July 6, 2007

First Person


By Al Carlos Hernandez

Someone said in order to be truly cool or to accomplish great things in life, you have to have a nick name. I don’t know if that is true, but I know that a nick name that doesn’t degrade you or make you seem like a dork is a way of separating you from the other ratones in the rat race.

Each ethnicity seems to have their own styles of nicknames. Euro dudes have one word names like The Edge, Sting, and Moby. American guys take a different and less creative approach simply tacking endings on names like Brad-ster, Steve-arino, and Dave-meister.

Harley Biker types have names like Buffalo, Road Dog, and Sidewinder. There is a well known musician named “The Funky Doctor” because his dad was a physician. I don’t know but maybe MBA accountants have names like, “Larry Long Division”, “Mickey The Margin caller” or Cyrus “Spread Sheets.”

The black community has the best nick names, which speaks to certain bravado, asserting a glib and extravagant uniqueness. Take for example the And-One street basketball touring street baller team; you need a nick name just to qualify, Hot Sauce, Skip-to-my-lou, and Escalade. Rappers include various Cubes, Cents, C-notes, and inane egocentric anachronisms. You never hear of an MC Broke, DJ Dyslectic, or Ja-Rude.

Old school Italian good fellas pretty much set up the whole G’ed up, nick name paradigm back when they came up with names indicative of a certain character trait, like Bruno-bag-of-donuts, Tony Ravioli, and Larry six fingers.

Latinos, especially those of us from the barrio variety, have broken many of the rules for nicknames and have included women. Why is it that in every barrio there is always a plus sized baby Mama Chola, with bleached blonde hair named Blancita? Names for the most part are self explanatory, Sleepy, Cyclone, Dopey, Rascal, Shy girl. The ones I don’t get are Casper, Puppet, and Wey.

Names seem to stick with you and are often times brought up at inappropriate moments when childhood friends encounter you as adults. They spring it on you like Papa going for his belt, the defensive reaction is visceral.

We were surprised to find out that our dignified well spoken, quite thin dad was called, “Torpedo” by his band member friends during World War II. My younger brother made the mistake of referring to Dad using his nautical name, and was close to being renamed “Traction Boy.”

A friend we grew up with, an All State Football star, was named “Squeaky” because as a kid, he would squeak instead of cry. There was a kid who had a small crew who used to frequent the motorcycle shop named “Papa Duck.” A street racer named “Cat Daddy,” but no one could figure out why an old school cycle shop owner was called “Biscuits.” If you asked him about his eating habits he would tell you to “bite me.”

Some names are designed to be ironic, like a short school administrator named “Big Sid,” or self evident like Big Rob, Black Mike, or Willie Fat.

I never had a nick name, and while in the cycle business I would go by my middle name Carlos. Using the middle name only was like an insurance policy, so that when someone would call and ask for “Carlos” the query was motorcycle related. If they used my whole name, it was usually something litigious that needed to be avoided. Some of the crew would call me “Los” and one guy who had the distinction of being the Wheelie Champion of the entire Northwest would insist on calling me “Carlucho.”

It would be great that, at a certain point in life, that you had the opportunity to give yourself your own nickname that people had to call you. Folks could come up with names, like “Closing the Big Deal- Bill,” “I have a degree and you don’t -Darrell,” “You don’t know what pain is- Murray” and “X Box level master-Wong.”

Giving nick names is a science; the only proof of your work is if the name sticks. I have been marginally successful in naming a “Cadillac George,” an “East Coast Eddie,” and an international TV Executive “Vito.”

There is nothing more pathetic than trying to nick name yourself and its failing. Like the time Arturo messed with his image and wanted to be called Big Art, until someone found out his middle name was Maralejo, which means Marmalade. The whole name thing didn’t jell for him.

Holler at Professor C-Los.

Al Carlos Hernandez writes from Hollywood.

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