones generally not shortened or prone to diminutives. However, this did not preclude the bestowing of love names . . . Bug, Ladybug, Cupcake. Princess . . . meant to be used only in the family and never in front of others, lest the children be embarrassed.

  4. Growing up in the fifties, my sibs and I all had the normal kind of nickname: Barbie, Jannie, Edie, Davey. It took me YEARS to convince people to call me Edith instead of Edie, and everyone in the state of California still calls me Edie. In college my sister and I were the Munchkins. My own sons are still Ayah (his younger brother's version of Allan) and Naywid (the younger's rendition of his own name, John David, was for a time Non Naywid) amongst family.

    Love the Duster story! Also Anzio Beach and Prunella...

    But this post reminds me to use nicknames in my writing. Excellent idea. I'm already imaging the mixups that could happen.

    [And my captcha is "ringsgly" - sounds like a British nickname!]

  5. I like Joan Emerson's distinction: nicknames versus "love names." We've got lots of the latter in my family. I frequently refer to one of my daughters as Stinky. I won't say which.

    Edith I shall endeavor not to call you Edie. But that's the thing about nicknames - they stick in the brain. Which is why they're good in books. And Jan's right: men's names are so boring. Like their clothes. ('nother blog topic?)

  6. Oh, and I forgot to add that there are great swathes of the population who know me as Max. Everyone I met in Japan. Everyone on Summer Street in Ipswich. All the Lockharts. I like that one and tried to work it into my pen name but it didn't make it.

  7. I can't resist chiming in. Since my real name IS Kathy, that didn't get shortened except to Kath, but in school some of the other kids called me Rail, for "skinny as a"---boy, was that a long time ago! My mother's friends called her Mitzie (her real name was Theresa Marie) and it seemed as if most of my friends' mothers went by nicknames, too. I remember a Honey and a Ginger. This was in the early 1950s. Even earlier, one of my grandfathers went by Pat. His real name was Leslie Hamilton Coburg, so I have no idea where that came from. The other grandfather was nicknamed Scorcher because of the way he rode his bike as a teenager. I put a kid named Scorcher in one of my 1888 mysteries to deliver telegrams.

  8. Deborah, I simply cannot imagine either Duncan or Gemma with a nickname! But Cyn is a nicked name, so you do have at least one.

    My dad called me Sugar, which I cherish, especially since he died in 1969, and I have only had one other nickname since then: my husband called me Carrina, which is Italian for honey. Hmm, maybe a pattern here, eh? Although, now that I think about it, he hasn't called me that in a long time.

    The only other nickname I ever had was given to me, blessedly briefly, by a neighbor I had a big crush on. He called me Manure, damn him. Boys are so mean.

    My oldest daughter is Christine, but she's been Christy, Chris, and Crispy (to her dad, as in Crispy Critters), Critter, Crit, and Weesie for some unknown reason. Robin is still Bean to me, and Holly is either Holly Berry or Dee, for her middle initial. By the way, part of my reasoning for naming them Robin and Holly was that they were names not lending themselves to shortening, similar to Karen. So much for that.

    My grandson's name is Zachary, and originally his parents were adamant about no nicknames. Then he became Zach, but in kindergarten he changed it to Zak, no idea why. I call him Zakaroni, since macaroni and cheese is his favorite dish.

  9. I've never really had a nickname, but my kids are Cickle (from her baby brother's pronunciation) for Crystal, Nilos, Nilote Pilote, and Bubbie or Bubs for Niles, and Jogie Bogie, Joger, Elf, Bunny (and now Dr. Bunny) for Joseph. Ben is Faun or the Goat. Dyson, the dog, is Mr. D, His Majesty Sweetie Boy Toy Killer, and other silly things.

    There aren't many nicknames for Linda. I'm ashamed to admit that I'm the perpetrator of most of those other nicknames above.

    Love the Duster Family, Ramona.

  10. When I was little, my father called me Brown Eyes, likely because my sisters were blue-eyed.

    Then there's the Buck thing. My father was William but was always called Buck. When my mother worked at our local hospital, she was known as Buckie. My brother was called The Bucko.

    In high school, I was Little Buck, because my older sister was called Buck (her friends were unaware that meant my dad, apparently). My younger sister eventually became known as Baby Buck.

    Not a heck of a lot of imagination in my Central Massachusetts hometown. Variations on a theme sufficed.

  11. I have a nickname which I'm not sharing, which only my oldest friends call me. When my daughter was just learning English she called me Bubba, which much later we learned sounded like the Mandarin word for Dad.

    Hank has a nickname in my house because my husband has a little crush on her. He calls her, "Mike Wallace only gorgeous."

  12. I love Binky and Fig and Podge. Great names! Great characters, too.

    My younger sister called me Ma-ya when she was little because she couldn't say my name. I have been called "Mare", especially in college, but mostly I haven't had a nickname.

    I worked with a woman who had grown up in England and she was called Toots. It was easier than Henrietta.

    It must be interesting for authors to come up with character names. So much opportunity to be creative and fun.

  13. Nicknames! I hate 'em!

    Deb Crombie: I can relate to everything you said about nicknames for Deborah. At work I am Deborah and always introduce myself that way to the people that we serve. Most of my coworkers call me Deb, which is my preferred nickname. Most of my friends (those who met me as an adult) and my siblings call me Deb, which as I said I prefer as a nickname. Aunts, uncles, cousins and my youngest sister still call me Debbie. I doubt that I can break them of that habit. My youngest sister does try to remember to call me Deb. She has lots of health issues that affect her memory so I excuse her from trying to remember NOT to call me Debbie! In my freshman year in college, some people started calling me Doc-because I always had first aid supplies on hand. Being rather clumsy, I was always falling and scraping my knees, etc, so I always had plenty of bandaids, mercurochrome (sp?), and other first aid related items that I dispensed to injured dorm mates who had none. Fortunately, that nickname went away when I moved out of the building. (I forgot to say that a high school teacher used to call me Debs, which one or two friends occasionally do now. I don't mind it. My mom used to occasionally call me deBORah as a joke. I never thought it was funny. Mostly, she called me Deb.)

    My poor dad got stuck with the nickname Nanny, which is what one of his younger siblings came up with as the pronunciation for Anthony. It stuck. For LIFE. When I was about six years old, a child in our neighborhood asked me if it was true that my father's name was Nancy. I was SO insulted on behalf of my dad! I icily told him that Nancy was the name of the lady that lived at the far end of my building and that my dad was Nanny - as if everybody ought to know that Nanny was a man's name! Incidentally, my mom could never refer to him as Nanny and used Nan instead. (My parents called each other Hon, which really confused me when I started school and a teacher asked me for my father's name. I thought it was probably Anthony, because that's what some of the neighbors called him...but there were ALL those people who called him Nanny...Dad was from a large family...and my mother called him Hon. WHAT to tell the teacher?? I think she ended up getting from the school records!) My brother is Butch instead of Anthony. As a toddler, he was as round as he was long and my parents decided to give him a tough sounding nickname for protection! My maternal grandfather was disappointed that they didn't call him Nanny Jr!

    One of my sistrs was christened Betty-Jane. The first time ne of my aunts saw her,she exclaimed "she looks just like a little Betsy!" She's been Betsy ever since, got married as Betsy...except that the aunt who called her Betsy as a newborn stuck to Betty-Jane after that and so did my uncle and their kids. A few years ago one of those cousins asked me something about her and when I referred to her as Betsy, his response was a surprised: "I didn't know you called her that!" That amused me,as we even lived in the same house for a few months as very small children!

    My nephew Joseph has always been Joseph. Some of his friends call him Joe. When his sister was younger she called him Jojeph for the longest time and kept it as her pet name for him when she could finally pronounce it correctly. Sometimes she shortened it to Joja. She mostly calls him Joe now.

    When I was in high school I joined a regional youth group and made friends with people named Poochie (female) and Buck (male). I never did learn Buck's real name. Maybe he's related to you, Brenda?!

  14. In response to Deb Romano:

    Could be, a distant cousin, perhaps. :)

  15. Ah, Twiggy! My first puppy's name! (It was the late 60s, and of course, I loved that Twiggy the model's real name was Lesley!)

    But a practical question for writers about using nicknames: some readers get frustrated when a character is called different things, finding it hard to follow. Mrs. Murphy, Francesca, Fresca -- seems easy enough to me. And of course, different characters will call them different names, based on their relationship. But ya don't want to confuse a reader ... . Suggestions?

  16. Sorry for the typos in the above response. I cannot get used to thumb typing!

    You've heard the stories of names being shortened at Ellis Island. A brother-in-law's family name ended up having a syllable ADDED to it when his great-grandfather's family passed through Ellis Island! That probably didn't happen to too many families.

  17. Karen, you're right about Cyn. And now that I think about it, Doug is actually Douglas. Melody is very occasionally called Mel, and Duncan very, very occasionally calls Gemma Gem. And then there's Kit!!! How could I have left out Kit?? His given name is Christopher.

    Deb Romano, my sympathies. There is just something about Debbie that I truly dislike. No objection to Suzy or Kathy or Katie... it just seems that a grown woman called Debbie will never be taken seriously. And I hate it when I'm introduced to people as Deborah and they take the liberty of calling me Debbie without asking if I mind. Grrr.

  18. Oh, Ramona -- definitely the Brave!!!
    No nicknames, rather double name -- on my dad's side of the family, I am Mary Frances, partly because there are so many Marys and also because Frances is my grandmother's name. Dad decided on his first daughter's name when he was still a boy, so of course Mom agreed when the time came. I once called my uncle to come help us at church when Dad's car wouldn't start. He refused to recognize me as "Mary" or even as "your niece, Mary, John's daughter." We may have been there all day if I hadn't remembered to add the Frances . . .

  19. (Last day of nice to spend it with the Reds and Redreaders!)


    I have the same problem with being introduced as Deborah and being called Debbie. I think that perhaps I am a little too forceful when I correct people who do that...but really - who wants to be called by the wrong name?

    Linda...I meant to say earlier that I sure am glad you have not nicknamed ME! Your creative nicknames for people must have something to do with your overall creativity! (In other words, you just can't help yourself:-)
    And I DO like the nickname Skeet for your protagonist.

  20. Well, just think of those of us with multisyllabic last names. I have introduced myself countless times with my name very carefully pronounced the right way, and then to hear it repeated back to me in the wrong way. In fact, some of my husband's friends, from as far back as grade school, still pronounce it the wrong way.

    Hint to my friends who know the name: The middle syllable is pronounced "love".

  21. DebR, I have had a couple of folks give my book one-star reviews because they hate Skeet's nickname.

    And as of now, you are officially DebRo. :-)

  22. My nickname is Micky, but just for online stuff. When I was younger I had a friend and that was my nickname and hers was Pinky (like the Pink Panther). We would use them when we wrote letters to each other. I chose Micky because I loved the Monkees.

    I give my cats nicknames sometimes and they may have more than one.

    Say hi to Binky and Fig for me. I don't like the nickname Skeet. It does remind me of Rita Skeeter from Harry Potter.

  23. I love DebRo!

    My husband Jonathan has no nickname, but like Katharine Hepburn an Spencer Tracy in--what was the movie where they were lawyers?--call each other Pinky and Pinky, We are Wheat and Wheet.

  24. Oh, I like Skeet!!

    You should all be thankful I didn't even start into all our nicknames for the dogs and cats....

  25. My father's name was Paul and was called Harry. I had a boyfriend called The Prince and another called Fish.

    I had one of those embarrassing nicknames in school, and I won't tell you what it was. It disappeared when I changed schools, and it has never resurrected itself.

    Weird, though, was coming upon my own Marblehead High School nickname - unintended, I am certain – along with my official Salem Hospital name and nickname in Brunonia Barry's book, THE MAP OF TRUE PLACES. They were two separate characters, Maureen and Mickey. If you are from Salem, these things can take on an aura.

    I went through a series of name changes at birth, and before I was officially named Maureen, my mother's personal version of Marie-Reine, to make her Irish in-laws happy, try to satisfy her French side, and the indigenous by calling me Reine and pronouncing it Rain.

  26. The important thing, Reine, is what pronunciation do YOU prefer? I believe that remembering names and correct pronunciations is really important and is a sign of respect. If I ever have the pleasure of meeting you in person, I want to address you correctly!

    A friend's family name "looks" difficult on paper. Once you know the pronunciation,it is very easy to remember. When she was in high school, a teacher taking roll call on the first day of school asked "did I pronounce it correctly?" My friend said "no, but close enough". The teacher responded "close enough is not good enough. You correct me until I get it right." Then the teacher told the class that she wanted them to remember that a person's name is that person's identity in the world and that everybody deserves to be called by the name and pronunciation of their choosing, that it robs a person of his or her humanity if people complain that the name is too difficult to remember or to pronounce. I try to remember that, too, and to remind myself that it's okay to tell people "NO, my name is NOT Debbie; call me Deb or
    Deborah." Sometimes people get a lttle huffy when I tell them it's not Debbie!

    Hank,I am dying to know which of you is which!

  27. Gee, Linda...DebRo...huh? Okay, it could be worse! A friend calls me DebDK when she discusses me with her daughter,to distinguish me from another friend of their family named Deb. The movie The First Wives Club came out around the time that I met them. My hairstyle and eyeglasses are similar to Diane Keaton's in that movie. That is the ONLY resemblance between us, except that we are both female and past sixty! I would have thought DebRo to be a much better nickname and even suggested something like that, but in THAT family I am stuck with DebDK. time I talk to her I think I'll tell her that I have a new name for them to call me!

  28. Hi Deb. I hope to meet you sometime, so pronounce Reine like the bird - Wren. xo

  29. DebRo, you just tell your friend's family what your new nickname is. It's perfect for you.

    Speaking of meeting in person, I'm going to be in Boston March 6-9 for the first time ever for the AWP. I know Boston's sort of Ground Zero for Jungle Reds. I'd love to get together with some of the lovely Reds and their loyal back bloggers for dinner or something. As an extra enticement, Ben will be with me. And those of you who've met him know he's just as cute and sweet as I've said.

  30. My parents maintained the ancient practice of an evening constitutional. At 3, I was forced to skip fiercely to keep up, and a neighbor who always sat on her front porch after supper would greet us nightly with "Well, here come Pat, Dean and their little skipper." I became Skipper to my parents. It's who I believe I am. Certainly better than Patsy Ann--gag--like the other two Patricia Anns in the neighborhood.
    Most of my characters, in rural north Florida, use nicknames. One changed her name in defiance of her mother.

  31. My family and my husband's family are from the south, where everyone is called by the first and middle names, or goes by their middle name. My name is Cathy Meleah. I've never liked Meleah, so I'm eternally grateful that my family (and very close friends of the family) always called me Cat.

    Sadly, at 49, my parents, uncles, and grandparents are gone, so hardly anyone calls me Cat any more. It makes me miss my family terribly. Maybe that's partly why I decided to use name of the Emersons' beloved cat as my screen name.

    Cathy AJ (aka The Cat Bastet)