Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What did you just call me?

Yesterday was my grandmother’s 80th birthday. As I scrolled through my phone to find her number so I could call and congratulate her on turning 24, I didn’t look under “G” for grandma or “D” for Donna.

I looked under “H” for Hot Lips.

I can’t say for certain when I began calling her that, but I remember it had something to do with wanting her to feel fun and sassy after her divorce from my grandfather.

The nickname has stuck so powerfully in my mind that I forget most people don’t refer to their grandmothers as Hot Lips. I can’t imagine addressing a piece of mail to her that didn’t include that label (nor can I imagine her mailman’s disappointment if I ever did).

I’ve had a lot of nicknames in my life. For much of my childhood, my father called me Buzzard Snot, or simply “Buzz.”

I pretended to be annoyed, but secretly loved it. It said a lot about the dynamic of our relationship and my father’s unique sense of humor.

In my adult years, I’ve been Tawnanananana, TF, Tawnita, and my personal favorite, TnA. Each of those makes me think fond thoughts about the person who dubbed me that, and I’ve been known to sign email messages with the appropriate (or inappropriate) moniker.

In my third contracted romantic comedy, my main character is named Riesling. Her family owns a vineyard, and the name comes from a variety of grape that produces wines ranging from extremely sweet to bitingly dry.

A bit like the character.

The only person who calls her by her full name is her ex-husband, and he does it to tease and annoy her. To most people, she’s Reese, Reesey, Peanut Butter Cup, or Hot Tits.

You can blame her grandma for that last one.

Each of those nicknames says something about the person who calls her that and the relationship they have with Reese. It was a fun dynamic to explore, and one of those subtle ways to “show” characterization instead of “telling.”

Do you have a nickname you’re willing to share? Do you tend to use nicknames in your writing? If so, do they serve a purpose in characterization, or are they just for fun? Please share!

And let me know which name you’d like me to use if we ever meet up at a book signing. I'll be practicing the "Buzzard Snot" signature, just in case.

30 comments :

Anne Gallagher said...

In the strangest coincidence I've had two different men in two different states (east coast west coast) call me Kitty. As in Miss Kitty. And being the woman you are, I'm sure you can come up with several reasons why and I would tell you, that you would be right.

linda said...

I always thought nicknames were fun but I can't think of any that stuck with me. When I was in elementary school, a couple of the neighborhood boys called me Linda Kabinda Yorba Linda. They thought it very clever.

Sarah W said...

I never had a nickname that anyone would tell me to my face.

But names are important in my WIP. My male MC is called by his first name, his last name, or just Boss, depending on who is doing the calling. My female MC is trying to separate herself from the person she used to be by ditching her nickname. And they're trying to find the birth name of their mentor, in order to search for his family.

Emilia_Quill said...

Ï'm usually called Emppu, which is actually a boys name.

During elementary school I was called Pamela Anderson, because I was the only one with boobs and I acted as her in a school play.

My boyfriend has several nicknames for me but my favorite is Pocket-size-Venus. I'm 158 cm which is almost 5'2.


In my secondary WIP the protagonists nickname is Brigand, he uses his nick because his real name is embarrissing and reveals his real identity. He's also called Fiona by bullies, because they can't tell him apart from girls.

In my main WIP I don't use that many nickames.

Patty Blount said...

Just had a similar conversation with Trisha Leigh.

My full name is Patricia Ann. To most of my family, I'm Patty Ann. To my dad, I'm Trish. He's the only one who ever calls me Trish and when my husband heard that, he had a party with the Trish the Dish nickname. (rolls eyes)

Patricia is now a dying name but in high school, every class had at least four. In one class, we ran out of nicknames. Pat, Patty, Patsy, Trish, - all taken.

So, I became PAM because that's what my initials spelled before I got married.

At one job, I was called Sweet Thing. This evolved from our first caller ID phone system. One of my coworkers asked if I planned to say, "Hello, Big Guy" every time the boss called, so that's what I called HIM. He shot back with Sweet Thing.

The next job, I was called St. Patty. I was documenting a software feature designed to detect broken solder balls on the backs of silicon chips. When the boss asked how I was doing with his balls, I choked and left the room to go howl in private. He assumed I was a prude and canonized me.

Here at current job, I'm called Pat-tay. I don't know why.

Matthew MacNish said...

I use (see: overuse) nicknames a lot in real life, but you're just now making me realize that I ought to do it more in my writing. I mean I do shorten names, you have to, for variety, but great characterization would naturally include some nicknames that have nothing to do with a character's real name.

Thanks Tawna! Oh, and when we eventually meet, I'll be calling you TnA, at least after a few glasses of Riesling.

Summer Frey said...

My mom is the queen of nicknames. Every pet had its given name, plus at least 3 nicknames, and they answered to them all. We kids were no different. "Summer" isn't exactly easy to make a nickname out of, so it was never even tried. My maiden name was Bishop, so they called me B for a long time. Sometimes B would morph into Beebop, Bean, Beaners, Boogus. And my longest nickname was given by my older brother when I was little--"Weena." (But his was "Nigley," so we're even.)

Meg said...

I cut my hair short and got dubbed Bobcat.

Other than that, no good nicknames stuck with me.

abby mumford said...

my normal nickname is abby. i've also gotten abster. abs. abs-o-steel. abu. abee. but usually, just abby. which is funny because all three of my siblings had nicknames that were derivatives of our last name. probably because their first names are more common than mine and so to distinguish, they were called by our last name or a variation of it.

also, going along with your backhanded compliment theme from last week, i found out about a nickname some of the workers in a plant i visited bestowed upon me. it's supposed to imply they thought i was attractive, but really, it's incredibly offensive and demeaning and no, i'm not going to reveal it...

Trisha Leigh said...

My grandfather, who I was extremely close to, had a couple of nicknames for me. "FishDuck" when I was younger because they lived in a lake house and I was always swimming. "Ishcabibble" later on. Oh, how I loved that man.

My father called me "Bud" and like with you and your dad, when I see things addressed to me that way, I still get a little misty-eyed. I love our relationship.

My MC *hates* nicknames, though her name lends itself to more than a few. It says a lot about her that she hates them, and when she does allow someone to use one, it says even more.

The Sprouting Acorn said...

in my family, several of us have been honored with nicknames: my shy, backward young cousin finally got up enough nerve and ordered his own meal becoming "hotdog." my great-uncle wished my mother had been a boy, so during wwii, he would take her into the bars and dubbed her his little "butchie." me being a chunky little baby, my grandmother tossed me up into the air singing "mertle, mertle where's your girdle?" i became "mert." and the most classic of all is while this same grandmother was on a kitchen table, birthing her son, her husband and the doctor were out in the barnyard bargaining how the bill would be paid… my grandpa bartered a cow to the dr… thus naming his newborn son his little "cowboy." all family members use these names when addressing each of us, but it's seeped into the public realm but most don't have a clue as to how those names were given.

Danica Avet said...

When I was younger, my brother couldn't say my real name, Stephanie. He'd call me Peppi instead. I hated it and my cousins still call me that 20 years later. In high school, I was called Stephanwolf, Stephaneffer, or Stephanopolis by my friends.

Then in college band, I was nicknamed Bambi, or Barbie 2 (because I was one of 2 female tuba players).

I use nicknames in nearly all of my books because that's how my family is. The one character I have I can say that lives up to her nickname is an Amazon who goes by the name Izzy. Her real name is Isola and she hates it.

Gina said...

I've been G, GG, Geeg, GT (but only my high school bff and 11th grade history teacher can call me that), Gina Bean-a, Beansie (I was a gassy baby), Bitch, and a few other things that weren't very polite.

Dad and hubby both call me Kitten for the same reason... I'm a milk addict whose perfect day involves curling up in a window box and sleeping.

One of the football players I tutored in college had a tendency to call me Sweet Tits. And then I started calling him Sugar Dick so that stopped. :)

Sharon Axline said...

In my family, when we speak of you - always in hushed and reverent tones - You are called Three Book Tawna.
I've had many nicknames in my time - some I can't post here. But most times I'm known as Ax.

Jason said...

I had a nickname in high school - "Flem", a play off my last name. I hated it. At first it was a bit of a tease, then it just became what people called me. Thankfully since high school I haven't heard it, because for obvious reasons it can be less than ideal.

I can't think of any other real nicknames...though, with "Jason" there probably should have been. I think there were five of us in my sixth grade class, which is plain ridiculous for a class with 14 boys. Seriously parents?

All of my pets have had many, many nicknames, all linked to the original, but you'd have to backtrack through seven permutations of the original nickname to see the link.

As for my characters...I haven't even thought about nicknames, honestly. Might be something to play with in the revision...

April said...

I have have so many nicknames I answer to just about anything. The most popular have been Four, Ape (which I hate) Apo, Anna, Snapril and April Gail (Gail is not my middle name.) I think they are fun.

As for my characters there are so many name changes going on it's crazy. Mostly they're used as terms of endearment or secrecy.

Sierra said...

My name doesn't really lend itself to a nickname. I had a friend in high school who tried calling me "Si" for a day, but I nipped that in the bud. Every time she said hello, I felt like a fruit drink. ("Hi, Si!" anyone?)

We've got nicknames for the pets over here, cutesy nicknames for each other, etc., but that's about it. I've always wanted a nickname, except for "Si," but after almost 29 years...I don't think it's going to happen.

Steph Schmidt said...

The world is filled with unicorns and rainbows the day acquaintances realize I despise being called Steffie. And Stepharoonie. Actually include all the other bizarre nicknames my name lends itself to (Fanny being the worst).

But the nicknames from my parents are Scooter and Pumpkin. I was a devil as a toddler in my little roll around chair. There's a story from my parents involving my near death because I rammed a door block in my roll around chair and knocked it over. With Pumpkin I like to think it was from being born in October rather than a comment on my looks as a kid.

And with all this baggage of nicknames I'm surprised to realize only two of my characters have nicknames. Mostly due to the full names being just too long to type over and over.

Christina Auret said...

I have a bit of an odd pet name situation to report on.

My parents gave us family names and decided that we will be called by them, or what would be the point?

A lot of people give their kids names like Petronella and the kid goes through life introducing themselves as Nell to everyone they meet. With us this was never the case.

So I always introduce myself as Christina and think of myself as such. My family calls me that about half the time, but as often as not I'm Tina to them.

The odd thing that happens is that a larger proportion of my sibling's friends ended up calling me Tina while a larger proportion of my friends call me Christina.

I do not have a problem with either name or with being called C or whatever, but I have always found this very funny.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

My mother used to call me Suze or Suzabelle, which made me sound like a cow. My hubby called me Hot Rod before we were married, and still does sometimes. Not that I'm a hot rod anymore, but calling me Model T just wouldn't sound as good.

Brandi Guthrie said...

I never really had a nickname that stuck, though my mom occasionally calls me bubbles (because I have nothing but air bubbles between my ears, she says--I was a very space-y kid). My history teacher in high school like to give all the girls the middle name "Fay" (so I was Brandi Fay). I've adapted that to reflect my fantasy habit so now a lot of my usernames are some form of Brandi Fey.

Stephanie said...

LOL!! I LOVE the nickname for your grandma!!! So so cool!! I bet she's a sassy lady!! :)

The only nickname I've ever had was when I was a kid...for some reason that I honestly have no idea what so ever, my dad called me gorilla face. Until one day when I was like 14 and blew up at him over it and he's not called me it since.

Laina said...

I get Lainers sometimes from friends, and variations of my name. Then I have one friend who I started calling sugar cube (long story) so she started calling me pancakes (because of my twitter avatar).

As for characters, in one book, I have one named Avery who goes by Ave sometimes, one named Cameron who goes by Cam, one named Sebastian who goes by Spyder, one named Mackenzie who goes by Kenzie.

In the second, I have an Abby and that's about it XD

In the third, there's a character named Elenora who goes by Lennie because she hates Elenora. Another character calls her Len because no one else does and he thinks it's cute. He also calls her babydoll, princess, and pretty much every condscending, irritating endearment he can think of to, like you said, tease and annoy her.

Judy,Judy,Judy. said...

In the modern gothic romance novel that I'm serializing on my blog I gave the 'kids at risk' nicknames. I thought long and hard (stop snickering Tawna) until I found nicknames that said what I wanted them, too.
They are at risk from a potential legal guardian who is encouraging them to be anorexic cause he wants to make them supermodels. One's middle name is Twiggy so her nickname is Twig. The other one's nickname is Slinky.
I like them.

LTM said...

you're trying to make me cry! :D MAN, I miss my g'mom so much. We called her Bobie, but her name was Gloria Jean... She called me grub worm... !

I didn't care for that so much. But my family's big on the nicknames, too.

I do have a nickname for one of my characters in current MS. Christina's her name, but everyone calls her Teeny b/c she's so small. When she wants to be grown, a grip with cutting fingernails is the signal to say "Christina." :D

good tip, TnA! ;p

Neurotic Workaholic said...

"Neurotic Workaholic" isn't my nickname in real life, though most people who know me would agree that it suits me well. I've thought about changing my real name, since I've never liked it very much; the only trouble is that it'd be too hard to decide what to change it to.

Allie Sanders said...

Allie is a diminutive of my name that I adopted when I got annoyed with so many people calling my Alicia. My best friend calls me Al, which is fun since she's El. In high school I was nicknamed Fred after that "Fred's Riding Fred" song. I still don't know how that happened but thankfully it only lasted a year.

TnA is probably the best nickname ever. Tawnananana is a fun one.

Claire Dawn said...

I love nicknames. Unfortunately I don't have many :( but I love to give them. Sea Biscuit, Spurkles, Spuffy, Canookie... lol

And I think having a personal nickname for someone says a lot about your dynamic too.

Kari Lynn Dell said...

Cyclone. Since I was four. And still.

kmullican said...

I have the pleasure, courtesy of my father, to take claim to the names: Curtain climber, carpet lizard, Kimbo (Rambo's little sister) and Hollywood.

Oh yes, daddy - how I love thee! =D

Something tells me I'd love your dad very much!