Over the years I’ve picked up several nicknames. Some lasted for years, some just until I transferred schools because we were moving yet again. Some I liked, some I didn’t care for at all and some I wasn’t even aware of until years later.
I grew up in an era when most kids had nicknames. Usually, they dealt with a physical attribute or a twist on a name, whether first or last. Many of them would likely be viewed as cruel or at the very least inappropriate today.
If somebody was short, they’d inevitably be nicknamed “Shrimp” or “Mouse”. If they were tall, it would be “Moose”. If a boy was named after his dad and thus had the misfortune of Junior after his name, it would become “Junie”. For the big, gentle guy who played tackle on our high school football team, whose last name was Bares, it obviously became “Bear”. Then there’s the poor girl with the Germanic last name Osterhage, which becomes “Oster-piggy”. The list goes on.
My mother’s family of six boys and six girls all had family nicknames, the derivation of which is lost in time and none of which made sense to outsiders. My oldest aunt, Marie, was “Toots”. My youngest uncle, Clifford, was “Kip”. My youngest aunt, Marlys, was obviously “Marleybone”. And, of course, there was Richard, the career Navy guy, who was “Windy”, likely because he talked so much. There was some consideration for nicknaming my younger brother David, whose middle name was Richard, after Uncle Windy, Windy too, because he liked to tell tall tales also. But that would have caused too much confusion at Christmas and family reunions.
My mother, Alta, was known as “Babe” to both the in-laws and out-laws, as my grandmother called her children. My Dad was “Willie Lee”, for his first and middle name, William Lee. Although some just called him Lee, which could cause confusion with my Aunt Leigh.
For some reason they never called him Bill even though his first name was William. I was, of course, tagged Billy as a little guy, which I grew out of by high school, except to my grandmother. But then my grandmother also referred to me as her “Calf” because I liked to drink milk so much.
Whenever my brother and I would stay with them in the summer, to work on the farm, she would buy extra milk from the neighboring farmer, who kept a few milking cows, telling him she needed an extra gallon of cream-top because her calf was coming for a few weeks. For you city-folk, cream top is unpasteurized, raw milk. It’s called cream top because as it sits, cream rises to the top. The cream can then be skimmed off and used to churn into butter or, even better, poured over fresh sliced peaches.
There were other nicknames along the way. In law school my tennis- playing study group friends called me “Bjorn”. Taking a study break during fall and spring weather, we’d adjourn from the law library to the tennis courts across the street from Southern Illinois University law school to flail away at the bright yellow tennis balls. Jimmy Connors, Chrissy Evert and Bjorn Borg were the tennis stars of the day. Although a terrible tennis player, my immodest belief in my skill earned me the nickname, “Bjorn”. Alas, I spent more time chasing the shots I missed than I did smashing base line winners.
My three tennis doubles and study group partners each bore a worthy nickname. There was “Fat Boy”, “Little Fat Boy” and “Saluki Dog”. “Fat Boy” would also occasionally be called “Hoodwink”, as his last name was Hood and what better name for a law student than “Hoodwink”.
I warned you the nicknames were at best politically incorrect.
Neither one of the “Fat Boys” were particularly overweight. “Fat Boy” aka “Hoodwink” was six-foot-three and probably two-hundred twenty pounds, and a former football player, so he was big and just a little overweight. “Little Fat Boy” was five foot-six and one hundred-seventy pounds and a former wrestler, so a little chunky but not obese. As for the “Saluki Dog”, the Southern Illinois University-Carbondale mascot is the Saluki. Saluki’s are long-haired, long-eared, very lean dogs. “Saluki Dog” was a tall, thin Swede with shoulder length blonde hair. He resembled nothing so much as a Saluki.
Even our cars had nicknames. Fat Boy drove a battered old Dodge van with a mattress in the back. It became “The Garbage Scow”. Saluki drove a well-aged yellow Toyota Corolla known as “The Mighty Toyota”. My blue-gray and rust Volkswagen Karmen Ghia convertible, with its Visqueen and duct taped rear window bore the title: “The Mighty Blue Max”.
Then there’s the retired judge, who, to this day, calls me “Earthquake”. He’s a big football fan. Upon meeting me, he immediately nicknamed me “Earthquake”, as I share my name with Oregon State University All-American fullback, Bill “Earthquake” Enyart, who went on to play for the Buffalo Bills and the Oakland Raiders. It amuses him, since at five-foot-eight and one-hundred-sixty pounds I’ll hardly inspire an earthquake. Unfortunately, he now must explain the nickname to young lawyers, since Earthquake retired from professional football in 1972.
The nickname I enjoy the most I didn’t learn about until years after it was first whispered behind my back. Another judge, whose name will not be disclosed here, and serves as a judge advocate corps officer in the Army National Guard, recently told me of my unknown nickname. It seems that when that judge was a young JAG officer, twenty years ago, there were three senior JAGs, all of whom were full colonels, one of whom was me. The threesome were known one and all by the junior JAG officers as “The Godfathers”. None of the Godfathers knew of their nickname until it was confessed to me nearly two decades later.
Like the man said, “You can call me anything you like, just don’t call me late for supper.”
© William L. Enyart , 2022
Audio production by Tom Calhoun, www.paguytom.com