Interviewer: Last week the Royal Festival Hall saw the first performance of a new symphony by one of the world’s leading modern composers, Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson. Mr Jackson.
Jackson: Good evening.
Interviewer: May I just sidetrack you for one moment. Mr. Jackson, this, what shall I call it, nickname of yours.
Jackson: Oh yes.
Interviewer: “Two sheds.” How did you come by it?
Jackson: Well, I don’t use it myself. It’s just a few of my friends call me “Two Sheds.”
Interviewer: I see, and do you in fact have two sheds?
Jackson: No. No, I’ve only one shed. I’ve had one for some time, but a few years ago I said I was thinking of getting another one, and since then some people have called me “Two Sheds.”
Interviewer: In spite of the fact that you have only one.
Interviewer: I see, and are you thinking of purchasing a second shed?
Interviewer: To bring you in line with your epithet?
—– Eric Idle and Terry Jones in Episode One of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, 1969
Going by definition alone, nicknames are an addition or replacement to the proper name, usually referring to the physical, mental, or personality traits of a person.
These days, and from where I’m standing, nicknames are usually given as a term of endearment and/or amusement.
I got to thinking about nicknames and the role they play in daily life recently when a friend made a request to use my nickname. It’s an odd request, because friends don’t usually ask for permission to use them. Friends just call you whatever they want to, and in these days of the virtual, nicknames are used more in text form than in the spoken word.
We had come to the closing of my friend’s book launch. He was signing books now, and his pen was poised over the flyleaf of my copy.
“Can I use your nickname?”
Of course, I said.
I had no idea what he was talking about, for his finely-wrought words which had been read aloud were still spinning around in my head, and the music he had played on the grand piano still rang around the room with its high ceiling, glass chandeliers, and long floorboards of polished teak.
As I got up to go, I saw other friends and colleagues poised like a wave in my wake coming to overwhelm my friend, sitting alone in his chair.
Finally, when seated in the quiet of the dimly-lit Vietnamese restaurant nearby, I opened the book to see what he wrote.
“Dear Princess,” it read. ” . . . for always . . .”
It was a name from our days in the Newsroom, days with that uncertain, tentative quality that marks early working life, when one still wears the almost imperceptible sheen of innocence, like newborn foals, which are the leftovers from school days. Life, real life, had just begun, and these were days when the word ‘friend’ was still used interchangeably with the word “colleague.”
Nicknames are like flashbacks. Nicknames can be loaded, and thankfully, for all their working definitions of abbreviating a name, etcetera, they ably bear the weight of years gone by.
They go beyond the cuteness, the allusive description; nicknames bear the marks of history, of earlier worlds, and of worlds yet to come. Nicknames are the hallmarks of connections possessing longevity, resilience, and a largesse of heart which covers yesterday’s fights and tomorrow’s disappointments.
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