Column: Four Erics, Two Nae Naes, But Only One Deany By SUSAN PARKER

Tuesday August 09, 2005

I’ve been obsessively thinking about my lack of a nickname ever since my teenage friend Jernae recently rechristened herself Suga’ Baby. I’ve been asking a lot of questions of my neighbors and housemates, quizzing Jernae on her friend’s nicknames, and just generally grousing about the unfairness of it all. Why do some people have three or four nicknames, and others have none? 

Down the street lives Teddy Franklin, who goes by the self-imposed handle of Mayor of Dover Street. His cousin Charles is called Sarge or The Reverend, but one needs to know what kind of mood he’s in in order to call him by the correct name. The title Sarge derives from his two tours of duty in Vietnam, and The Reverend comes as a direct result of the ambushes, shrapnel and Agent Orange he survived while there. When he’s Sarge he’s loud and scary; when he’s The Reverend he’s loud and loquacious. My preference is to greet him as Charles and see where the conversation leads.  

Jernae’s entire family is a study in nickname heaven. Her mother’s name is Renee, but she often goes by Nae. Jernae therefore is occasionally called Nae Nae. You’d think her sister, whose name is Brittnae, might be Little Nae, or Little Nae Nae, but she is usually addressed as Nanuka. (Don’t ask me why. This has never been adequately explained to me.) Brittnae’s younger sister is Monae; her nickname is MoMo. MoMo’s younger sister is Aujunee, but family members call her Tootsie Roll. Jernae has lots of cousins and friends who answer to various nicknames such as Poo, LaLa, and Taz. When she’s mad at them, she calls them nicknames that are sometimes disrespectful, such as Buckethead, Chicken Leg, and Pumpkinbreath. 

I once hired a man to help with my husband’s care whose given name is Eric. Sometimes I would have to call his mother’s house to make sure he was coming to work. The first time I did this I asked for Eric and the person on the other end of the line responded by asking, “Which Eric?”  

“Eric,” I said louder, thinking she hadn’t heard me correctly. 

“There’s four Erics livin’ here,” she answered. “Big Eric, Little Eric, Eric Senior and Eric Junior. Which one you want?” 

This put me in a quandary, as I didn’t know which Eric worked for us. It was early in the morning and since the Eric I wanted was only a little late for work I decided to hang up and hope that he would appear without my prompting. As it turned out, he arrived shortly thereafter, so I asked him which name he went by.  

“Eric Senior,” he said. “I’m Big Daddy, but you can call me Deany if you want. Dean’s my middle name.” 

I thought about this for a moment. “Is there another Deany?”  

“No way,” said Eric Senior. “That would mean that I’d be Big Deany. That ain’t bad, but I can guarantee you nobody wants to be called Little Deany.”  

There was silence between us as Eric Senior let this information sink in.  

After a moment Deany/Eric Senior could see where this was leading so he added, “Don’t be writin’ about it.”  

“Why not?” I asked. 

“Cuz everybody’ll know it’s me,” he said. 

“You may be right,” I answered. 

“I know I’m right,” he said. “Only four of us Eric Deans around here. Somebody somewhere is gonna know it’s us you’re talkin’ ‘bout.” 

“But it’s so interesting,” I argued. 

“All right,” he said. “Type it up and let me see it first.” 

I did as I was told. Eric Senior read the results. “Let it roll,” he said. “And don’t be feelin’ bad ‘bout not havin’ a nickname.”  

“Why’s that?” I asked. 

“Ain’t it obvious? Sometimes, girl, it can get damn confusin’.”