Nicknames in the Nick of Time…

Johnny-on-the-Spot … by John Foster


Do you have one?

The dictionary describes a nickname as “a familiar or humorous name give to a person or thing instead of, or as well as the real name”.

It can also be a substitute for the proper name of a familiar person, place or thing…like “The Big Apple” for New York City.

What follows is hardly an exhaustive list of nicknames but there are a few that come to mind.

As a kid growing up, I answered to “Gooner”, a version of “Junior” although I wasn’t technically a junior.

My Grandfather and Father were both Johns but we all had different middle names.

My Dad told me he picked Eugene for my middle name which was his brother’s middle name.

When I played with a small band in high school, I carried the moniker “Groundhog” and even had one painted on the bass drum head by my Dad.

Since moving to Indiana, our Hall of Fame sportscaster dubbed me “Buck” in honor of my Ohio roots.

My Mom was Hazel but many called her “Sigh” and the boat our family had when I was growing up was named the “SiJon”.

I have 3 sisters.

The oldest is Charlene (“Chuckie”), then Jeanne (“Jeanne Reanie”) and Jerry (the self-proclaimed (“Pretty Baby”).

The “Golden Age” for nicknames was the first half of the 20th century.

The guys my Dad and Uncle ran around with had great nicknames like “The Mad Russian” and “Peanuts”.

America’s loss of its’ sense of humor in recent years and growing “PC-ness” has put a damper on the nickname business.

But through the years, there have been some great nicknames given to people.

The wild West had some dandies.

William Masterson was “Bat” while William Cody was “Buffalo Bill”.

Few people remember Martha Jane Cannary Burko but you’ll get knowing nods if you call her “Calamity Jane”.

Some characters like Justice of the Peace Roy Bean had 2 nicknames…”The Hangin’ Judge” and “The Law West of the Pecos”.

The military and politics have some good alternate tags for folks, too.

German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel was “The Desert Fox” and Francis Marion, the Revolutionary War militia leader was called “The Swamp Fox”.

How about WWII General Dwight Eisenhower?

The man wo went on to become President of the United States was elected by lots of folks wearing “I Like IKE!” pins.

Our 36th President, born John Calvin Coolidge, Jr> was known as “Silent Cal”.

We’ve also had “initial” nicknames like “LBJ” and “JFK”.

Our 43rd U.S. President, George W. Bush, gets tagged with “Dubya”.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was called “The Iron Lady” while Louisiana politician Huey P. Long was called “Kingfish”.

World War II flying ace Greg Boyington is better known as “Pappy”.

Speaking of World War II, mention the name Mildred Elizabeth Sisk and most go, “Huh?” but say “Axis Sally” and the eyes light up.

From the days of the Cold War, Soviet U.N. Ambassador Andrei Gromyko was known as “Mr. Nyet” for U.N. voting responses in his native tongue.

Does anyone recall singer and actress Sophie Tucker, “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas”?

How about Mary Mallon, the first known healthy carrier of typhoid fever in the U.S.

Does the name “Typhoid Mary” ring any bells?

How about the misdirected U.S. aviator, Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan?

Ever hear of Milton Supman?

Better known as “Soupy Sales”.

Who can forget “The Duke”, big John Wayne of all those great shoot-em-ups?

The world of sports might own the market for good nicknames.

Golfer “Slammin'” Sammie Snead, Ty Cobb, “The Georgia Peach”, “Broadway” Joe Namath, billiards and pool sensation, Rudolph Walter Wonderone, a.k.a “Minnesota Fats”, Chiacgo White Sox star Frank, “The Big Hurt” Thomas and Clemson’s big lineman William “The Refrigerator” Perry.

Baseball great Ted Williams was known as “The Splendid Splinter”, George Herman Ruth is always “The Babe” and boxer Muhammed Ali is simply “The Greatest”.

Oakland quarterback Kenny Stabler was called “The Snake” thanks to a high school coach.

An NFL lineman, the first to call tackling a quarterback behind the line of scrimmage a “sack” came up with his own nickname.

He thought it would make him more memorable.

That would be David “Deacon” Jones.

I saved two of my favorites for last.

Left-handed Major League baseball player, a reliever of fame with primarily the Red Sox was known as “The Spaceman”

Lee once said, “I thin about the cosmic snowball theory. A few million years from now, the sun will burn out and lose its’ gravitational pull. The Earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space…When that happens, it won’t matter if I get this guy out.”

And then there’s baseball’s Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean who boasted, “Sure I eat what I advertise! Sure I eat Wheaties for breakfast! A good bowl of Wheaties with with bourbon can’t be beat!”

No wonder he was dizzy…

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