Who’s there?

It’s funny what sticks to your mind from reading books. What we remember from a book may be just a throwaway line – if there ever are such things – the author may have thought was slightly amusing, or a description of a character who’s not key to the plot. (Then again, if you remember that, maybe she was).

Anyway, this is once again a way to make a short story long to say that I once read a book and the only thing that’s stuck with me through the decades is not its name (so I can’t tell you which one it was or anything else that seems important) but instead, I remember a character description. In the book there was someone who “liked to give nicknames to people”.

I’ve never considered myself such a person and I’m not sure if I ever wanted to be that guy, either. It did sound like a positive description, sure, and calling people by their nicknames adds some familiarity to the relationship but I also think people like that can be very annoying – especially when those people insist on making up nicknames. Either way, I think I may have become that guy.

Yesterday, Son and Daughter came home from school with their annual catalogues that have the photos of every class, and as every year, my job – and Wife’s – was to see if we could put a name to each face. It may sound easy, and admittedly, it’s something that I probably should be able to do, if not with my eyes closed, fairly easily.

But I can’t.

In my defense, I’ll note that Daughter’s class has two birth years so half the class consists of kids with whom I’ve never had any interaction. No birthday parties – for Daughter, not me – no meetings with other parents, nothing like that. And Son’s class, well, they’re a bunch of teenagers so they’re like shapeshifters.

As I rattled off names – and that’s exactly what I did, simply rattled off a bunch of names – I realized why I come up with nicknames to the kids’ friends. It’s a mnemonic to me. That’s why the kid with the Anaheim Ducks sweater on Daughter’s bandy team becomes Ricky. (After Rickard Rakell, an Anaheim player from our town) and that’s why Son’s buddy is Big O – until their real names stick to my mind.

Wife tells me that “everybody in Finland has a nickname”, like it’s a typically Finnish thing, but I think it may be more of a hockey guy thing. Most of my Finnish buddies are my hockey buddies and in the locker rooms and on the buses, yeah, nicknames do happen.

See, nicknames are something you can’t choose yourself and you can’t force a nickname on to a person, either. It has to fit the person. On one team, we tried to name a buddy Hubba Bubba because he liked the chewing gum and because one of the big bubbles he made did cause him a little trouble once it exploded on his face. He was Hubba Bubba for a week, and then we went back to his old nickname. His last name.

Once a nickname sticks, though, it’s hard to go back. I have several friends I still call h by the nicknames they had when we became friends, even if some of them have dropped them and gone back to using their given names as they’ve gotten older.

And I understand if somebody doesn’t want to be Johnny or Bobby for his entire life. You want to grow up, add some gravitas to your being.

Sometimes that works the other way, though.

Last time Son went to the dentist, I waited there with him for the nurse to call him in. We were sitting in the waiting room, playing a board game, when suddenly a door opened right behind Son.

“Edward,” the nurse called out.

A man in his 30s put his paper down, got up, and slowly walked towards the nurse. I could tell something was bothering him, but I didn’t think too much of it. Most people look like something’s bothering them when they’re at the dentist’s office.

As he shook hands with the nurse, he looked at her and said something under his breath.

“Listen, my name really is Eddy,” he told her.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “Come on in, Eddy.”

“Thanks,” said E-Dog.

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