You have to be careful with nicknames.

Done right, nicknames can be quite effective.  I’m trying to think of one.  Let’s say, done right, nicknames can, surely, be quite effective, can’t they?

My lovely wife once knew someone called ‘Kickstart’, because his bike never worked properly – kind of like Granny Weatherwax’s broomstick.  But ‘Kickstart’ actually works pretty well.  It has the ring of the Top Gun-esque callsigns my friends and I all wanted to have when we were kids but never did because we weren’t in the US Navy in the 1980s.  Another fellow she knew was called ‘Split’, because of the damage he did to his head by falling off a castle.

My wife’s known some quite interesting people.

As a pagan, I might be expected – as is prescribed in every book on How To Be A Pagan* – to have adopted a ‘magickal name’.  A lot of people do, and mostly it’s ‘Raven’ or ‘Wolf’ or ‘Moon’, or some combination thereof.  Or ‘Merlin’.  Or ‘Lady Morrigan Krystal Midnight Smith’, or whatever.  I’m not completely immune to the impulse: ‘Tiro’ comes from the Roman cognomen I used when writing on a pagan blog I occasionally contributed to – the rest of the name was just a Romanised version of my real one.  (Yes, I know women weren’t given a trinomen, and why bother re-enacting if you’re not going to do it right, eh?  Huh?  Eh?  Because I’m not really re-enacting.  I’m a dabbler.  I yam what I yam, as Descartes/Popeye once said).

When I was quite a lot younger I was lucky enough to be given some flying lessons by a relative of mine.  I flew a Cessna 152 from a local grass-track airfield and learned that ‘Tiro’ – a Latin word meaning ‘learner’ or ‘student’ – was the word you used when you wanted Air Traffic Control to be nice to you. I never got my pilot’s licence and went back to flight simulations, but I did manage to reach the stage of flying solo, so I think of it as a successful experience all the same.

Still, by then I’d adopted ‘Tiro’ as a magic talisman of sorts.  I reasoned that if it had such a powerful effect on ATC, surely it could work wonders elsewhere!  I could use it in all sorts of places and, wherever I went, people would go, “Ah – this person doesn’t know what she’s doing; I shall lower my expectations”.  And then, were I a Machiavellian sort, then I would pounce, and catch them unawares by being better at whatever-it-was than they thought I was.  In reality, not being a Machiavellian sort, I generally just failed to live up to lowered expectations instead of failing to live up to the original ones.

So I haven’t found anywhere else where my magical talisman has quite the same effect as it did with ATC, but I live in Hope (lovely place, beautiful scenery**).

But ‘Tiro’ isn’t a nickname I actually expect people in the real world to use; it’s just an online thing. And, outside of Facebook and Google+, most of us have an online thing.  It’s when what should be an online thing finds its way out into your actual, real-world interactions that you have to be careful. Because out there, there seem to be two types of nickname: the sort that other people give you that are usually derogatory, if only in a friendly sort of way.  ‘Split’ and ‘Kickstart’ being good examples. These nicknames match the sentiment of the Roman cognomen as it was originally used: for example, one explanation for the cognomen ‘Caesar’ is that it means ‘hairy’ – in which case it was probably originally given to someone who was bald.  Because that was hilarious to a Roman.  Calling someone ‘The Brave’ because they’re a coward was just the Roman sense of humour.

The other sort of nickname is the one you think up for yourself, and then spend far too long trying to persuade other people to use.

“I know: you could use my old school nickname.”

“What, ‘Bonehead’?”

“How did you know my nickname was Bonehead?  Anyway, I meant the other nickname: ‘Ace’.”

“Get outta town.  Your nickname was never ‘Ace’.  Maybe ‘Ace-hole’.”

“‘Ace’ was my nickname at school, actually.  It’s just that no-one ever called me it, despite the number of times I let them beat me up.”

— Rimmer and Lister prepare to meet women for the first time in three million years; Red Dwarf

It’s something you have to be very careful of, if you decide that, say, ‘Maverick’, ‘Predator’ or ‘Renegade’ are the sort of name you want to apply to yourself.  It’s not going to be all that effective if the only person you can persuade to use them is your mum – especially if you keep having to remind her.

“Neville, dear, your tea’s ready.”

“Mum!  It’s ‘Renegade’.”

“Oh, yes.  Sorry, Renegade, dear.  Now come along and sit down; I’ve done your favourite.”

* I don’t think there’s actually a book called this, but a huge number of them basically amount to the same thing: Paganism = Casting Spells.

** I don’t actually live there.


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