What’s in a (Nick)Name?
When I was born, my father was overseas, serving in the Army Air Corps. Legend has it that I was to be named Frank Arthur, after my Dad, but at my baptism, the priest objected because, he said, There is no Saint Frank. Thus, I became Francis Arthur … and a man that would travel under nicknames for most of his life. As far back I can remember, my family called me Buddy. Well, not quite. In a letter I have from my Mom to her parents announcing her pregnancy, she referred to me as Lil’ Stinky. At least that didn’t stick. And I suppose if the church hadn’t intervened and I’d ended up a Frank, I could have been nicknamed Junior, which sounds like a villain in a Stephen King novel. So, I was fine with Buddy. Still, at the start of each school year, I’d have to hope the teacher, after calling the roll, would ask, What do you like to be called, Francis? Otherwise, I’d be Francis or Fran or Franny until I got to know the teacher well enough to ask to be called Buddy.
I know. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the name Francis. Well, except for occasionally being asked, Isn’t that a girls name? And, With an “i” or an “e”? Why is it so hard to remember, it’s “i” for a man? I still get mail addressed to Ms., Mrs. and Miss. Then there was that damned mule. In the late nineteen fifties … just in time for my entry into Junior High … a series of comedies featuring a talking mule named Francis hit the theaters and it began. What’s your name? Francis. You mean like the mule? I hated that mule. By college, I’d shortened my nickname to Bud, but I’d still occasionally hear about Francis the Talking Mule. A fraternity brother dubbed me Francis the Talking Engineer because I didn’t fit the image of the socially reclusive engineer. Once I graduated and began working, I became Frank. To this day, you can tell when and where I met the people in my life by the nickname they use.
I met my wife my Junior year of college, so she’s always called me Bud. Her given name is Muriel. The only time I’d ever heard that name was in the Muriel Cigar commercials on TV. A sultry Edie Adams did their commercials, which ended with the line, Why don’t you pick one up and smoke it sometime?
So, I did, and we’re still together after almost fifty years. Muriel isn’t an easy name either … 75% of the people that hear her introduce herself as Muriel call her Miriam. People were calling her Mur when I met her but I started calling her the nickname she goes by now, Muri**. When she introduces herself that way, people think she’s saying Mary. Go figure. So, we both remain name spellers. What’s your first name? Francis … F-r-a-n-c-i-s … with an i. Muriel … M-u-r-i-e-l. We named our son Aaron Francis. As a baby, he was pretty round, so for a while, we called him The Pumpkin, which we shortened to Punky. Later, he became Champ or Dude. Now we just call him Aaron … and he gives his middle name as Frank. Our daughter, Amy, was Kookaburra after a cute little bird we saw in the zoo, later shortened to Kooka. We also called her Tiny. Yes, we were big on nicknames. Yes, we have several silly ones we call each other and I know our kids have heard us use them. They probably haven’t said anything because they’re embarrassed This is the point at which Muri, if she’s reading, will wonder if I’m going to tell on us. I’m not … they will remain our secret. So, we’re Bud, Muri, Aaron and Amy. Imagine, we could have been Lil’ Stinky, Muriel, The Pumpkin, and Kookaburra. Thank goodness some nicknames stick and others don’t.
** Muriel claims her family called her Muri. That’s not how I remember it, but at my age, who’s to say?