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Nicknames, alter-egos and those imaginary rabbits

Larry French, Community Voices Columnist • Jan 27, 2019 at 7:30 AM

“This column is dedicated to my friends of yesteryear, wherever they may be, and to my wife who continues to put up with my shenanigans, no matter the consequences.”

Growing up, we all had nicknames. Boys and girls alike. No one ever questioned why. It just seemed to be the natural thing. That was, until we reached those teenage years and outgrew them; or, when people started making fun of us because of our nicknames.

For the boys in our neighborhood, nicknames such as, Bo, Bubba, Shorty, Mumbles, Dumbo and Skippy didn’t give us much cause for concern.

As for the girls, we’ll address them momentarily.

One boy’s nickname, however, created such uproar at our end-of-the-year high school awards ceremony we understood why he continued throughout his entire adult life demanding to be called, Fuddy. Seems as though Fuddy was up for a science award in 1964, but when his name was announced, many in the high school auditorium squealed, followed immediately by thunderous laughter lasting a good two minutes.

Yep, Fuddy’s given name was no longer a mystery.

“Students, this year’s science award winner,” the principal said, “is “Horace Perceval Fithian (last name redacted to protect my friend). Let’s give Mr. (again redacted) a big round of applause.”

Of course, the laughter only succeeded in drowning out our applause, and to this day — 55 years later — we still call him, Fuddy.

While the boys’ nicknames seemed harmless enough, some of the girls’ nicknames, on the other hand — especially by today’s political correctness standards — could be deemed inappropriate.

But because I have no use for political correctness, here are just a few of those “Girls of the ’60s” and their nicknames: Cricket, Doll, Babe, Honey, Pussycat, Punko, Cookie and Sister.

Only one nickname was somewhat confusing and it belonged to Sister.

Sister lived next door. Her parents, brother and everyone in the neighborhood called her “Sister,” so I didn’t find it odd to call her, “Sister,” too.

However, when looking at this from an altogether different perspective, the question always came up as to why her parents would call her “Sister.” She wasn’t their sister, but rather their daughter. Furthermore, they didn’t call their son, “Brother,” either.

So, is there some irony behind her nickname?

Sister’s given name is Mary Madonna Elizabeth Esther-Ruth [last name redacted]. And, since Sister’s family were also good Catholics, the name wasn’t unusual. This, however, is not the end of the story, even if it sounds somewhat preordained. Mary Madonna Elizabeth Esther-Ruth joined a religions order and went on to become a Catholic nun. And, today, she's still called, “Sister.”

Ironic? Yes. God does work in mysterious ways.

But nicknames are only part of this column. There are alter-egoists to write about, especially where two famous editorial columnists — and Pulitzer Prize winners — are concerned: Mike Royko of the Chicago Tribune and Paul Greenberg of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Royko’s alter-ego was Slats Grobnik, while Greenberg’s was Inky Wrench. Their alter-egos merely added charm, humor and biting comments to their otherwise entertaining and informative columns. You see, alter-egos made it easier for them to blame everything on someone else.

Recently, I gave some thought of using an alter-ego, too. But because it’s my cat I talk with — and for reasons beyond explanation that the cat is actually my deceased sister reincarnated — I decided to forego the alter-ego idea as not to blame everything on the cat.

Even though James Stewart starred as Elwood P. Dowd and talked to a six-foot rabbit named Harvey in a 1950 motion picture of the same name, I don’t find it unusual to talk to my cat.

For the record though, I did live in California during the late 1960s and early ’70s and on occasions talked to a white rabbit.

Or I listened to “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane?

Either way, it doesn’t matter.

Yes, gentle readers, we all have nicknames hidden away in our dark closets, alter-egos only our pets know, and on rare occasions, still listen to “White Rabbit.”

As for seeing the white rabbit, well, let’s just say, “those were the days my friends” ... and leave it at that.


The Cat from Oklahoma

Larry French lives in Butler. He is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, the Society of Professional Journalists and teaches composition and literature at East Tennessee State University. You may reach him at [email protected]

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