Loud and Abominable by
50
(74 Stories)

Prompted By Nicknames

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No one in my generation of my extended family has a nickname. Nor did anyone in my grandparents’ generation, as far as I can tell. Only the relatives in my parents’ generation have or had nicknames. Why? No real idea, except that maybe being the first American-born generation, with the transition from “old country” to English names had something to do with it.

Henrietta was an awkward name for a tiny child ... so the family called her Yettie.

Parenthetical note: Not only didn’t I have a nickname, I don’t even have a middle name. Fortunately there aren’t lots of Marians around, so there was little confusion. Unlike the problems some without middle names have had with filling in forms, I haven’t experienced any. My parents thought that if I didn’t have a middle name I would use Hirsch (my last name) as my middle name when I married. But, times changed and by the time I did marry, I simply kept my last name.

Possibly another reason why I, along with my brother, never had nicknames was that our parents didn’t want to burden us, given their experiences. My father, whose formal name was Henry, went by Hank to family and friends, a familiar nickname of that time. My grandparents told me that they called  him “Hank, Hank, the crying tank” because, as an infant, he cried loudly and frequently. Fortunately, the crying part got dropped and dad grew into the nickname, sharing it with sports figures, and the original association was lost.

My mother wasn’t as lucky. Her legal name was supposed to be Chana (Hannah) Yetta, but my grandmother couldn’t read or write English and her speaking ability was limited. When it came time to register my mother for kindergarten, the teacher thought that wasn’t an American-enough name, and mom became Henrietta. (My dear aunt Rachel escaped the major name change, but in the family was known as Aunt Rayzie.)

Henrietta was an awkward name for a tiny child, let alone someone who never was more than 5’1″ tall anyway. So, the family called her Yettie. Sometime during my childhood, the knowledge of the Yeti, the abominable snowman, became common. And, even though it had nothing to do with mom, Yettie (or Yeti) she stayed, with the accompanying jokes.

A couple of Mom’s cousins had interesting nicknames. Cookie, whose real name I have long forgotten, was as round and pleasant as her name. Noodie (rhymes with hoodie) was derived from nudnik, and apparently was a mischievous child.

A few of my women’s college classmates used names, although not strictly nicknames, to their strategic advantage. They were fortunate enough to have middle names that were actually surnames. When we were seniors, there was a lot of attention given to trying to get credit, which was still very challenging for us, and we were aware of the discrimination. Male students accepted to graduate school got credit, but women weren’t offered it. By applying using a first initial and their middle names, A. Carter Ernest and P. Tripp Delaware (names altered for privacy, but you get the idea) received credit cards when the rest of us didn’t. At least our suspicions were confirmed.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.


Characterizations: well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    Great story, Marian, despite you having been nickname-deprived yourself. I think your theory about your parents sparing you from their own ignominies runs true. Although I have often heard it the other way. In particular, I remember there was a professor whose first name was named Wolf, which he hated, and he turned around and named his poor kid Obediah. And I can tell you, Obediah was seriously troubled.

    And your last paragraph reads sadly true. I knew women, particularly unmarried ones, had a hard time getting credit cards. Indeed, I had even heard that many businesses would not issue them to women without their husbands’ signatures — which would have confounded even the initial and middle name ploy.

    • Marian says:

      So here’s some neat Obediah trivia (sorry about that prof’s son): that’s Sky Masterson’s real name in Guys and Dolls! More seriously, you are absolutely right about the credit issue. Many stories on that as a single woman at the time. I had been working for almost three years and could only get a gasoline credit card. Went to a professional conference and had to pay the hotel bill by check, very mortifying. Even as late as the mid 1980s, I had a business client whose wife (a very accomplished woman) bought a bed and & breakfast inn and applied for an SBA loan. They were going to give it to her only if her husband, my client, would co-sign, and he said no because she’d deserved the loan in her own right. Finally they relented, and she had a great business for many years.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I love Cookie and Noodie! Great nicknames. Interesting that you and your brother never had one.

    With our peculiar last name, we tried to give our children easy first names (David and Jeffrey; now Vicki), easy to spell and and pronounce, but those could be shortened into Dave or Jeff. Neither ever were.

    • Marian says:

      I sometimes am envious of easy names, Betsy, because Marian often gets mangled. In restaurants (remember when we could go out to eat?) I give Mary as a reservation name. My last name, Hirsch, has gone through at least five iterations within the extended family from Hersh, its original Romanian form, for a variety of reasons.

  3. Suzy says:

    Marian, I couldn’t imagine, from your title, what your story was going to be about! Then I had to laugh when I got to your mother’s nickname being Yettie! There was a relative called Cookie in my family too, and I don’t know what her real name was.

    How interesting that your parents decided not to give you and your brother middle names – that must have been pretty unusual in those days (or these, for that matter). My children all have my last name as their middle names, and at different times they have all stated that they wished they had “normal” middle names like all their friends.

    However, your last paragraph shows a good reason for having a last name as a middle name, at least in the bad old days of sex discrimination. I should tell my kids about that, especially my daughters.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, Suzy, I used that title as a hook. My mom’s nickname turned out to be so opposite of her physical appearance, it always made us laugh. My mother’s maiden name was Meisel, and I would have liked it as a middle name. Good thing to tell your daughters about those bad old days trying to get credit, if they’d even believe it!

  4. Ah, yes, the gasoline credit card, my first card as well!

    Some names are just ripe for “nicking,” or shortening, like Susan and Barbara and Elizabeth. Just wondering, even if it isn’t an “official” nickname, has anyone ever called you “Mare” for short, as Rhoda called Mary in the Mary Tyler Moore show?

  5. Piggybacking on BB’s comment, I would probably call you Mare!

    I realize I tend to shorten friends’ names, creating my own nicknames for them –
    My friend Mary is Mare, Darleen is Darl, Rachelle is Shel. Could it be a Bronx thing?

    And strangely the name I call my friend Howard is Penn 66. Why? Because he’s a proud U of P alum and that’s his license plate!

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    This is such an interesting story, Marian. It’s so true that the first generation of Americans (for me, my parents’ generation), all adopted nicknames. My parents were Sid and Evie or Eve (shortened from Evelyn so pronounced accordingly). The part of your story about women using that strategy to obtain credit cards was especially poignant. Not only were women robbed of that opportunity back then, but they were also robbed of their given names to get was every man’s given right. So sad.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, Laurie. I think our parents wanted to be perceived as more “American” along with their children. I would have liked to have been Malka, my Hebrew name (see Suzy’s story as well). I am so glad I kept my birth surname. It has made life so much easier at every step!

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