Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.
I’ve always had an interest in nicknames, primarily in how people got them. For some it’s pretty obvious. If a boy has a nickname like “Shorty” or “Stretch,” you know immediately how he got that nickname. Take “Red” Grimes for instance. All you had to do was take a look at his fiery red hair, and you knew how he got that name.
But sometimes you can be fooled. There was a boy several years older than I, named Dick Coleman. He was a really big kid, one of the biggest boys in his class. He wasn’t fat; he was just big. I think he was a tackle on the football team. But some time in his junior year, he got the nickname “Tiny.” So it’s not always obvious how people got their nicknames.
Dick had a younger sister named Marilyn. She was two years older than I was, and sometime during her sophomore year, she got the nickname “Petunia.” She was the only girl I can remember who had a nickname. I have no idea who gave her that nickname, or why it was selected. But just about everyone called her that.
There were a few adults in town that had a nickname based upon their last name. “Bunker” Hill, who owned the Elm Dairy on Maple Street, was one of my favorites. “Dusty” Rhodes, who managed the Moore’s Store on South Main Street, was another.
Then one day, a boy came to Marysville to visit his aunt, Dolly Beck, who was the manager of the Marysville swimming pool. His name was Donny Edge. Not surprisingly, he spent a lot of time at the pool, and some kid, I think it was Owen Thorpe, gave him the nickname “Razor.” I thought that should have won a prize. “Razor” Edge … it just doesn’t get much better than that.
But there were also those, whose nicknames were a puzzlement. I’m talking about people like “Piffel” Hornbeck, “Yossel” Forry, “Slippery” Nicol, and “Posey” Rosette. Where in the world did they get nicknames like that? I knew them all pretty well, but I never had a clue how they got their nicknames. I’ll bet a lot of people in town would have had trouble telling you what Piffel’s real name was.
One of my very best friends was “Fi” McAllister. The “i” in Fi was a long “i”, pronounced “eye.” His real name was Richard Manville McAllister, but all of us kids knew him as Fi. I have written about him previously, and if you read that column, I think you will remember him.
Fi was the boy next door to our house, who could fold up his ears and stick them inside his head. And his ears would stay there, so he looked perfectly normal, except he had no ears. Then he could tighten his facial muscles and pop his ears out, either one at a time, or both of them together. I thought he was really talented.
What amazes me is that we were such close friends, yet I never knew where he got that nickname. I think it may have just been something his parents started calling him when he was very young. Whatever the reason, the name Fi seemed to fit him really well.
Years later, during the 1960s and 70s, when our kids were growing up on Sherwood Avenue, new nicknames started popping up throughout the neighborhood. A boy next door suddenly became “Bird,” while another boy a few houses away, became “Turkey.” It was like living in an aviary. I never knew the source of those nicknames.
About the same time, there was a boy whose family moved into the house directly behind us. His name was Mark Sherman, and it didn’t take long until some kid in the neighborhood started calling him “Shermy.” Just about everyone, even adults, called him that for a year or so.
Then one day, one of the boys, I don’t know who it was, realized that Shermy rhymed with Wormy, and within 24 hours, every kid in the neighborhood was calling him “Wormy.” I really felt sorry for him. I mean, I wouldn’t want people calling me that. But it never seemed to bother him a bit.
I never had a nickname when I was a kid. I suppose it would have been nice, if I had been given a nickname. But I would rather go through life with no nickname at all, than to have people call me something like Wormy.
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