Monday, May 22, 2006

On The Power Of A Nickname

The first nickname I ever got came from my younger cousin Tony. It was "screwdriver" due to my name being Philip.

Lucky for me, like a stripped out screw, it didn't stick. So I went many years without a nickname. Philip is not all that

common a name so it wasn't until my sophomore year of high school that I ran into another one.


I was never part of any one clique during my school years. I briefly flirted with the "popular" crowd during 8th

grade. I went through a string of girlfriends that were to become varsity cheerleaders, but by the time 10th

grade arrived I was no longer much noticed by any crowd. Riverdale High was now the 4th different school in 4

years. A few people like Gonz remembered me from elementary school days, but I could now count even

acquaintances on one hand. Then it turns out that the other Philip at RHS happened to be a popular guy. Never having

to deal with another Philip before it became frustrating to hear my name being called yet it not really being

my name. Ironically I was about to get another nickname from a dude named Tony.


Another aspect of high school that I found distasteful and annoying was how we were always being asked to sell

crap. What the heck were our parents' taxes for  anyway? Magazines and candy were the usual suspects and it just

so happened that the agriculture class was selling lollipops. Tony was in my homeroom and he was an "ag-boy" with

an FFA jacket and a baseball cap with a bill bent to look like a duckbill advertising Purina or the Co-Op. He talked with

a good Middle Tennessee drawl which would rise in amplitude as he sold his lollipops for agriculture class.


Tony was also a bit of a poet so he would make up rhymes while hawking his wares. Philip is not high on the list of

rhyming words. Thus was born the nickname Wally. Tony arrived at this by noting I had curly hair. Tony Dow (another Tony enters the story)

who played Wally Cleaver on Leave It To Beaver had curly hair. Even though I looked nothing like Tony Dow the name Wally

was quickly foisted upon me since "Wally, wanna buy a lolly" made for a good marketing pitch for Tony. Naturally, I hated it.


Hate is actually a mild term. The name Wally drove me bonkers. This compelled the few friends I had to begin using it

incessantly. Like Nick Lowe sang, "You gotta be cruel to be kind." It soon became apparent that I was going to be stuck

with the nickname Wally unless I decided to start punching everyone that called me that. Never one to like bruises I grudgingly

began to accept the name. Soon I wondered why I ever hated it.


A marvelous thing happened after I became Wally. I no longer looked around when the name Philip was shouted from across

a crowded hall. I knew they didn't want to talk to me. The friends I had knew me as Wally and as I met more people they came to

know me only as Wally. My individualism was restored to me and I became less invisible than I had become. The same thing might

have happened without the nickname, but perhaps not. Years later when I worked for Wal-Mart the cycle repeated itself.


I got a part-time job there working in sporting goods. It was a lonely gig at first and its not as if I'm a joiner. But slowly, I was

brought into the circle of the young single crowd working there. A guy who worked in the paint department, C.W., came up with

my Wal-Mart nickname. Boyz II Men were very popular then and it seems they had a hit song called "Motown Philly" out. I hadn't heard

it since I never listened to pop radio, but C.W. liked it so he soon dubbed me Motown Philly later shortening it just to Motown. Instead

of fighting this nickname I took it to heart (at least at Wal-Mart). It was cool to come in to work with everybody yelling, "Hey Motown" as

I walked by. It would never take the place of Wally, but it wasn't bad at all at cementing my place in the hierarchy of work.


As one gets older people don't tend to bequeath nicknames upon you as readily. Get some gray at your temples and you get some

respect. The Soulfish wife sometimes calls me Walter and I like that one too, but the perhaps the best name I get called these days isn't

considered a nickname - that one is Daddy. Naturally the wife and I are handing out nicknames just like they're candy. Tony; if its not too

late I'll take one of those lollys.




1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I always thought the great thing about the Wally nickname was when you would mention the name, people would always say something like "Who the f&*k would name their kid Wally?" I also find it humorous that the people that you met after getting the nickname didn't seem to know your real name.