The Art of the Nickie-Name

If you’ve been in Boston for longer than a winter’s afternoon, then you’ve probably been pinned down with some sort of nickname either from your friends, family or those within the daily circle.

It’s as much spontaneous as it is well thought out.

Things are so informal one on one in our city and the nature of Bostonians being boisterous and in your face allows a little freedom to play with names.

The usuals include adding an “ie” to the end of any name, or occasionally an “o.”

That’s why about 9 in 10 people in Boston whose names do not end in a vowel, somehow get transformed into names that end in vowels.

You have gobs of people named ‘Mikey,’ ‘Frankie,’ ‘Artie,’ ‘Tommie,’ ‘Petie,’ ‘Eddie,’ ‘Steve-O’ and such. That’s the kind of freewheeling street talk that’s thrown around all day long in most locales. Even if you remember one TV show that got this right years ago, which was ‘Cheers,’ you had ‘Cliffie,’ ‘Normie,’ and ‘Sammie.’

I’m told that’s a holdover from the Irish immigrants of the turn of the last century. They liked to give everyone a familiar name, something that bounced off the tongue and bridged the gap between the stiffs and the salts.

Maybe that’s true and maybe it isn’t. But it’s plausible.

The Irish are a poetic bunch, so I can see that playing with the language could have developed into the custom we’ve arrived at today.

Such things go a little deeper though once you delve in a few layers.

Between friends, you’ll find all sorts of nicknames that are tied to old stories or stupid things people did.

There was a guy I used to know that they called ‘Shoesie.’

Why that name?

I never knew, but one time he explained that years ago when he was a kid his mother used to buy him new Buster Brown shoes every year for school. The other kids, wearing sneakers, used to think it was funny watching him try to run around in proper shoes. So he got dubbed ‘Shoesie.’ It followed him around for decades in his circles.

Then there was a bad dude in my former neighborhood they called ‘Boots.’

That was a nickname only uttered in whispers.

No one knew ‘Boots’ real name; and no one had really seen ‘Boots’ up close.

Anyone who had seen ‘Boots’ had only seen his boots, typically the heel of them in his face.

His right-hand man was named ‘Stomps.’

Maybe that explains the nature of those fun guys.

Years ago, I used to work in Somerville – that being the old Somerville before it was cool – and I would visit a convenience store every day for a candy bar. My poison was a Pay Day. Therefore, after about a week of visits, the owner took a liking to me and started calling me ‘Pay Day.’

“Hey, must be 4, Pay Day’s here,” he would shout across the store with a smile.

When I worked shipping and receiving at a camera place as a young man, the UPS driver – a Southie original – liked to call me the ‘Kodak Kid.’ Who knows why? Probably the kind of thing that breaks up the day, and in those cases, you’re not close enough to get into names, but you can’t just say nothing either.

One of my favorite nicknames right now is for Council President Michele Wu – who is the ‘Wu Train.’ That pretty much sticks. There’s no leaving that one behind.

On a little aside, if I were her I think I’d be a little jilted after having seen what Western Union has done. It seems they changed their branding and so now at every payday loan place, it says in big yellow and black letters, ‘WU.’ At first I thought it was a campaign sign for her, but soon realized Western Union had co-opted her last name.

It’s not something a progressive lawmaker probably wants to be associated with, but all across this city, her name is emblazoned on the front of the money changers and check cashers.

Who knows?

Maybe there’s a nickname brewing in all that.

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