Friday, April 21, 2006

What's in a name?

As a welcome gesture to my brother's new girlfriend, my two sisters and I thought it would be funny to post a list of 50 potential nicknames on the front door for her to consider.

We warned her that the final decision rested with us though we would take her opinion into consideration.

The subsequent brainstorming, ranking, and judging process led to a long debate about the characteristics of a nickname.

Some background: When I lived in Japan, I led a team of American students responsible for educating local Japanese citizens about America.

Students from other countries (Malaysia, Phillipines, Indonesia, etc.) took a fairly straightforward approach to their seminars, relying on maps, information, and history to tell their stories.

I figured that most Japanese could locate the US on a map (the reverse of course may not be true) and that they knew some of the basics. It was their perceptions that I needed to address.

Our seminar began, as baseball games do, with the Star-Spangled banner. We had a session on individuality, using Dennis Rodman as our case study, Blues and Jazz, with live guitar and dancing, and a session on nicknames.

We defaulted to using common suffixes like, -rino, and -ator, etc. and made name tags for the Japanese to wear proudly all day. We did have some creative ones and our guests enjoyed the looks on their friends' faces as they walked around proudly wearing tags such as "Yujinator,"
"Megumarino," and the like. We did make it clear that there were other ways of evolving nicknames.

When I married Tamar, I was introduced to her family's system of adding the letter "I" to pretty much every one's name. Tamar is either "Tamari" or "Mari." Akiva is "Kivi."

Coming from a family where my nickname is "Mirsky," I have one brother who is "Snead," a sister who is "Dunam" and one who is "Nerd" and a cousin named "Wefke," I didn't hold this art form of nicknames in high regard.

I've come to the conclusion that there are names of endearment and then there nicknames.

A name of endearment includes the original name. In other words, if you hear the name of endearment (NOE) you'd have a pretty reasonable chance of guessing the person's actual name.

A nickname, however, could have its origin in an NOE or be a character trait that is associated with the individual, e.g. "Slim", but when put to the reverse engineering test, it would be close to impossible to figure out the original name. There's an evolutionary process that can take you from an NOE to an actual nickname as well as a good story.

A good example of this is: Magic Johnson. There is no way to figure out from "Magic" that his real name is "Earvin."

When reviewing our list of 50 potential nicknames, we realized that many of them, though quite clever, witty and funny, were not actually nicknames, rather NOE's.

Using the new criteria we've settled on two candidates for the long term. Market forces will determine the winner and there's a good likelihood that they will further evolve so it's hard to say how it will end. In fact, it's an organism all its own.

The candidates are: Taco and Gatsby.

Her name is Rebecca.

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