Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Many names get nicked. Scarface is scarier than Alphonse. Bill is friendlier than William. I am not, however, Mike.

Sly Stallone could kick the crap out of Sylvester.
We all have the inalienable right to be called what we want to be called. If we don't like our birth names, we can change them.

It's particularly important for authors and others in public view to enforce their rules. Garrison Keillor doesn't want to be confused with some less-important Gary Keillor. Michael J. Fox is not the same guy as Mike Fox.

If Joanne Rowling thought she could sell more books as J. K. -- it's her right to be called J.K. CLICK for more about author names.

I CAN'T STAND IT when people online or on the phone assume that I like being called Mike. If someone calls my office and asks to speak to "Mike Marcus," I know he never met me and is probably trying to sell me Wall Street stock, printer toner or website optimization. I think only one person who actually knew me called me Mike. That was my father, so I didn't correct him.

  • I've twice been to conventions where someone tried to change my image by putting "Mike" on my badges. I rejected them. 
  • There are probably many wonderful people called Mike. I'm not one of them.
  • NOBODY calls me Mick or Mickey. One stranger tried to get friendly by calling me Mickey. I didn't buy anything from him.

During the last endless GOP primary season with two Ricks, a Mitt and a Newt, I thought a lot about nicknames. Some past presidents have insisted on using their nicknames. William Jefferson Clinton was just plain Bill. Enemies called him Slick Willie. On a campaign button or in an ad or headline, Ike fits much better that Dwight. Ditto for TR, FDR and LBJ.

Ike's veep -- and later a president -- Richard M. Nixon was both Dick and Tricky Dicky. Jimmy takes up about the same space as James (Carter), but sounds much friendlier. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was called Jack, but JFK takes up less space and is more specific. O.J. takes up much less space than Orenthal James Simpson, and everyone knows who O.J. is and what he apparently did. O.J. spawned a secondary nickname: Juice.

A primary nickname may have a secondary meaning. Some people who hated Richard Nixon wore pins that said "Dick (i.e., "fuck") Nixon." I don't know if it happened with Richard Cheney.

Nicknames may be more poetic than full names, as in the "LBJ for the USA" button above. Later on, war critics chanted, "Hey, Hey, LBJ. How many kids did you kill today?"

don't know if the present POTUS has a nickname (maybe Barry), but the New York Daily News frequently prints Bam. Bush can refer to either of two presidents (so far), but Dubya is specific to #43.

Why do some really wussyful names like Melvin, give us such manly names as Mel? Les is more (not less) manly than Leslie or Lester, and Sly Stallone could kick Sylvester's ass.

Tony Soprano sounds much more macho than Anthony. Anthony Anastasio was Tough Tony, the younger brother of Albert "Mad Hatter" Anastasia. Machine Gun Kelly, Muscles and Sammy the Bull invoke much more fear and trembling than George Kelly Barnes, George Futterman or Salvatore Gravano. Crazy Joey Gallo is not someone to mess around with. Neither is Scarface (Al Capone, above).

On the other hand, Baby Face, Skinny Joey, Fat Dominic, Hymie, Louie Ha-Ha, Louie Lump Lump and Little Nicky are much less intimidating than Kid Blast, Killer Twist or Grim Reaper. Click for more mobster names.

Winnie or Bulldog?
  • British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had two nicknames with opposite images: Winnie and The British Bulldog.
  • Why do some names seemingly never get nicked but others (e.g., Richard) spawn many nicknames, (Rich, Rick, Dick).
  • Some nicknames even have nicknames (Richie, Ricky, Dickie).
  • Why so some nicknames like Peggy sound nothing like their full names (Margaret)?
  • I know a Rosemary who preferred to be called Ricky as a teenager, and later reclaimed Rosemary as an adult. Other Rosemarys (Rosemaries?) are called Ro, Rose and Rosie.
  • My father was called Bud or Buddy, but his legal name was Bertram. No one called him Bert.
  • Why do some nicknames -- like Josh, Luke and Matt -- sound contemporary, even though the full names (Joshua, Lucas and Matthew) go back thousands of years? Isaac and Izzy both sound old-fashioned.
  • Max may be a nickname for Maximilian, but stands on its own. Most current Maxes are merely Max.
  • Why do some people never outgrow their childish names, like Sammy Davis and Stevie Wonder? (And why isn't it Sammie and Stevey?)
  • Nicknames have flexible spelling. I dated an Abigail who went back and forth between "Abby" and "Abbie."
  • Some names apparently never get nicked. A shortened Cynthia sounds like sin. 
  • I know a man who was born Charlie (not Charles) and a Jake who is not really a Jacob.
  • Some nicknames cross the gender barrier. Jack and Jacky(ie) can be nicknames for Jacqueline or John. Chris goes with Christopher and Christina (who may also be Tina). Samantha and Allison are called Sam and Al.
  • Some names like Gregory, Oliver, Frederick, Allison, Charles, Leonard and Timothy are most often said by parents and teachers -- but friends say Greg, Ollie, Fred, Freddy, Al, Alli, Charlie, Chuck, Len, Lenny, Tim and Timmy.
Sometimes a nickname for one person becomes a full name for others.
  • Alexandra has given us Alex, Alix, Alexa, Allie, Ali, Lexy, Lexi, Sandra, Sandy.
  • Elizabeth has a long list of spinoffs:  Betty, Bettie, Bet, Bett, Bette, Betta, Betsy, Betsey, Betsi, Beth, Bess, Bessie, Bessy, Bettina, Elsie, Elisa, Elsa, Eliza, Ellie, Elly, Ilse, Liz, Lizzy, Lizzie, Liza, Lisa, Lise, Lisette, Lizette, Lisbet, Lizbeth, Libby.
My name is Michael N. Marcus. I hate being called "mister." Plain Michael is OK, but please don't call me Mike, Mickey, Mick -- or late for lunch.

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