Saturday, August 22, 2009

Flukie, call your aunt!: The Fine Art of the Nickname

So, yesterday I arrive home after a long day, and my children are walking around grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Well, I knew something was up, but I wasn’t going to bite so quickly. Finally, I just had to ask them what was so funny. Then in their best down home southern accent, they begin to say,

“Flukie! Fluuuuukie! It’s your auntie, baby. Call your auntie!”

Then they would erupt in laughter.

Then I realized what had happened. It seems like my aunt from back home that I have not talked to in quite some time had called and left a voice mail message. And for some reason, she thinks that for a voice mail message to be heard, she has to shout at the top of her lungs. It sounded as if she was calling me out of the yard or something.

But they were not laughing at my auntie. They were laughing at my nickname, Flukie. It just cracks them up when they hear someone refer to me by my nickname. But I am proud of my nickname. That nickname was given to me so long ago by my grandmother.

For the first few years of my life, I wore corrective orthopedic braces. Consequently, I was a very clumsy child, always falling. So my grandmother began to call me Flukie. Over the years, some people have remarked that it seemed awfully cruel, but coming from my grandmother, I knew it was all in love.

But back then, everyone seemed to have a nickname. I have known people for years without knowing their real name. When I was growing up, there seemed to be a fine art in nicknaming, and nicknames told so much about a person. They gave them personality.

Of course you had your common nicknames. For instance, James was shortened to Jim. John became Jack, and Henry became Hank, and so on. That was pretty straight forward. But I never could figure out how they derived Dick from Richard. I had a frat brother named Richard who I insisted on calling Dick, and his response was not so fraternal.

And then there were those nicknames which, like mine, were derived from physical attributes or character traits. My cousin Anthony was always small for his age, so he was called Lil’ Bit. Smiley smiled incessantly for no apparent reason. And Happy was interminably happy. A distant cousin out of East St. Louis had three inexplicable lumps on the crown of his head, so we just called him Lump-Lump.

But sometimes those physical characteristics change over time, and the nickname becomes a gross misnomer. I had a cousin who was a rather portly, round child, so everyone referred to her simply as Fat. It didn’t bother her self-esteem any I don’t think. But in her mid teens she began to grow up and not out, and finally became a rather shapely, beautiful woman. But everyone still referred to her as Fat.

And there is the tragic case of my cousin Slim. Growing up, he was always thin as a rail. But at some point he developed a glandular problem which resulted in him being almost as wide as he is tall. It seems like a cruel joke to continue to refer to him as Slim.

Then there were those names that told of your place in the family. My mother is the oldest sister, so she is referred to as Big Sister. My aunt, the youngest, is referred to as Baby Sister. See how that works? My Aunt Lucille’s oldest boy is named after his father, so he is Junebug.

But perhaps the funniest nicknames are those produced by regional accents or just gross mispronunciations. For instance, I had a childhood playmate who everyone called We-mare. Only after we started school did I recognize that We-mare was just a bastardization of William Errol.

And then there is the curious case of my Aunt At-lay. Up until my early thirties, I referred to my aunt as Aunt At-lay. Then at a family reunion, my wife pointed out a name on the program which she didn’t recognize, Adelaide Snipes, so she asked me to point her out. But I didn’t recognize the name either.

But when my Aunt At-lay approached the mike at the time allotted for Adelaide Snipes, my wife had a ephiphany:

At-lay? Adelaide? You men you have been mispronouncing your aunt’s name all this time?”

Who knew? She had to leave the service so as not to disturb it with her laughter.

For now, yes I am Flukie and very proud of it. It harkens back to a time and place long forgotten. And when the day comes that no one still calls me Flukie, when my grandmother’s name for me is forgotten, it will be a sad day indeed.

I think I will call my aunt back now.

Do you have a nickname from your youth that you are proud of or maybe ashamed of?

11 comments:

rhythm said...

this was a great read. my family calls me "stew." still don't know why. nor do i know who started it. but everyone has their own variation of it. "stewdabaga" (think "rutabaga"), "stew ellen," and on and on...

curlykidz said...

Breaker, breaker one nine...

They called me CeeCee (short for CC Rider). My parents were CB Radio junkees and I had my very own "handle" by the time I was three. And I still remember some of the slang...

I'm 10-10 on the side.

CurvyGurl ♥ said...

Well, Flukie, I used to want a special nickname but I was stuck with Mel...how exciting. My friends have a few nicknames for me so I've embraced those...lol.

When my niece was an infant I called her "Boobee" for some reason and that stuck. I had an aunt we called Baby Sis, a cousin named Punchy and the list goes on.

SkeptikOne said...

You know how in the movie "The Last Dragon" where the family was sitting around the breakfast table and everybody had a different name for the baby...well that's me....Most call me Jo, My mom calls me Jody, My grandmother called me Joey, My softball team called me Mojo, My dad calls me Jo Anne, My grandfather called me Jodyblond...My sisters were brer brown and Di dipper...don't ask...cause I don't know...we just were.

uglyblackjohn said...

It gets pretty bad in the South.
I have cousins whose last names were "Beyers" and "Bias".
"Bias" was just the way the Creoles pronounced "Beyers" but with a French (ish) accent.
They all thought they had a different last name.
My Creole aunts and uncles have names that even they don't understand - Louisianna is probably the worst for these names.

Anonymous said...

Sha-Sha, Shaboo and Shaboobie is my nicknames. Varies extentions of the first one Sha-Sha. Everyone in my family has a nickname. Funny things is all of my nieces and nephews only refer to me by my nickname. It's so cute so when my husband jokes and calls me by my nickname it makes me think of my nieces and nephews.

Toya said...

My Best friend called me Toy..my siblings call me Toyota..and some kids in school called Toya Boya (you know Toya Toya bo Boya ..mean kids) but my family has the funniest nicknames. My Dad is Sonny. I have no idea why. Maybe because he's a Jr. My uncle was called Sangin' Charles because he sang but I have one cousin we call Bo Pete. Why I have no clue. But as a kid I loved to irritate him and call him Bo Peep lol.

Max Reddick said...

I left out a whole bunch of outrageous nicknames from my youth for the sake of brevity. For instance, I have an uncle everyone calls Raggedy Man. It seems that he grew up rather poor and always wore raggedy second hand clothes.

Now he over compensates by wearing the most outrageous suits and every piece of jewelry that he owns.

msladydeborah said...

My childhood nickname was Sukie Ben. My maternal grandmother would call me Sukie Ben to wake me up in the morning. Or she'd used Sukie when we were having a good time.

I was a teenager when I finally learned that Sukie Ben was the name of a hog that my grandmother had as a child. My mother debated a long time before telling me this. When I first heard it I was crushed. But, my grandmother saved Sukie Ben's life when it was a piglet and raised it to be her pet.

Every once and awhile my mom calls me Sukie. We both start laughing like we're crazy. No one in my family uses that name when they talk to me. I would be too though if they did.

Cocoa Fly said...

I want to post a common on your erotic piece but there wasn't space for me to make a comment. So, just wanted to say I liked your piece because it stroked the writer's ego.

md20737 said...

I have a few nick names. My mother calls me Sweetie (never Toya), she got that from dads mom. My father calls me "LT".

My grandmother calls me "Lee", I dont know where that came from, but grandma has a ton of nick names that we dont understand. My mother Gloria is "Susie Jean", my cousin Thiatianna is "Snobby", my son is called "cookie" because she says his eyes look like two chocolate chips. Great post.

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