How About "Big Daddy?"

Erik is out of the office this week, moving to his new house, so we're reprinting a column from 2003, because we didn't think anyone would notice.

I've wanted a nickname ever since I was a young boy. I like my name, but I've often wondered what it would be like to have a name that would sum up my passions and interests, like "Stein," "Wheels," or "Collectible Elvis Plates."

I'm named for Erik the Red, the famous Viking explorer. Although my dad says he liked the name because he smoked Erik the Red cigars. I tried them once many years ago, and thought they were nasty, so I don't tell that story. I prefer not being named after something that can kill you. At least that's what I tell my friend, Ernie "Barbecue Ribs" Tutwiler.

I was four years old when I lobbied for a new name. One of my friends at preschool was named Sam, and he was a fast runner. I thought if I was named Sam, I could run fast too, so I asked my parents if they would rename me Sam so I could guarantee my spot in the 1984 Olympics.

Sadly, they said no, so I was doomed to a life of average running ability, thus ensuring I would never win an Olympic medal.

Olympic announcer: "And your three medalists in the 100 meter dash are Sam Johnson, Sam Lewis, and Sam Bannister. Meanwhile, Erik Deckers has tripped for a third time, and will not cross the finish line until Wednesday."

So I gave up my dreams of a new name altogether. Instead of some cool and unique name like John or Bob, I'd decided to accept my fate of being named after some Viking explorer who discovered a whole new continent.

But when I started the 7th grade, I discovered the magic of nicknames. With a nickname, I could get a whole new name without having to go through the hassle of changing the one stitched in my underwear.

So when my history teacher told us we could be called by any name we wanted, I desperately wracked my brain for one: "Spike? No. Flash? No. Studly McStudmuffin? Definitely not." Finally, because I couldn't think of anything that didn't make me sound like a dork, I chose my uncle's name, and told my history teacher he could call me "Pete."

As I think back, I have no idea why I picked that name at that particular moment. Which is why it never sunk in with me. I realized I'd made a bad choice when my teacher called on me that first day: "Pete, do you know when the Declaration of Independence was signed?"

Since no one had ever called me that before, I didn't realize he was addressing me.

"Pete? Pete?" he repeated a couple of times. I just sat there, looking at the blackboard, wondering why the heck this Pete kid wouldn't answer. Finally the kid next to me nudged me and said "He's talking to you."

The Pete experiment lasted for three weeks, before I got tired of trying to remember my new name, and asked my teacher to call me by my real name again.

I gave up on the idea of nicknames after that. And except for a brief window in college when a guy in my dorm called me "Elmo," I've been nickname free for 30 years.

At least until now. For the last few months, all sorts of strangers have given me nicknames: Dude, Guy, and Buddy. Someone even called me Sport once. (I've avoided Old Man Deckers so far; I've got a few more years before I have to start shouting at the neighborhood kids to get off my lawn.)

I just have to walk into the hardware store, and hear a "Hey, Buddy!" Or I stop by my favorite coffee shop, and get a "S'up, Man?" Or my personal favorite, "you want a biscotti with that latte, Dude?"

I'm 48 years old! When did I become Dude? I should have been Dude 20 years ago. I could have been Dude 14 years ago. I'm nearly freaking fifty, and NOW I'm Dude?! Where were you people when I was in college? I would have loved being "The Dude." Or even "A dude." Now, I've outgrown nicknames altogether, and they're finally being showered upon me.

Of course, none of this compares to the pain of the worst imaginable insult I've ever been called. "Will there be anything else, Sir?"

Photo credit: Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

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