Friday, October 23, 2009


It seems that whenever I am regularly around a group of people I don't know, I find myself giving secret nicknames to many of the other people. The sobriquets usually result because of some observed physical characteristic or mannerism, or because the person involved reminds me of someone else. For instance, several years ago I attended a week of depositions for a case in Cincinnati. There were ten other attorneys at the depositions that week, all of whom were previously unknown to me.

As the week wore on, and without consciously thinking about it, I found that I had given secret monikers to a number of the other attorneys. The nicknames included Mick Jagger, Danny Partridge, The Senator, The Blonde Goddess, Gene Hackman and Nerdly. You can guess why I gave each person his or her handle, and you would probably be right.

Of course, when I do this nicknaming, I do not tell the subjects. I keep the pseudonyms to myself, and they usually dissolve if I later develop a friendship or other relationship with the person. I guess it's because the people become more genuine to me at that point. Once you know a person, you can no longer view him or her as a physical characteristic or mannerism observed upon first impression.

The nickname phenomenon also occurred when I began working out at a now-defunct gym called The Fitness Zone. It seems likely to happen in the gym setting, because there you may see the same people working out every day without speaking to them or in any way getting to know them--at least for a while. Some of the characters at the Fitness Zone were secretly dubbed by me as: The Linebacker, Flounder, The Countess, Bonnie & Clyde, The Foxy Librarian, and J.C. ("J.C." was so named because he looked a lot like Jesus Christ.) In time, a number of these people became my friends. I got particularly close to the couple that I had previously called Bonnie & Clyde. I never told them about their secret handles.

I bring all this up because I have now noticed the nickname phenomenon happening again, as I work out at the YMCA in New Albany. I've been hitting it six or seven days per week for the last several months, and so I have been seeing a number of unknown regulars on a consistent basis. Once again, I have found myself unwittingly dubbing them in my usual fashion. Some of my current workout companions have now secretly become known to me as The Thoroughbred, The Princess, The Sociology Professor, The Coach and The Novelist.

I wonder if any of these unsuspecting people have ever given me a secret moniker. If so, I wonder what it could be. The Lawyer? Gee, I hope not. I certainly hope that I don't look like the prototypical lawyer; that would be a devastating insult, far worse than Nerdly or Flounder. If I could give a nickname to myself, it would probably be The Warrior or The Greek God. But maybe I'm known as Gramps or Old Baldy. I'll never know.

Just this morning, The Sociology Professor was working out on a cardio machine a few feet away from me. It occurred to me to ask him how his lectures have been going this semester, but then I thought better of it. After all, he and I have never spoken, and he may actually be an accountant or a rodeo clown for all I know. But he sure looks like a sociology professor to me.

I suspect that, in time, I will get to know some of my new workout companions by their real names. When I do, their unannounced labels will recede to the largely unused corners of my mind, where they will continue to evoke a smile of amusement for me from time to time.