Yesterday was the first Veteran’s Day of my life without my Grandpa, a WWII Pacific Theatre Veteran. Like many people, I suffered the loss of a loved one during Covid/Quarantine, and it made the grieving a different and more delicate process.
Yet, it also made it more intimate as our family gathered together on my Uncle’s farm where we quietly celebrated his life. While there, spreading his ashes on the meadow, I found myself wanting to hear him call me Koolie Fran one more time, and then had to stifle a giggle…a giggle during this solemn moment (which is actually typical for me...I’m famous for laughing during serious moments) because my grandpa had so many nicknames for me and everyone he met. I think in my lifetime he called me four to five different things on the regular, Kelly San Francisco being a favorite (my middle name is Frances) but Koolie Fran is the one that stuck, and that everyone else in the family called me as well. I honestly thought my name was Koolie until I was four.
Over the last several months, I began to think about those nicknames and how Grandpa lovingly bestowed them on all of us. My sister Katey was Kat Magee; my cousin Travis was Trapper, my mother Colleen was always Colleeny, and I think Grandpa was the only person to ever call my dad by his real name: Charles.
How do we earn these nicknames? Are they out of love? Is it random? Sometimes we earn nicknames we hate. I carried one throughout junior high because I matured faster than the other girls, and the boys took notice. Let me tell you what, you’ll never eat at a Hooters if people called you that for two years straight. I don’t care how good the wings are.
In grade school, I was called coffee randomly (because my maiden name is Maxwell) and I always felt as if they could have tried harder with that one. I think that they were trying to make fun of me, but I mean… who doesn’t like coffee?
It seems to me over the years that you either love or hate a nickname, it’s either given to you out of sense of camaraderie and belonging, or it’s a bullying thing. I’m always surprised when I meet people who have never had a nickname. It’s almost mystifying to me. I think, “How have you lived your whole life and just been called your real name?” It’s almost like their the majestic white buffalo or a unicorn.
Almost as strange to me are the people who choose their own nicknames. I mean, remember when Puff Daddy started switching his name up? That was weird. Or when Snoop Dogg tried out Snoop Lion? Sorry man, you’re Snoop Dogg. Too late to change now. In life that’s not celebrity, nicknames people bestow upon themselves seem even stranger. Almost sinister.
I don’t really know too many people who choose a nickname for themselves that are successful in keeping it, unless of course they are a serial killer or something. It seems like most serial killers who brand themselves are pretty successful in keeping those names, for example Jack the Ripper. And even in our own small little town, we have "The Shadow" (not a serial killer, but someone who harasses people by mail).
Why would you give yourself a nickname? Well, I suppose there are several reasons. Maybe you want to feel a sense of belonging that you haven’t felt before. There’s a chance you hate your real name. Or possibly you seek to hide behind a moniker so that you can commit nefarious deeds.
Whatever the case maybe, I love a good nickname. As long as it is meant with love, and I sure wish I could hear my Grandpa call me Koolie Fran again.