It was S.Hooligan, naturally, who came up with the idea of calling me Chester. I remember it vividly. We were in a local antique mall in September, 2009. S. was standing up in the basket of a grocery cart, loudly proclaiming the “secret” gift she was going to make for Grandma’s birthday. (Fortunately, Grandma is so hard of hearing she wouldn’t have picked up on this if she’d been standing in the next booth; she was several aisles away.)
Out of nowhere, S. looked at me and declared, “I’m going to start calling you Chester!” An elderly couple were squeezing by, and I heard the woman snicker. Still, I assumed this was a temporary blip on S.Hooligan’s radar and didn’t fret about it.
The first sign of the permanency of my new name came during our Aunt Nancy Day dinner at a local Mexican restaurant about a month later. There was a handmade card from S.Hooligan—addressed to Uncle Chester. From then on, I heard “Chester” instead of “Nancy” more and more. Then J.Hooligan took it up, in jest at first, but by springtime I was Uncle Chester full-time.
Actually, the trouble started way before that. For some reason, S.Hooligan has always taken delight in insisting I’m a “boy.” I most certainly am not a male and have no interest in being one. That doesn’t phase S.Hooligan. One time she embarrassed me in the ladies’ room of the local JoAnn’s. “Chefth-ter,” she shrieked with an evil gleam in her eye, “you’re a boy. Boy’s aren’t allowed in the girls’ bathroom!” Naturally, there was a shopper in there washing her hands, and she didn’t even try to conceal her amusement. Thank God there’s no mistaking I’m female, otherwise things could get terribly awkward.
I guess S.Hooligan gets this naming thing directly from her mother. Diamondqueen nicknamed me Piglegs in 1982, and the name stuck for well over a decade. More accurately, the derivations of the original nickname stuck, for I was P.L. or Piggy for a very long time. I believe Mom’s dog, Ginger, knew me only as “Piggy.”
My mother relates that my grandfather called me “Newsie” when I was little because I was a good source of the latest news about anything. This evolved into “New-New” or “Nanny-New,” my father’s nicknames for me. I wouldn’t have minded so much except he was fond of chanting, “Nanny-New / pooped in her shoe / in 14 hundred and 92!” And he was still doing it when I was 11.
Someday, I suppose, the “Chester” moniker will fade away, just as “Piggy” did. Or it will be replaced by something worse. I shudder to think about it.
NUDGE: Have you had a nickname, or various nicknames, at any time during your life? Write about that name: how you got it, what it represented, whether it stuck or lapsed over time. How did/does that nickname make you feel? (I always loved it when someone called me “Nance” because it sounded warmer and more intimate than “Nancy.” However, when I was 12, my two girlfriends tried to nickname me “Super Jumbo” because I swore I could eat a second Super Jumbo Banana Split at Woolworth’s after we’d stopped there one day. I had been plumping up over the winter, and “Super Jumbo” did not strike me as a desirable nickname.)
If you’ve never had a nickname, did you ever wish you had one? What name would you have liked? I recall a Peanuts strip in which Charlie Brown confides to Lucy that he would have enjoyed being called “Flash” because he was such a fast runner. Naturally, Lucy blabbed and Charlie was mocked. Do you dare admit the name you would have chosen for yourself?