Sunday, June 24, 2007

Journal Assignment VI: Names and Nicknames

What is your name? How did you get that name? What does it mean, or what does it represent? Does it seem appropriate, or do you wish you had a different name?

Do you have a nickname, or have you had a series of them throughout your life? Humorous or serious, what did or do they mean to you and/or to the people who gave them to you?

Either of these questions is worth thinking and writing about. Here is what I wrote, mostly about nicknames:

What's in a Name?

My first nickname was "Marky." I'm not sure where it came from, but my theory is that my young niece and nephew invented it when they couldn't say "Marlys." Today, as adults, they still call me Aunt Marky sometimes, while no one else does. It's certainly an inoffensive nickname, but I have learned to appreciate my real name and to hope that everyone will use it.

I haven't always accepted my uncommon name gratefully. When I was in elementary school, I tried to give myself a new name. In my imagination, I was a famous red-haired writer named "Marilyn May Marshall." I had a popular, attractive red-haired classmate named Marilyn, and I admired my father's red hair, while I hated my own common dark brown; I can't say whether either the real Marilyn's attractiveness and popularity or her, or my father's, red hair were factors in my imaginary name. As I grew older, "Marilyn" was forgotten. Of course no one ever called me that anyway.

In college, I acquired another nickname, "Mentally Marvelous Marlys May Marshall," or just "Marvelous Marlys" or "Marvelous" for short. It was a play on my "3M" name, but I think it was also an unflattering reference to my apparent egotism, My problem was actually shyness, not pride. Yes, I was a good student, but I didn't flaunt it. The honor roll always appeared in the college paper. Once a fellow student peeked at my report card and said, "Hey, there's someone with all A's!" I just smiled, but I don't think academic overachieving was in fashion then.

I think one of my college roommates invented the "Mentally Marvelous" nickname. We're still distant friends today, but I don't think the nickname was intended to flatter. It was easy to make fun of me for being an overachieving nerd, not to mention my being shy, fat, unattractive, and unpopular. College kids can be cruel.

That nickname might have gone away if it hadn't been for the college's band and choir director. My roommate, a music major and talented singer, worked as his secretary, and she passed my nickname on. I was a band member for two years, last chair clarinet one year, next-to-last the other. I seldom bothered to practice, being much more interested in journalism and literature than in music, so my minimal musical skills were easy to laugh at. I was obviously insecure and easy to tease.

When I encountered the director at my thirtieth college reunion in 1984, he not only remembered me, but greeted me as "Mentally Marvelous Marlys." My husband, who was with me at the time, laughed uproariously. He'd never heard me called that before. I laughed too, but with a bit less enthusiasm. The director still remembered me and the nickname at our fiftieth reunion in 2004. He has since retired, and I hope that nickname retired with him.

Perhaps it was all really in fun. I was, indeed, a shy, insecure, antisocial nerd, but I plead innocent to the charge of pride. At this time in my life, it certainly doesn't matter. I may have been "Marky" and "Marilyn" and "Mentally Marvelous" when I was younger, but now I'm just Marlys Marshall Styne. Thanks to my late husband, the "3M" pattern has been broken. Now it's only two, and sometimes just one.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne


Dorothy said...

I hated the nick name Dottie, It made me feel as though I was a spot on the blackboard, which someone could erase. Now theres a comment to be analyzed. Place that with dyslexia and I could be a case for a psych book. I made it through, and here I am successful in commercial real estate, and blogging at night with grammology. This for the hope of bringing grandma's back to the families, sharing their wisdom and experience with parents and children. Consequently, don't call me grammie, call me grammie Dorothea, I made that up..I love the sound. A name is personal..don't you think our name should be temporary, until we are old enough to approve the one given, or choose another? Regards, hope you stop by my site;
However, as I am only a high school graduate, don't cringe at my grammar and spelling I try..

seniorwriter said...

Thanks, Dorothy. While I'm not a grandma, I believe that all grandmas--and others too--need to tell their stories. I'll certainly check out your site. Have you looked at my column on There's a link here on "Write your Life!"

Cheryl Hagedorn said...

I once taught a memoir class at the South Side Center for the Chicago Department of Aging. What a hoot! I loved it. We had a lady in class whose family called her Jim - a nickname for Virginia. Barrel was the closest thing I ever had to a nickname - Cheryl Barrel. Try living with that! The other sort-of nickname came from my gym suit. We had to have our first initial and last named stitched across the yoke. There was very little space between C. and the Hagedorn piece, so my friends began calling me Shagedorn or Shaggy. said...

via: Cheryl H.

I always wanted a cool nickname, even wrote about it on my blog. Buzz, or Jake or something.

I was named after General Mark Clark.
Well not really, but that's the guy that had the name when my parents decided they liked it.

Yeah, I was called Markie too. Big Whoop!

My uncle used to call me stinky. My aunt always had a fit.

Oh well, I survived.

seniorwriter said...

Thanks! I guess I'm lucky that I never had an obviously offensive nickname.

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