Italian American nicknames ... were given with love and a need for identification

Dec 05, 2014 1435

by Cookie Curci

Most all of us are given a first and last name when we enter this world. We have nothing to say about who chooses it or why. Our surname is the product of our family lineage, while our first name is decided upon by our parents, after hours of agonizing deliberation .


Chances are, after all the work and energy Mom and Dad put into choosing our name, friends or family will replace it with a whimsical nickname .

When my grandparents came to America in the early 1900s, they were immediately given nicknames. It was a necessity born from an abundance of too many people with alike names and faces. In order to quickly identify someone and to insure everyone maintained their individuality, a nickname had to be adopted. A descriptive nickname was used along with the immigrant's birth name.

For instance, Grandma used to tell me of a man called Paul , who had the habit of taking medicine everyday. This daily habit earned him the name, "'Paul take-a-medichine" (Paul takes medicine) Another young man, named Mario, who used to drink too much wine, soon earned the nickname "Mario Chooko" (Mario the drinker ) Another man by the name of Frankie who was a heavy smoker was dubbed "Frankie Fuma" ( Frankie smoke) . My Grandfather, Antonio Curci, earned his nickname "The Raven" because he ate lunch every day at a cafe called "The Raven's Inn"


"Don" when placed before a man's name was a show of great respect as was "Donna" when used before a woman's name.


Among Italian women, the name Rose was very common. Therefore, distinctions between the women had to be made. One of them, who had a bad temper and a needle sharp tongue, was called "Rosa the Vesp" (Rose the wasp ). Another Rose, who was very kind and thoughtful, was nicknamed "Santa Rosa" ( Saint Rose). Rose who told fortunes and cast spells was known as "Rosa La Strega" (Rose the Witch)

As a kid who grew up in the 1940s, I played a lot of sandlot baseball with the neighborhood kids. Fifty years later, I've long since forgotten the birth names of my old teammates, but their nicknames remain crystal clear: "Dimples" was on first base, "Jonsey"-second, "chi-chi" on third. "Red" was pitching softballs, "Spoony" was behind the plate, "Pebbles" was in left field, "Ricky" in center, while me and my radio flyer wagon and my dog Buffy kept guard over right field.


Most nicknames are self explanatory. While they're not always flattering, they are usually lovingly bestowed. For instance , if you were born with red hair, your playmates were sure to call you "Red". If you were born with a set of protruding teeth, your pals might tag you "Beaver" or "Bucky".


When my brother was a boy, he was dubbed "Pebbles" by his friends. Our Dad's name was Rocky so it was only natural that the son of "Rock" be
called"Pebbles". I remember one of our pals who was nicknamed "5-cents,"
because his surname was Nichols. And another we called "Mailbox". He earned his nickname because of his daily habit of leaning on mailboxes and watching all the girls go by. Luckily, both boys outgrew their nicknames. But I'd be willing to bet they enjoyed them while they had them. In fact, a kid just didn't feel loved until one of his pals gave him a nickname.

In the world of entertainment, show business celebrities are regularly given nicknames: Sinatra - "Ol' blue eyes", Bing Crosby -"Der bingle", Bob Hope-"Ol' Ski Nose", Elvis- "The King", Jimmy Durante- "The Schnazola", John Wayne- "The Duke" and Humphrey Bogart is known worldwide as "Bogie".


Baseball great Joe DiMaggio held many nicknames during his career. He was known affectionately as "The Yankee Clipper" and "Joltin' Joe" by his adoring fans. Later he would earn yet another nickname because of his many TV commercials for a popular coffee maker. For many years, DiMaggio was known and beloved as TV's "Mr. Coffee".


Bestowing nicknames to our friends, family and favorite stars just comes naturally to we Americans.


The name Iva Toguri D'Aquino isn't memorable. However, her infamous a.k.a., "Tokyo Rose", rekindles wartime drama and intrigue. American GI's nicknamed her "Tokyo Rose".


Ever wonder how the phrase "His name is Mudd" got started? Well, according to folklore history, it was a country doctor named Samuel Mudd who inadvertently treated the wounds suffered by John Wilks Booth
minutes after the actor had assassinated President Lincoln. Dr. Mudd notified the authorities that his patient might have been the assassin, but to the doctors shock and surprise he was arrested as a conspirator and sentenced to life in prison. Thus, the name Mudd came to mean trouble, ill repute and disrespect.


As kids we all gave our pals friendly nicknames. Jones became "Jonsey", MacDonald shortened to "Mac", Fischer became "Fish", Rosalie became "Rosie", Elizabeth was changed to Betty, and Antoinette to "Annie".

Most adults prefer that their childhood nicknames such as: "Stinky", "Weezy", "Gooney" or " Bucky" be left to the past where they belong. However, I'm a rare exception to that rule. I like my nickname and prefer it to my given name. ( I'll never tell).


I've heard several versions of how I acquired the name "Cookie". One story has it that I was named after a popular song of the day, "Lookie Lookie, Here comes Cookie" ( Sounds reasonable). Another family story is told of my fondness for cookies- ergo the name Cookie. (A good analogy)


Of all the explanations I've been given regarding the origin of my nickname, I'm inclined to like the story my Italian Grandma told me many years ago. Grandma, it seems, liked to call me her "Dolche Pastiacino" which in Italian means sweet little cookie. Later, my Auntie Ann translated the name into English and "Cookie" was created.


I'll most likely never know just how my nickname originated or who bestowed it upon me. Oh, well, I guess that's just the way the cookie crumbles!

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