Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What's In a Name?

It's interesting how names, labels, even off handed remarks help us to define who and what we are. We're born and given names by our parents. For many of us, that's it. We might shorten the name, but otherwise it suits us fine. For others, the middle name is better. Or there are just too many in a family or a school class with the same first name and using a middle name becomes a necessity born of convenience or distinction from the crowd. And when this is not enough, when further distinction is needed, enter the Nick-name. A name that speaks of familiarity with the owner, a privilege of few yet often known by many. How they come about is as random and varied as the number of chocolate chips in a batch of cookies. (Well not really given that there's usually a specific amount you add to one batch, but go with me here.)

Here's an example: One of my nicknames is Sammi. It's evolution is rather simple. My name is Samantha, but growing up I was a tom boy and that was JUST too girly--unless it was coupled with the middle and last name, thus signalling that there would be worse than just being "too girly" to come if I didn't answer. However, my father very much disliked not having the prim and proper, ribbons and bows, kind of daughter. He just couldn't bring himself to call me Sam. So he started calling me Sammy. But I wanted to be an actress when I grew up, and my mom told me about an actress who spelled her name Sammi. Ever since that's how it's spelled. My father took this evolution one step further, though. He still had trouble with Sammi, so he started calling me "Kiddo." Both names have stuck, and even when I'm in a new setting where no one knows these names, I inevitably end up being called both.

Other names are not so easily evolved. And often they don't have the nice, pretty, non-embarrassing stories behind them. Take for example, the kid I saw walking down the street on my way home from work two days ago. I have dubbed him the "Wilting Rooster." Late teens, and clearly disgruntled with life and the world, likely in that order. He wore beat up sneakers, ragged jeans, and a black tee shirt with something on the front that I couldn't make out and don't remember well enough to describe. In fact, I'm surprised I remember that much about his look because I was so taken by his hair. Which is where his nick name comes from. It was shaved on the sides with a two to three inch thick swath from forehead to nape that was approximately four to six inches long. Not just tapering off at the end so that it all fell in one even line, but if you were to measure at various sections of the hair you would find it all to be within that length. Clearly this cut was meant to be a long mohawk. Only the long part was not styled to stand up, as it was on his friend's head. No, the long part was left unstyled with no product or stiffening agent of any kind to bounce around flacidly on his head.

So the "wilting" part you can clearly see, but you might be asking how he got the "rooster" part. Aside from the fact that roosters also have "mohawks," this kid's was the color of stop light red faded after years of sitting in the sun. That's right, it was a pink that only long term sun exposure--or repeated washings of cheap, trendy dye--can get you. Upon seeing his I described the scene to the Baroness, and finished with, "The kid looks like a wilting rooster." We both broke out into fits of laughter--giggles for my part--at which point I gasped and called out the obligatory bad dick joke, "Oh my god! He's got a flacid cock on his head!" Redouble the giggles and enter unknown embarrassment for the teen.

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