Nicknames – nominal determinism in reverse

There’s a theory that’s been doing the rounds for many years that your name will determine the path your life takes. Thinking about it, this theory has possibly been around since Christ, or even earlier in Genesis, where names are given based on particular characteristics of the person they’re given to – eg Esau, which means Red… funny that these days in Australia’s ironic culture Esau would probably have been called Bluey. There are examples of nominal determinism out there in the real world – in the microcosim of Maclean there were several examples of this determinism in practice, or even in practise. The funeral directors were named Baker, and Dugmore. The electrician was named Watts. It’s not just confined to small country towns where people don’t necessarily think all that hard about their career paths. The head of Steggles Chickens was someone Poulter. A casino chief’s last name was Gamble. It’s been documented in lots of places I couldn’t find in preliminary efforts on the net.

I just saw an ad on TV for “Everybody loves Raymond.” I don’t love Raymond. I never have. He has a whiny, nasally voice that makes me want to do aggressive things and generally be a not very nice person. This goes to show that nominal determinism does not work in naming television shows.

Anyway, someone suggested I should do a “blog by request” on nicknames. I should note at this point that someone has suggested Mattias should start a similar column/regular entry on his blog doing pretty much the same thing. I’m all for competition. Everyone needs more choices for things to do on the internet. There’s really not that much out there once you’ve checked out all the good news sites (or the good, news sites [or the good new’s sites] – what do you reckon grammar nazi? have I got this right?) . Other than a quick dalliance at Homestarrunner or any of the other recommended internet comedy sites there’s just a truckload of unverified tripe, pages of useless wikis and copious amounts of unwholesome “fun” (I use the word fun very loosely).

But on to the topic at hand. Nicknames. According to answers.com nicknames have nothing to do with anyone named Nick.
“Etymology: In Middle English the word was ekename (from the verb to eke, “enlarge”; compare Swedish √∂knamn). Later, an ekename developed into a nickname when the “n” shifted through junctural metanalysis.”

So there you go. I would argue that nicknames are the procrastinators form of nominal determinism. I do wonder if they also play some part in some form of character development. I would contend that if you’re nickname was “Encyclopedia” you’d be a pretty boring person. The reasoning behind that suspicion is that if your friends are stupid enough to call you “Encyclopedia,” without any irony attached, your friends are likely to be quite boring – and if you were any more interesting you wouldn’t be hanging around with them. With any nickname there’s the danger it’s a chicken v egg question. Were you given the nickname because you’re boring, or are you boring because of your nickname.

And now, let me turn to my own “nickname” and examine whether it has played some role in determining my character or personality. I think nicknames are an important part of life in Queensland – probably more so in southern Queensland. But there are people like Scooter, Beebs, et al up here who would suggest that it’s a cancer that’s spread far, and wide. The week I moved to Brisbane I landed myself a new nickname… and consequentally a new personality. Once upon a time I was a shy, reserved lad who wouldn’t go out of my way to get noticed and most certainly wouldn’t ever think to, let alone dare to, refer to myself in the third person (ok so that was only once, and it was ironic). I arrived at a new school and a new church, and suddenly “Nathan” wasn’t good enough. No. I had to be given a new name, like some missionary moving to a tribe in a remote village. Queenslanders lack the irony, or subtlty of their southern counterparts. There’s no blueys around these parts. It surprises me that there aren’t more bignoses, or fatheads… because in a masterstroke of brilliance I was named after a facial expression… and so Smiley was born. I’ve always been slightly ambivalent to the name Smiley. There are worse nicknames. I’m thankful I wasn’t called “ugly” (although obviously that would have been ironic) or something like that (I originally used a much ruder word but Caitie vetoed it). My family (and particularly my father) have never really liked, or understood, the name. Apparently I’m not always happy afterall. Dad’s main concern is that people won’t take someone named Smiley seriously… and he’s probably got a point. But again – it’s a chicken v egg thing – would I be taken more seriously if I acted more serious? Probably. Would I have been called Smiley if I’d acted more seriously? Probably not. Was I a much more serious person before I got the name? I don’t remember but it’s unlikely. So now when people find it hard to take me seriously – I know who to blame.

Mark also wanted me to talk about people who give themselves nicknames. I think doing that is about on par with talking about yourself in the third person. Pretty sad. Unless absolutely necessary. There’s a funny story about a particularly hard working lawyer I worked with once… in a firm that will remain nameless to protect the guilty… who was not necessarily the most socially able lawyer in the world. He worked long hours and often had conversations with the cleaner… who it turned out took great pleasure passing on information to other members of staff. This lawyer had decided he needed a nickname and decided that henceforth he’d be known as “The Train.” So my rule for giving yourself a nickname is: make sure it’s not lame. That’s the only rule. I’m pretty sure it should be either appropriate, or ironic, and not named after a prominent body part.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

16 thoughts on “Nicknames – nominal determinism in reverse”

  1. Well at least you got something nice. Lately Stooge seems to have caught on as my nickname, as has Urge for one person… stooge vegekov as my full nickname… I’d take smiley over being called a stooge so just live with it jerkface

  2. WEll, if at birth you were named Moby, you’d feel pretty bad, and may have eating problems, which would then lead to such nick names as “fattyboombalada” In this case the egg comes first, (the fatness, followed by the name) Then after being nicknamed “fattyboombalada” i guess you might start binge eating more and more, and your name could progress to the next stage- Living Lard, from then your exercise levels would go out the window you were so hurt by the name. Hence one nick name can eventually lead to another, from living lard to mobysity and so on until you end up with the name you were given at birth, Moby Dick. Which would then be both your birth name and a suitable nickname

  3. Apparently CB is the voice of reason. So Maddie you should be happy with her approval.

  4. The Train?
    Is this the kind of people I’m signing up to work for?
    The possessory form of good news should be “good news’ site”, not “good new’s site”. Apostrophe placement is IMPORTANT!! *jumps up and down*
    But you probably don’t find that funny, because you probably haven’t read the panda book.
    In truth, I haven’t read all of the panda book either. Just the bit about apostrophes. …so really, I should just be The Apostrophe Nazi.
    I never put much stock in nicknames. Until I successively won the nicks, “Psycho”, “Psycho Lady” and then “Psycho Chick” from three different and completely unrelated groups of people.
    I think in most cases the nickname comes after the chicken.

  5. Yes, very clever Maddie. A clear case of nominal determinism in action, but only if he’s caucasian.

    There’s also the name that comes from one moment in life that “just sticks”

    case in point:

    Year 8 french class, 1st lesson. The teacher (2m tall ex-basketballer who was really an english teacher moonlighting) puts up a phrase on the board – “tout de le monde” or some such – it’s be a few years – and asks us to tell him what it means.

    One young chap (not me) gives it a go, quite seriously, “trout dipped in lemon?”

    After trying valiantly for about 30 seconds to keep a straight face, said teacher very professionally (and unsuccessfully – 2m tall) hides behind a swinging whiteboard and cacks himself, with the obligatory class participation.

    Thereafter, for many, many years, the young lad held the moniker “trout”, which he eventually took graciously, or it just got numb.

    I still to this day have NO idea what the phrase was exactly, or what it meant.

  6. Has anyone ever bestowed a nickname that stuck? Outside short-term sibling epithets of course.

  7. Good point grammar nazi. I do believe you are correct. Some times my playing around with words confuses me. I pity the poor person who reads my work.

  8. Nathan I didn’t even know your nickname was smiley and I never took you seriously. I had a few highschool nick names, the one that stuck the best was steak. Apparently I have meaty hands. My friends are sick…or hungry.

  9. One of my fellow baritones at the Con has the surname ‘Singer’. I suppose it’s a good thing he doesn’t manufacture sewing machines.

    In primary school, one of my friends decided to call me Findy. Not long after that some wit added ‘Windy’ on the front of that. When I moved to Toowoomba I managed to aquire Findo, which seems to simply have been a casualty of a spate of benno’s and davo’s.

    Did you ever read the Encylopedia Brown books? This kid was nicknamed Encyclopedia, and he used solve the mysteries that his father, the police cheif, couldn’t. I thought he was pretty cool, but he was probably pretty annoying – a bit like Tom Cruise I guess. Speaking of Tom and names, did you know his real name is Thomas Mapother IV. Mrs Balderdash says it, so it must be true.

  10. To findo: I used to read Encyclopedia Brown :D I loved those books.

    I have got way too many nicknames. Somewhere between 7 and 9 at last count. Fortunately, I only get called about 3 of them. The others are just there… to get called once every 6 months… or once a year… or just in letters from my friend in Canberra. :P

  11. grammar nazi – I’m appalled. I picked up a missing apostrophe before you did.

    I won’t change it – but the challenge is now out there for you to identify the instance and point it out.

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