The Importance of Names and Nicknames

Everybody in the world has a name and nicknames are prone to be created throughout time as they have been apart of human society since way back when. Dating back to the 14th century,  ‘ekename’ was the word used for nickname because in Middle English ‘eke’ meant also, so it was like “also name”. Over time however the term ‘eke’ became less familiar as a word and it was turned to ‘nickname’. A personal connection I have with nicknames relates to my Father. His middle name is Louis, however, when he was growing up in Rochester in the 70s he was apart of a very racially and religiously diverse neighborhood and his friends called him Luigi. They would use this nickname on him because he was the Italian one out of his friend group and as many of you know Mario and Luigi are two Italian brothers. 

As I think to myself after I finish the book, Zone One by Colson Whitehead I realize many things. I noticed that it sounded like a living hell on Earth was the setting. It revealed to me how Whitehead views the Earth now and how we are treating it and acting on it. Also, the way he used names in this book really intrigued me. It didn’t even hit me until the end of the book but then a lightbulb went off in my head. Mark Spitzer, that name for some reason made me think twice. I did a quick google search on Mark Spitzer and one of the first things to pop up was how he won 7 gold medals in the 1972 Olympic games which is the most by any individual. The irony behind this is that in the novel, Mark Spitzer is a black man and the people he was with gave him the nickname because he wasn’t able to swim. This is a racial stereotype used in the book on the character Mark Spitzer. “It was perfect: From now on he was Mark Spitz” said his mates (Whitehead 182). 

Spitzer’s buddies never called him anything else. This goes to show the importance of the name in the book and nicknames in general. They have a tendency to stick longer than actual names given at birth. I have a friend named Mitchell that has not been called Mitchell by any of our friends since middle school. He will forever go by Gibby to my friends and I. We started this nickname the first year we all met each other in junior high and that was around the time when iCarly was huge all over the internet and television. The character ‘Gibby’ in the show reminded all of us of Mitchell, so it stuck from then on.

The use and display of the importance of names to people is present in Medical Apartheid as well. Saartjie Baarman was one African American female that Washington writes about in the novel. In one instance, the female gets her name taken away from her during dangerous operations as she loses the precious right to identify as her real name. She is given the disrespectful nickname of “Hottentot Venus” (Washington 84). The fact that this is included in a book that goes into detail the horrible things done to African Americans during medical treatment exhibits the concern of people and the names given to them.

Nicknames have been prevalent since the beginning of time and will continue to implement in people’s lives. The importance of a name is astronomical and many do not even realize. It is a way of identity and a way to stand out and be unique among a world of boring and plainness. It is just one more way people can describe themselves and have a good feeling about knowing where you got the name and what you are going to do with it. Throughout the school year, everyone has to learn new names that someday might be in our lives somehow. That is why I enjoyed the first few weeks of this class when Dr. McCoy would start every class with everyone’s name.

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