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?