Joe Pisani (opinion): What's in a nickname?

Fairfield_011101_Photo illustration of how parents pick their names for their babies. Kerry Sherck/Staff photo
Fairfield_011101_Photo illustration of how parents pick their names for their babies. Kerry Sherck/Staff photoHearst Connecticut Media

What’s in a name? You’ve heard it 1,000 times that Shakespeare said a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but just because The Bard said it don’t mean it’s true.

So I guess it doesn’t matter whether she’s known as Cardi B or Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar. Or if he’s called Woody Allen or Allan Stewart Konigsberg. I admit Jennifer Aniston would be as sweet as Jennifer Linn Anastassakis, but would Elton John would be as hip as Reginald Kenneth Dwight? Reggie for short.

Celebrities have a way with names, and they’ve been known to saddle their kids with some doozies. Would you want to be named Kal-El after Superman, like Nicholas Cage’s son, or Lyra Antarctica Seaborn — what does that mean — like Ed Sheeran’s daughter? Or how about Cricket Pearl or Gravity or Raddix or Oonagh or Bear Blaze or Moon Unit or Poppy Honey Rosie?

Celebrities are certainly creative. My parents flunked that course. The best they could do was “Joe.” Even “Giuseppe” would’ve been better.

But I’m convinced when kids like Buddy Bear and Zuma Nesta Rock get older, they’ll run to Superior Court to change their names to Dick and Jane.

Nevertheless, I’m jealous. I always wanted something dashing or at least a nickname like Slim or Rusty or Dusty, which reflects the American tradition of home on the range, Marlboros and rugged individualism.

I guess a more appropriate nickname would have been “Baldy,” which was what they called one of my father’s friends on the East Side of Bridgeport. Although I never met him, I was assured he had a full head of hair. Who can understand the rhyme or reason of nickname nomenclature?

My father also had a friend called “Sloppy.” I don’t want to speculate how he got that name, and I certainly don’t want my wife to hear the story because she’d christen me “Sloppy” in an instant for my continued transgressions, e.g. shirts hanging from door knobs, pants flung over chairs, underwear under the bed (by accident, I swear). So let’s nix the idea of “Sloppy Pisani.”

Truth be told, I did have a nickname, but it’s one I prefer to forget. You see, my father was Joseph the carpenter, but any resemblance to St. Joseph was an illusion. And my mother was Josephine, but not the plumber.

To avoid confusion with three Joes in the house, I was dubbed “JoJo” so we all didn’t answer at once when someone yelled, “Hey, Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand?” (I couldn’t resist.)

JoJo isn’t bad when you’re a toddler, but by the time you reach the teen years, it can be downright embarrassing. Do you really want to call a girl for a date with the opening line, “Hi, this is JoJo ...” No wonder I had trouble getting dates.

I resented being an ordinary Joe and wished my parents had named me something more flamboyant like Kent or Zoltan, but I guess “Zoltan Pisani” didn’t fit our ethnic profile. As a result, I considered myself as an Average Joe, Joe Schmo and Joe Sixpack.

Nicknames can have devious origins. One of my students, John Bazyk, was given the nickname “Sweets” when he was a teenager.

As he tells the story: “One night I was out with my friends and I was talking to a girl. I don't remember what I said to her, but she said I was sweet. Well, my friends heard that, and I’m reminded of that to this day, 35 years later. At the time, they were laughing and calling me all kinds of names related to sweets — Sweet Cakes, Johnny Cakes and Cakes. But Sweets stuck for the most part.”

One of his close friends was called “Crash” because, John says, “When we were in high school, he had a motorcycle that he crashed just about every time he rode it. His most popular name that stuck with him was Stink, but I’m not sure how he got it.”

John and his friends were as poetic as Shakespeare when it came to nicknames. Their crowd included “Lurk” and “Wingnut.”

They all worked at a Mobil station, pumping gas and had to hose down the garage floors and wash them with soap and water. It was so slippery that one kid fell and couldn’t get up. He kept slipping and flopping around like a fish out of water so they christened him “Flounder.”

I guess on the embarrassment scale, JoJo isn’t as bad as Flounder.

Joe Pisani can be reached at joefpisani@yahoo.com.