My Name Is…Pick a Name, Any Nickname

by Nancy Wurtzel on January 8, 2013

I’ve always wanted a cool nickname.  My parents chose Nancy because it was a fairly popular girls given name in the 1950s.  It was a safe choice.  However, Nancy wasn’t popular for very long.  Today, hardly anyone picks Nancy as the name for their newborn, it’s a name forever stuck in the middle of the baby boom years.

I consider Nancy to be a fairly bland and boring name.  Nancy fails to capture my personality, and it certainly doesn’t lend itself to any fun abbreviations.

It’s not like I haven’t tried to replace Nancy with a neat nickname.  The obvious “Nan” just never seemed to fit and I really dislike the nickname “Nance.”  The only exception is my dear friend who resides in Florida and has called me “Nance” for more than 30 years.  She can continue as long as she likes; Everyone else, please stop.

When I was little kid, my older sister often called me “Piggus.”  Since we were not allowed to swear, my sister had created the most distasteful word she could concoct, which she’d hurl at me when I annoyed her, and that was often.

Even after all these years, I can still hear her shouting: “You are such a Piggus, everyone hates you!”

Ah, good times.

Thankfully, Piggus quickly evolved into our family’s ultimate insult or put-down, rather than my childhood nickname.  Piggus became one of our slightly twisted family jokes, of which we had many.  In our little house on the Minnesota prairie, if you were a Piggus, you were without a doubt the lowest of the low.

My grammar school years went by without any notable monikers.  Then, around the time I entered junior high school, my family started calling me “Squid” or even worse, “The Squid,” as in: “When is The Squid coming home?”

Squid is indeed a most unfortunate nickname for a woman of my age and short stature.  No one can even remember how the name started or why it persisted.  However, I do know it is far too late to persuade my family to call me anything else.  To them, I am “The Squid.”

That’s the way it is with nicknames.  They are most often bestowed, and those who are the nicknamed often don’t have a say.  It just happens and then it sticks.

In high school, for example, two of my closest friends took a shine to calling me  “Nanny” which was so-so, but at least I knew it was a term of endearment.  However, soon it had morphed into “Nanny Goat,” most often accompanied by a light, animal-like bray.  No amount of pleading would get them to stop.

If you think that nickname got my goat, you would be right.

On to college.

Moving 100 miles away to attend school opened up a whole new chapter in my quest for the perfect nickname.  My middle name is Ellen, and for the first few weeks of college, I asked everyone to please call me “Ellie,” a cute nickname to be sure.

Unfortunately, I never remembered “Ellie” was the fun nickname I so desperately wanted.  I’d often fail to respond to Ellie, thereby causing other students and teachers to think I was either hard-of-hearing or simply terribly rude.

In one study group, another student even asked me sarcastically, “Don’t you know your own name?”

Evidently not.

As you can imagine, Ellie was a feeble, short-lived phase.

When I started my business career, my coworkers gave me a few nicknames.  At one of my first jobs, I was called “Minnesota Nancy,” since there was another Nancy in the office, and I had recently relocated from the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” to sunny Los Angeles.

At another company, my boss called me only by my last name and that caught on for a time.

Yet, when I left a job, the nicknames stayed behind.

The decades have flown by and I’m still Nancy.  I’ve now moved back to my native Minnesota after living in California for three decades.  I’m firmly in middle age, and I guess my name doesn’t seem so bad anymore.

The march of time has put things in perspective.

In fact, I’m letting the nickname thing pretty much fade away.  If it happens, it happens.  Trying too hard usually doesn’t work out well and my quest to acquire the ideal nickname is a classic example.

So, go ahead, you can call me Nancy.  I’ll be sure to answer.

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 L Palmer January 17, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Growing up in Girl Scouts, all counselors get a ‘camp name,’ or a nick name to be known by exclusively at the camp. It’s like a secret code, and the girls try to crack it to discover your ‘real name’. I accidentally chose mine when I was 14, and tried to change it for a few years before giving in. So, to my many camp friends I’m George. This led to variations such as Georgeous, Jorje, or Captain George.

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2 Lynda January 15, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I was given the other popular name from the ’50s, Linda. Only my parents wanted it to be a little different, so they spelled it with a Y. That was a lot of fun growing up and learning to spell my name! I had one teacher in grade school who refused to use the y. My middle name is Ellen, but my parents refused to let me use it. I was Lynda and that was that.

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3 Joan Evatt January 12, 2013 at 9:22 pm

We had a couple of Nancys. One was called Nan, but the other was nicknamed Nu which quite liked.

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4 Anna Beaver January 11, 2013 at 4:52 pm

In elementary school in the 50’s, with the last name “Beaver”, I was sometimes called “Little Beaver” for the comic strip character. Daddy called me “Puddin’ Head” and “Punkin Head”.

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5 Babs January 11, 2013 at 10:20 am

Hi Nancy (or ???) I just turned 60 and at this point in my life, I am glad anybody calls me anything!! Thanks for the morning laugh. I, too have been bestowed with many nicknames in my life. To start with, I was named after my grandmother, Barbara, and my mother’s best friend, Babs (whose real name was Helen. Nobody knew how they came up with Babs but that is another story) I was called Babs from the beginning, I guess, but my “real” name is Barbara. I have been haunted by this my whole life. I introduce myself as Babs. I get back, “Is that your REAL name?” Well no, I was christened Barbara…… inevitably then they start calling me Barb. I hate being called Barb. So I just say yes, Babs is my real name. Saves some explaining. Some of my family calls me Boo, one friend, Babalooee, another Sinner (don’t ask) and my husband calls me Bird. I am one confused person! But I am happy that I have people around to call me whatever they want, as you say. I enjoyed reading your blog for the first time today. I too have a mother with Alzheimer’s and read Bob’s blog all the time. I appreciate any input I can get to improve my relationship with her. I will continue reading about your adventures. Thanks.

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6 Nancy Wurtzel January 11, 2013 at 10:33 am

Babs!! Thanks for reading and for your really great comment. Glad you found me via Bob’s blog — it is my first article on The Alzheimer’s Reading Room and I’m thrilled to have him feature my writing. Hope you are doing ok with your mom. I have to say, caregiving is very challenging. Back to the name thing: My sister is Barbara and many people call her Barb and it is such an unattractive nickname — doesn’t seem to bother her, but I will sometimes call her “Barbie” and (Barbie dolls aside) I actually like it much better. That’s what we called her when we were kids. Best to you! Nancy

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7 Ginger Kay January 10, 2013 at 5:49 pm

I never felt my name suited me either. It was also a name with an extreme, but short lived popularity. I’m pretty sure there will be a dozen other women in the nursing home with the same name one day, being looked after by a team of young women named Madison or Claire.

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8 Nancy Wurtzel January 10, 2013 at 6:39 pm

Yesssss! Or, they might be named Erin or Stephanie or Brittany or Nicole!!

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9 Donna Highfill January 10, 2013 at 10:11 am

I have always felt the same way — my sister’s name was Linda, which I loved, but I got stuck with DONNA. Even the vowel sound makes you yawn. I tended to plant my own nicknames by telling my family that’s what people at school were calling me and vica-versa, so I was “sunshine” and “little bit” and “Grace.” I created them, but none of them stuck. Great blog!

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10 Nancy Wurtzel January 10, 2013 at 10:16 am

I love Sunshine. Yes, I had several friends named Donna when I was growing up — that is absolutely another name from the 50s!! Tx for the comment.

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11 Janie Emaus January 10, 2013 at 9:14 am

I’ve had several nicknames throughout the years, most assoicated with my big, puffy, poofy, frizzy, bushy hair.

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12 Nancy Wurtzel January 10, 2013 at 10:17 am

Ouch! Those are nicknames you probably want to forget. I think I have struck a chord with readers — everyone seems to have their nickname saga to share!

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13 mindy January 10, 2013 at 7:58 am

My real name is Emilia. (I would have killed for Nancy!) And my middle name is Hedy, after the actress Hedy Lamar–thanks Mom and Dad. Cursed no matter how you looked at it. And the biggest joke is that my family never, ever called me by those names–Mindy it was. Which sounds so juvenile now that I am older.

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14 Nancy Wurtzel January 10, 2013 at 10:18 am

Just wanted to say that I love Emilia, but it is a difficult one to spell. Mindy is cute, however, and people remember it. Thanks for reading!

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15 Paul Fenlon January 10, 2013 at 2:48 am

Hi, This made me laugh out loud, it’s your best post ever.
I had 3 nicknames in the army and I hated them. It’s funny how quick they stick and they nearly always have a snidey edge. Lot more of this please. Paul.

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16 Nancy Wurtzel January 10, 2013 at 10:18 am

Paul, Thank you for being such a dedicated reader and so supportive! Most appreciated…Nancy (couldn’t resist)

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17 Haralee January 9, 2013 at 8:41 pm

We named one of our pajama styles Nancy and retired her this year. She was gorgeous!
Almost everyday of my life I am asked about my name so having a more common Nancy has advantages. My Dad used to call me ‘The Har’. My family calls me Har with a Boston accent the R is silent. My Dad used to make my lunch and put a big H on my brown paper bag. When it was time to name my company, my name was not taken as a domain name and we use the letter H as my logo, a homage to my Dad!

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18 Nancy Wurtzel January 10, 2013 at 10:19 am

Thanks, Haralee — I tweeted and shared your biz page and also “Liked” you! Keep coming back to read, pls!

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19 Walker January 9, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Well, I grew up with a nickname of Walker…so I fully understand, believe me. My birth name was Laura and I’d try every now and then to revert to that, but there was always someone around who knew “Walker”. So, in the late 80’s I legally changed my name to Walker, accepting the inevitable. I’m accustomed to it, but I never really the liked the name.

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20 Nancy Wurtzel January 9, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Oh, I do like it! It really sets you apart…thanks for reading!

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21 lisa weldon January 9, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Oh, how funny. I was not given a middle name at birth. My mother was such a minimalist. “Oh, you’ll just drop it when you get married,” she’d say. I never had those beautiful monogrammed pillowcases like my friends had nor did I get anything engraved . . . UNTIL the day I figured out I could simply repeat my first initial on the right side. I was a little slow!

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22 Nancy Wurtzel January 9, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Hey Lisa,
My former mother-in-law didn’t have a middle name either — I’m not even sure how the middle name thing started. There might be a blog post in that! Take care and thanks for reading.

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23 Your Daughter January 18, 2013 at 12:07 pm

I was talking to the Wurtzel family over break and we ended up talking about that, actually, and someone (can’t quite remember who) pointed out that she may have not had a middle name because that side of the family was more Jewish, and they would have already had a second name – their Hebrew name. Interesting point, huh?

Also, on middle names: http://www.genfiles.com/legal/MiddleNames.htm
Also read while reading this that Ann is the number one most popular middle name. Thanks, Mom.

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24 Nancy Wurtzel January 18, 2013 at 6:15 pm

You always have such good info on everything! You are basically, my go-to person/daughter/collegestudent/newemployee/awesomeperson….You get the picture!

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25 Nadine Feldman January 9, 2013 at 11:23 am

Funny! I remember wanting a cool nickname, too. In school the kids called me “Frank” because I would say “frankly” a lot. Nadine is my middle name, and I took it at age 33, much to the confusion of family and friends who had called me by my first name up until that time.

My mother’s name is “Lewellyn,” but her grandfather called her “Bea,” and it stuck. No one knows why!

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26 Nancy Wurtzel January 9, 2013 at 11:46 am

Hey Nadine — Thanks for reading and for the comment. Time to come clean, what IS your given first name???

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27 Kelly January 9, 2013 at 11:16 am

Nancy, Nancy – I love Nancy! I always thought it had a certain sauciness to it while retaining a certain gravitas. A friend I could trust and rely on but still have tons of fun with and fully expect some zaniness and zingers along the way. Hmmm, seems to fit you to a T me thinks!

PS Piggus is charming only to be matched by my brother’s nickname for me – Kelly Jelly Belly – oh those were the days. love you!

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28 Nancy Wurtzel January 9, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Well, I’ve never thought of Nancy as being saucy, but it certainly is better than Piggus!

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29 Nancy Kay January 9, 2013 at 11:12 am

Since my name is also Nancy I appreciated you sharing your thoughts about going through life with that name. I too think that my name is too bland and wish my name was more dynamic.
I have two daughters now and took a lot of time and effort to select more unusual and creative first and middle names for them.
Of course, they also have to endure their share of nicknames and since I have a son whom I named Nick, they torment him with all sorts of nicknames as well. They also have been singing the Nickelodeon theme song to him since he was a toddler!

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