According to dictionary.com (1400–50; late ME nekename, for ekename the phrase an ekename being taken as a nekename), nickname as a word has been around for about 500 years and meant, originally, additional name. This makes a lot of sense to me considering that so many people were named after what their father did for work: Cooperson, Wrightson, Smithson, Friarson, etc. So when the teacher yelled for the Carpenter boy and six kids showed up, nick names were invented, “Oh. Not you, Carpenter, I want Snot-nose Carpenter; you know, the one.” Of course, all the kids howled and in an instant, Snot-Nose was named forever. Nicknames often reveal so much about the appellating and the appellated. Surely, that teacher was picking on old Snot-Nose, and for sure would find himself in court today for such a crippling remark, but positively that Carpenter‘s nose had to be dripping, constantly.
Because of the current trend to litigation, great nick names are probably disappearing. When I grew up there were DaDa, Strawberry, Spider, Duck, Snazzy, Buck, Ears, Chisel, and Rabbit, to mention only a few of the more commonly used. And all of these nicknames were cast because of a person’s deformity or proclivity. Strawberry’s nose at the end was just that, a strawberry, seeds and all. Buck and Rabbit had humongous over-bites; so did the Gnawyer. I got stuck, pre-orthodontist, with Bucky, after the beaver of Ipana fame (brusha, brusha, brusha). Snazzy liked color and motley. It was not rare to see him wearing striped flannel over checked polyester. Of course, Ears had to get real earnest to get home walking into a headwind but was a veritable kite, downwind. And Bones, Fats, Nubs, Knucks, Squirrel, Boodles, Beaky, and Hawk all paint a picture of the person so nicknamed. I suppose it was a cruel deal on the guys; after all, I don’t remember girls having nicknames. It was not so much fun picking on girls, I guess.
And states have all those nutty nicknames: Ohio is the Buckeye State after a variety of chestnut; Maryland is the Free State because it voted against Prohibition or the Terrapin State from which is derived that most fearsome mascot, The Terps; and Wisconsin is the Badger State, not because the people are feisty or pesty, but because the early settlers at Wisconsin’s lead mines lived in sides of hills, burrowed-in, like badgers. I like very much some of the older appellations for states: Georgia was once, the Cracker State, the Buzzard State and the Goober State; New Jersey, the Mosquito State; Michigan, the Wolverine State despite the debate over whether wolverines ever lived there (one claim is that there is one living in Bad Axe) and the funniest of all: South Dakota, the Sunshine State.
In current times, nicknames of sports teams have captured national attention (really these are mascots but the press will get screwed up from time to time in identifying stuff): The Fighting Sioux, The Redskins, Seminoles, and Chippewas have been under attack, mainly by the NCAA. For sure nicknames abound in professional sports, always have, always will. In politics, George W. Bush, according to many sources, commonly used nicknames for those he admired and didn’t. We all remember Brownie, but Dick Cheney was Big Time; Maureen Dowd, the Cobra; and Karl Rove, Turd Blossom. And George was rightly dubbed Dumbya, and Slick Willie is a righteous and suitable moniker. Television, the boob tube, brings us Joe the Plumber, Balloon Boy, Octomom, and my favorite from TV advertising: “Yes, I am the Colon Lady.”
But somehow, I guess from our being a much more compassionate people, nicknames have lost their fun, their zing. Really what, anymore, compares to Strawberry, Fish, Boodles, June Bug, Coon Dog, Coon Puppy, and Poukie? And Chisel, by gawd that’s genius in nicknaming. Well, OK, Turd Blossom is pretty damned good.