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What’s in a Nickname?

When I read an obituary last November, I did a double take. Mrs. Mary-Peanut Juanella Gray’s funeral service would be November 26 in Livingston. I read the obits daily. Do I know the deceased or a relative?  But this time, it was the name that caught my attention. Was Mary-Peanut her given name or was Peanut a nickname?

I called my cousin who lives in Livingston and asked if she knew Mary Gray who recently passed away. She didn’t. I said that in the obituary she was Mary-Peanut. “Oh, Peanut! That’s how everybody knows her. No one would know she died if Peanut wasn’t in her obituary,” Carolyn said, but she didn’t know why Mary was called Peanut.

I thought of many people I know by nicknames and wondered how those names came to be. Husband and I have friends from our college days. Jim was called Worm, probably because he was tall and thin and when he danced his body moved in slow, curving motions. Ace was always at the top of his game, whether dealing cards or making a deal. Skidrow isn’t sure how he earned his name, but it stuck and was shortened to Skids.

Janet’s big brother thought since his nickname was Frog his sister should be called Tadpole, shortened to Tad. As a child, Janet begged her brother not to call her Tad, but he did and eventually, so did their parents and other family members. Even after fifty years, Janet hasn’t shed the nickname.

Henrietta and Marietta where adopted when they were just a few weeks old. Their parents laid them in a white wicker bassinet and their father said, “Look, we have a little blondie and a little blackie.” Blondie’s hair was golden and Blackie’s was midnight. These names have followed them throughout their lives, except when Blondie and her husband moved to another state, she began to introduce herself as Henrietta so only childhood and college friends call her the name her father gave her. Blackie married Brownie, and very few people know either by their names on their birth certificates.

Larry Maddux remembers when he was a college student and first called Mad-eye. He and his friend, Mike Powers nicknamed Tootie, joined a group of guys for a friendly card game. A friend welcomed them and said, “There’s old Toot-eye.” Another chimed in, “And old Mad-eye.” That one time, when Larry was spontaneously called Mad-eye, gave him a name he’s carried into retirement.

Tootie is a common nickname for both men and women, and it seems to be an affectionate name. Charlene Parrott signs her name Tootie on everything except legal documents, but she doesn’t know how she acquired this name. Growing up in Byrdstown I knew several Tooties: Tootie Cross, Tootie Keisling, Tootie Storie.

Most often, nicknames are given good-naturedly, with kindness, and to people liked and loved. Psychologists say a nickname allows an emotional connection, usually a positive one. So to all known by a nickname, cherish it. Embrace it.

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