We live in a society that is fascinated with nicknames. There’s a bit of the poet in all of us, perhaps, trying to add some color by describing people through the use of nicknames, like Ginger for a girl with red hair, and the self-explanatory Slim, Curly and The Refrigerator. What better nickname for a superstar basketball player known for his incredible leaping ability than “Air Jordan”?
Nicknames are also a way of branding ourselves. This is a generation obsessed with marketing, as we’ve had commercials speaking and singing to us since we were babies. Who is better an example of self-promotion and marketing than Sean Combs, the rapper, producer, “singer” and ”actor,” but most of all, businessman and promoter. Combs claims he was originally nicknamed “Puff” because he would huff and puff when he was really upset as a kid. Combs has tried on different nicknames from “Puff Daddy” to Puffy to P. Diddy to Diddy as he’s reinvented himself throughout his career again and again.
He’s not the only one who recognizes the power of name branding. You know who people are talking about when they call up the nicknames of performers like JLo and Ice Cube, athletes like A-Rod and Macho Camacho, and reality stars Snooki and JWoww of Jersey Shore fame. Is it really that hard to call a guy Alex? No, but being called A-Rod is infinitely cooler—and therefore more salable.
While some, like former first lady Lady Bird Johnson, take on their nicknames as if actual names—Bird was the name she used on her marriage license—other nicknames just stick, whether people like them to or not. Scary, Baby, Ginger, Posh and Sporty of the Spice Girls have nicknames that stuck with them long after they first made worldwide fame with the British pop group. They can’t go anywhere or do anything without a reference being made to their Spice nicknames
An actual news headline from earlier this week reads: “Scary Spice has a baby girl.” I wonder how the children of Melanie Brown aka Mel B. will react when she tells them her superstar nickname was Scary Spice. Lucky for Victoria Beckham, Posh is one of those nicknames that fits like a glove. Besides, people seem to forgive her anything for having a sexy soccer star Becks as a husband.
And yes, we’ve even formed nicknames for couples by morphing their first names. The former couple Bennifer was Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez aka JLo. Brangelina, the hottest couple du jour, is Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. What that says about the age we live in when even the superstars among us lose their individual identity once they are paired up is frightening. Yet the media keeps selling it to us because many of you out there must think it’s super cute.
Anyway, speaking of cute. Back when I was a little pigtailed girl first doing cartwheels and rollovers, my gymnastics class called us the “Tiny Tumblebees.” Being especially short and slender for my age, Tiny Tumblebee was adopted as my nickname by many who knew me when. Imagine my surprise when I went in to teach a kindergarten class in my hometown for the first time when the woman across the hall comes over exclaiming, “My Tiny Tumblee!”
Folks, it’s been almost 30 years since I was officially a Tiny Tumblebee, but this family friend will always remember me as that. Actually, I find it kind of sweet that she remembers me so cutely. Though I’d have preferred she not call me that in front of my own tiny students.
Another athletic nickname came from my jumping ability. I have always had a great vertical jump, which has always given me pride, being particularly petite. So one of my brother’s best friends used to call my Frogger. Having an Atari, then Commodore 64, at that period of my life probably helped inspire that nickname as well.
Another nickname from childhood is “Née” or even worse “Née-Née.” Only one of my uncles and my childhood best friend’s mom can call me Née-Née —it still gets a serious cringe but they’ve been calling me that all my life. Don’t know what it is about that nickname, except that it makes me feel like I am about four years, wearing pigtails and about to be asked if I want some Kool-Aid with my graham crackers.
Two longtime childhood friends—and @jackfrombklyn, for some reason—have the privilege of calling me Née. If it’s said condescendingly, I will secretly be plotting out ways to trip you up with some jump rope and then shake the end of my pigtail in your ear.
As an adult, the nicknames become more random. Starting in college, Puffyhead has become the universal nickname when my hair is all curly and au natural, nothing done to it after a shampoo, condition and slight gel except let it dry. No, it’s not an afro. It’s just full and curly. Flathead is its complete opposite, when the flattening iron or a great straightening treatment has made my hair bone straight, flat on my head.
My college boyfriend called me every version of bean he could think of: Bean Head, Cocoa Bean, Sugar Bean, etc. This was our anecdote to sickeningly sweet pet names. Later, these actually became my pet names for my pets.
Finally, the most recent nickname that I became especially attached to, which isn’t so recent at all, is SexySweets. Sweet, original and flattering. The V-Man called me that for four years, even during the long spell when we weren’t a couple. The name is bittersweet for me now, as many endings are.