Column: What’s in a name?

By Nathan Grimm

Have you ever wanted a calling card?

I know I have. A way to be remembered long after my days are over. That one thing that sets me apart from the rest of the pack. The official recognition that I’m not just messing around anymore.

I’ve wanted a nickname.

Not a fluffy nickname, either. Not just someone shortening my first name to Nate and calling it a day. No, sir. I’ve wanted so much more. In high school, my friend’s soccer coach gave him the nickname Bone Crusher. Who doesn’t want to be called Bone Crusher? I sure do. And that’s when I decided I needed a nickname as well.

A great name inspires greatness in all of us. For example, would saying the name George Herman Ruth have the same impact as dropping the nickname Sultan of Swat, The Great Bambino or even simply The Babe? Would Mario Lemieux be half as revered if he didn’t go by Super Mario? Would there be a question without Allen Iverson to be ‘The Answer?’

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The answer to all these is absolutely not. In sports, the nickname can make the man. But as a general rule of thumb, the man cannot make the nickname. Write that down.

There are many different ways one can go about getting a nickname. One surefire way is to excel at an area of your game. Michael Jordan wasn’t ‘His Airness’ because he was a frequent flier on American Airlines. Maybe some of you are familiar with the ‘One-Man Fast Break,’ Dee Brown. Although I didn’t personally know Maurice Richard, I’d be willing to bet he’d never dealt much with a Rocket. Hammerin’ Hank Aaron definitely was not a carpenter. They didn’t fall into their handles. They straight up earned them.

Another safe way to score a great nickname is family and friends. The story is that Anfernee Hardaway’s grandmother called him ‘Pretty’ as a child, but with the way she pronounced it, it sounded like Penny. And thus, Penny Hardaway was born.

Maybe some don’t know Penny’s real first name. But most people probably couldn’t even pick Eldrick Woods out of a lineup. That’s because nobody knows who Eldrick Woods is. Tiger Woods, on the other hand, is the most dominant golfer on the PGA Tour. Same guy? Yeah. Same impact? That depends – how afraid are you of a guy named Eldrick?

A third way to secure a sweet moniker is nationality. In his prime, Pavel Bure was known by two names: the lucky guy who got to date Anna Kournikova, and the Russian Rocket, although he’s probably still remembered more for the first. Playing off the classic movie, Hideki Matsui earned the nickname Godzilla simply for being Japanese, and maybe a little bit because he hits like a beast. And although it’s a movie, Rocky Balboa went by the Italian Stallion in the “Rocky” series. Yo Adrian!

One stipulation for the nationality-given nicknames is the use of some clever word scheme. Very rarely does a nickname catch on that does not utilize either basic rhyming or alliteration. Likewise, if the name not only rhymes but also uses alliteration, it will catch on that much faster. Food for thought.

The fourth and last way to earn a nickname is also the easiest – just make something up. Dr. J didn’t fill out prescriptions. Walter Payton, also known as Sweetness, was not made of sugar cubes. Spud Webb bears no likeness to potatoes. If the nickname fits, wear it.

I still don’t have that coveted nickname, sadly. Though I’ve tried, I’ve not received the handle that will put me on the map. But when I find it, you can be sure I will wear it proudly. Not everyone can be ‘The Great One’ like Wayne Gretzky or ‘The Fridge’ like William Perry. But the right nickname is out there, and when you find it, it will fit you like a glove.

Nathan Grimm is a sophomore in ALS. He can be reached at [email protected].