Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bo, Bunkie, Dickie, Jan-Jan, and Sunny: Musings about Nicknames

Does Santa have trouble keeping
track of everyone's nicknames?
There was a discussion recently on one of my e-mail lists about nicknames -- how confusing they can be, making sure you have the right person, and of course documenting where you got your information.  Several people posted about interesting and unusual nicknames they had come across in their families and their research.  This of course got me thinking about nicknames of people I know.

The first thing that struck me was that many of my family's given names don't really lend themselves directly to nicknames.  What can you do with Myra, Mark, Stacy, Mary, and Todd?  The only one of those I know had a nickname was my mother Myra, but her nickname was Mike.  Her closest friend was Sam (for Samantha), and they were known as Sam and Mike.  Even my father can't tell me why they came up with Mike, other than no nicknames coming naturally from Myra.

My grandfather was Bertram Lynn Sellers.  He sometimes went by Bert, but mostly used his initials, B.L.  My father is a junior, and while he eventually settled on his middle name, when he was a child his nickname was Sunny.  Several of us thought that had to be spelled wrong and that it was Sonny, a common nickname for juniors, but my father insisted it was for his sunny disposition.  All four of his children have had trouble believing that, but my aunts have confirmed it.  (We're still trying to figure out what happened to his disposition after he grew up.)

I didn't know until I was in my 20's that my sister's name Laurie was actually a nickname for Laura.  She was named for our great-grandmother, who was still alive when she was born, so maybe the nickname was to prevent confusion between the two?

I have a friend Carol, which is a perfectly viable name in and of itself.  But hers is short for Carolyn.  On the other hand, I have an aunt named Carol, and that is her complete name.

I've never used a nickname, even though Jan is a common enough nickname for Janice.  (And no, Janet is not a nickname for Janice.)  The only person who really had a nickname for me was my grandmother, who used to call me Jan-Jan.  I asked her how she came up with that, and she said it was because of JFK's son John-John.  Does that count as two degrees of separation?

My family does have some interesting nicknames, though.  I have a cousin named Albert, but his nickname is Bunkie.  I asked him where that came from, and he said it used to be an old way to refer to someone, as in, "How ya' doin', bunkie?"  For some reason the family started calling him that at about the age of 2, and it stuck.  A well known Bunkie was Semon Knudsen of GM and Ford, but I can't find an explanation of how he acquired his nickname.

Then there was my grandfather's younger brother, George Moore Sellers, whose nickname was Dickie.  My great-aunt told me it was from an old phrase called the Dickie Do Flicker.  Now what that means is beyond me.  But Dickie named one of his sons Richard, who then of course went by the nickname of Dick.

My aunt's husband, Clarence Newcomb Lore, somehow acquired the nickname of Zeke.  No one has come up with an explanation for that so far.

I used to be in regular contact with four Chrises.  They were Christian, Christine, Christopher ... and Robert.  Now how, you are wondering, did Robert become Chris?  Well, when he went to college there were about half a dozen Roberts in the same dorm, and they decided each one had to have a unique nickname.  Rob and Bob probably went quickly, so when it came to my friend, he took his nickname from his last name:  Christiansen.  He's been Chris for about 60 years, so anyone who calls him Robert obviously doesn't really know him (and is probably a salesman!).

And some nicknames happen accidentally.  I have another friend whose name is Robert, which became Robbie when he was young, then migrated to Bob.  One day someone was typing his name and somehow dropped the second "b", so it ended up Bo.  (As opposed to Bo Jackson, who apparently got his nickname from shortening "wild boar hog.")  That's another one that stuck; he's gone by Bo for about 30 years now.

What are the stories of the nicknames in your family?


  1. Nicknames can be a delight or something entirely different.

    My maternal grandfather's name was Allen, but he was called Andy. When he played basketball in the 1920s, only last names & first initials appeared on player rosters. Someone assumed Pop's A stood for Andrew, & a nickname was born.

    My dad was known as Nudger in high school. No explanation needed for anyone who remembers his overactive elbow!

  2. And of course now I'm wondering why the person who gave your grandfather his nickname automatically assumed A stood for Andrew!

  3. Lots of Myrons (an East Coast name) went by Mike, so I can see how Myra could get "Mike"

    My aviation callsign is "Chalker" (and being from Boston, "Chalker" and "Chocker" sound alike!) I first learned technical analysis for the stock market from using the same techniques at the horse race track, where technical analysts are known as "Chalkers", from the primitive slates they used for forecasting races.

  4. Maybe that's it. Both my mother and Sam were from back east. Works for me!

    Ooh, I don't know that the stock market wants to be compared to horse racing, though. But "chocker" works for your current job!


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