His real name was Herman Lanier, but my father’s nickname was “Bus,” and no one alive today can tell me why people from his hometown of Metter used to call him that. I’d give $20 to know the answer to that mystery.
His younger brother, Lamar Lanier, is known by many as “Hunk.” Today, my uncle lives on Hunk Lane, on the farm where my grandparents raised their five children near a community once called Union. I remember my grandmother, Margaret Mae Lanier, saying on many occasions that my uncle was small, skinny, and rather sickly in his youth, and so I’ve often speculated that his nickname, “Hunk,” was chosen for him in a moment of ironic humor.
And speaking of my Grandmother Lanier, friends in the Metter community and members of the congregation at Rosemary Primitive Baptist Church referred to her as “Miss Maggie.” A lot of Margarets prefer the informal “Maggie” or “Marge.”
Referring to someone using a name that is not their given name has always intrigued me. I want to know the reasoning behind the nickname — the story. They can be based on physical characteristics (like calling someone “Slim” or “Blondie”), personality traits (like “Grumpy”), or even events that have happened to a person (like “Sarge” referring to someone who has served in the military).
I think nicknames — when they aren’t used in a mean-spirited way — help people show their familiarity with others. They can help people bond and create a sense of belonging and intimacy within a group, such as friends or teammates.
On my mother’s side of the family, my Uncle Edwin Jarriel was known as “Big Ed,” a name that fit him for many years because he was a big man — tall and round around his midsection. In fact, he was rather egg shaped, and one of my nieces, Savannah, accidentally called him Uncle Eggwin one time, and to this day, my sister and I still laugh about the descriptive nature of that name. But in his later years, Uncle Edwin lost weight, and “Big Ed” and “Eggwin” didn’t really fit any more, but once a nickname is established, it sticks to a person forever. He shall forever be known as “Big Ed.”
My first cousin Yancey was often called “Yankee Doodle,” which I always loved. He, too, was a heavy man, and so his nickname evolved into “Big Yank.”
I had a great-aunt who had been born Verona Jarrard, but everyone called her “Beauty,” so she eventually changed her name legally to Beauty. I knew her as Great-Aunt Beaut.
My mother addressed her sister, Gloria Jarriel Foskey Anderson, as “Glory Bell” on many occasions. It was a term of endearment.
In my own household, my husband and I have nicknames for our golden retriever, Cali. He calls her “Little C” sometimes, because we adopted her when we had a big golden retriever named Zot that we often called “Big Z.”
Just before we married, my husband, Gene, began occasionally referring to me as his sweetheart. I liked that term because I had never been anyone’s sweetheart before that time. Then one day, he shortened “Sweetheart” to “Sweetie.” During the next iteration, Gene called me “Sweetie Petey,” because it was cute, and it rhymed. So, I started calling him, “Sweetie Pete,” too. In the last decade, we’ve shortened the nickname again to just “Pete.” We call each other “Pete,” which puzzles people who hear this term spoken around our house.
After Gene found his biological family in Texas a few weeks ago, I began calling him “Texas Pete,” after a brand of hot sauce sporting the image of a cowboy and three jalapeno peppers on the label. Gene is not amused by his new nickname, but he’s tolerating it as he’s learning more about his family’s Texas heritage. He drew the line last week when I began referring to his newly found biological father, Bill, as “Big Daddy,” because the man’s an inch taller than Gene.
“Please, please stop calling him that,” he said to me in a pleading voice.
By the way, “Texas Pete” met “Big Daddy” in person this past weekend, and it was a beautiful thing.
But back to the nicknames… Gene knows I’m just being fun and playful. Isn’t that the whole purpose of using a nickname?