By John Pierce

During a camping trip when we were teens, my best friend Dale peeled a bright orange, oval label from the package of meat we were about to grill and pressed it to his forehead. It simply read, “GROUND CHUCK.”

Not only did the label stick; so did a nickname. To our circle of friends, he became forever “Chuck.”

His West Point classmates, learning of his back-home nickname, referred to the albums he brought to the Academy as “Chucky music.”

My good friend Marshall and several other former colleagues shared a van ride from Georgia to Arkansas long ago. During the trip, one colleague accidently called him “Herschel.”

It was 1981 and that colleague worked at the University of Georgia. So major research is not needed to find the source of that slip-up that turned into a nickname.

Nicknames are typically unintentional. They just happen, and then happen to stick.

Some nicknames are tied to attributes like Smiley, Slim and Shorty. Others are come from mispronunciations — perhaps by a younger child trying to speak a sibling’s name.

Nicknames are everywhere.

At Atlanta’s Turner Field, my friend Norman is better known as “Chocolate Papa” than his given name. And the guy in the right field stands, wearing a tacky feathered outfit, is Robby to a few but “The Chief” to the masses.

Baseball is notorious for nicknames for players — from “Cool Papa” to “Big Papi,” from “Catfish” to “Mudcat,” from “Preacher” to “Spaceman,” from “The Big Unit” to “The Big Hurt,” from “Crime Dog” to “Kung Fu Panda,” from “Oil Can” to endless others.

Some nicknames are given early in life and become the names by which these persons are almost always called. Such is the case for my friends Scooter and Cooter.

Through the years I’ve tagged my daughters with various nicknames — usually some take on their own names or just an expression of affection. And, for full disclosure, some seminary buddies once called me “Hollywood” because of the sunglasses I wore back then.

Nicknames can be affirming or demeaning. In most cases, however, they are neither — they just happen, and then happen to stick.

Some scholars suggest that “Christian” was first used in a derogatory way. It was a nickname meant to ridicule those who foolishly staked their lives on the Way of Christ. So they were derisively called “Christians,” that is, “little christs.”

The Greek-rooted word “Christian” has gained pejorative meanings, for good and bad, over time. Most often it means simply “a follower of Christ.” How well that nickname fits depends on how well we follow.


[Photo L/R: “The Say-Hey Kid,” “The Commerce Comet” and “The Hammer”]

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