Friendships and nicknames.
I have an old-fashioned view of nicknames. I believe nicknames are only meant to be given to you, and they only get to stick if your circle of friends accepts it, whether you like it or not. That’s how nicknames worked when I was growing up, but I realize that’s not even close to how nicknames work nowadays. Thanks to usernames, gamertags, and other such online labels you get to choose your own nickname, and friendships that are forged over networks can forego real names altogether.
I’m not saying one way is better or more valid than the other, but I’m partial to the way things were when I was growing up. There was a sense of danger and risk to getting a nickname when you didn’t have the luxury of choosing it. You could end up with an unflattering nickname and be stuck with it for years. I got lucky. I grew up in a heavily athletic town, and all the athletes in my school gave me various nicknames based on my last name. Terracciano became “T-Ratch” or just “Mike T.” Not terrible, but not very memorable or enjoyable either. One day, out of the blue, my best friend said to me, “Dude, your nicknames suck. You need a new one. I’m gonna call you… Mookie.” Everyone within earshot approved, and within a month I was Mookie in my circle of friends and beyond.
I sorta/kinda bent my own rule in college. During my freshman year I didn’t introduce myself as Mookie, the nickname I earned and heavily identified with in high school. I was in a new city and meeting new people, so I wanted to see how they would come to perceive me. It turns out the artsy kids in my college were as good at nicknames as the high school jocks were. I was “Mike T” or “Vegan Mike” and I hated it. So one day, out of the blue in Acting class, I started going by “Mookie” again. I remember the odd looks my classmates gave one another as they silently questioned why I was suddenly taking on a “new” name, but I decided to reclaim the name I came to enjoy and identify with instead. There was an awkward phase at the beginning, but I was securely known as Mookie for the remainder of my college years.
Perhaps my favorite form of nickname is the private nickname. Not the endearing (or infuriating) pet names of intimate couples, but the nicknames only certain friends call one another, either out of familiarity or playful teasing or both. There is a dear friend of mine who has several nicknames and stage names, but only I call her “Chief.” It’s a callback to the days when I was a member of her burlesque troupe, and it became a name for her that I used out of respect for her position and pride for what she achieved. There is another dear friend of mine who is extremely gender-fluid, to the point where they do not like being referred to by male or female pronouns if it can be helped. Before I knew this about them, I once called them a lady in passing. With playful indignity they proclaimed, “I am no lady!” before scaling a wall and poking me with their feet (true story). So to this day, to tease them in a good-natured manner, I call them “Lady.” They know I’m not being passive aggressive or trying to push gender roles/identities upon them, and if they were to ever seriously request that I stop I would do so. But until then I reserve the right to call them Lady, because our friendship is strong enough that it can not only withstand some light teasing, but is made stronger from a name that is only shared between the two of us.
I prefer the old-fashioned way of given nicknames because, if left to my own devices, I would have likely pushed a nickname for myself that had something to do with dragons, or wolves, or both. “Please, call me Wolfdragon” is something I would have said in my youth. Maybe I did. I shouldn’t be trusted with nicknames for myself. I lucked out with Mookie.