What’s in a Name? (apologies to Shakespeare)

I’m guessing that most of us at some time acquire nicknames. Those tags or labels may or may not stay with us throughout our lives, but they generally have significance that can be traced back to special moments, characteristics, or circumstances in childhood and beyond.

My parents named me Elwood John Bolinger after my father, who was born in Altoona Pennsylvania almost a century ago. Dad’s nickname was always “Al,” but when I was born, he noticed my rosy cheeks and remarked that they resembled the petals on the buds of roses, so I was given the nickname of “Buddy” by which I’m still known among my closest relatives. The name worked well when I was a kid but became somewhat awkward as I aged.

In high school I was known as Elwood or “Woody,” which didn’t bother me, mainly because of one of my favorite films from 1950, starring Jimmy Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd, the main character from the Pulitzer Prize winning play Harvey by Mary Ellen Chase. The name “Elwood” did manage to reach a new level of coolness during the 1980’s in the movie, The Blues Brothers. Suddenly my real first name became a household word among fans of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.

My brother David was “Davey” as a child, but he managed to shake off that diminutive before he was in high school. My sister Connie Lynn was called “Beets” by the immediate family due to her very red cheeks. She hated the nickname, but it stuck until she too was in high school. When I was in elementary school, one of my uncles derived some level of amusement from calling me “Slugger,” a nickname I knew was ridiculous only because I was a very shy and hopelessly unathletic kid whose idea of sports was playing chess. The same uncle, in a well-intended effort to butch me up a bit, bought me a pair of boxing gloves which increased my athleticism  only by my becoming expert at hurling them as missiles at my siblings when they bugged me too much. My aim became almost professional. To all and sundry however, except my uncle, I remained “Buddy” for my years at Harding Elementary School in Hessville.

During my college years, I was known as “Bud” by my friends, though for my birthdays during that period, I continued to receive greeting cards addressed to “Dearest Buddy” from both my grandmothers, each card always containing a dollar bill.

Through all the thirty-five years I taught high school, my friends and fellow faculty members knew me as “John” or “JB.”

Now in my 70’s (or what I prefer to think of as 60-something plus shipping and handling), I have relatives who still call me Buddy, one being my mother’s favorite cousin, now in her nineties, whose lovely, young-sounding voice always begins her phone calls with “Hello, Buddy,” as she has done since I was a toddler, which I occasionally imagine must have been some time during the Mesozoic Period. 

Perhaps the nickname I loved the most was “Mr. B” during all those years I taught thousands of high school students.   JB

About John

John Bolinger was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, where he attended Ball State University and Purdue University, receiving his BA and MA from those schools. Then he taught English and French for thirty-five years at Morton High School in Hammond, Indiana before moving to Colorado. He spends his winters in Pompano Beach, Florida. Besides COME SEPTEMBER, Journey of a High School Teacher, John's other books are ALL MY LAZY RIVERS, an Indiana Childhood, and COME ON, FLUFFY, THIS AIN'T NO BALLET, a Novel on Coming of Age, all available on Amazon.com as paperbacks and Kindle books. Alternately funny and touching, COME SEPTEMBER, conveys the story of every high school teacher’s struggle to enlighten both himself and his pupils, encountering along the way, battles with colleagues, administrators, and parents through a parade of characters that include a freshman boy for whom the faculty code name is “Spawn of Satan,” to a senior girl whose water breaks during a pop-quiz over THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Through social change and the relentless march of technology, the human element remains constant in the book’s personal, entertaining, and sympathetic portraits of faculty, students, parents, and others. The audience for this book will certainly include school teachers everywhere, teenagers, parents of teens, as well as anyone who appreciates that blend of humor and pathos with which the world of public education is drenched. The drive of the story is the narrator's struggle to become the best teacher he can be. The book is filled with advice for young teachers based upon experience of the writer, advice that will never be found in college methods classes. Another of John's recent books is Mum's the Word: Secrets of a Family. It is the story of his alcoholic father and the family's efforts to deal with or hide the fact. Though a serious treatment of the horrors of alcoholism, the book also entertains in its descriptions of the father during his best times and the humor of the family's attempts to create a façade for the outside world. All John's books are available as paperbacks and Kindle readers on Amazon, and also as paperbacks at Barnes & Noble. John's sixth and most recent book, Growing Old in America: Notes from a Codger was released on June 15, 2014.
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