Next in line after me in the sibling pecking order was my late sister Kate, aka Bo Bug, Bug, Bugsy Siegel. Bo Bug is an old Disney comic book character, but I don’t know anything about him. Was he a “squeaky wheel,” a ranter, a wheedler, someone who never took “no” for an answer? My sister established her reputation early in life as one who was not going to be satisfied with the status quo or mediocrity. She was demanding, a go-getter, and not particularly diplomatic about it. She lived large during her short 34 years on Earth, and I miss her still 20 years later. In keeping with Dad’s linguistic style, he shortened Bo Bug to Bug, then expanded Bug to Bugsy Siegel (after the gangster, who is described as “mercurial” on Wikipedia).
Mary is the middle child and the family clown, so she has lots of nicknames. We were all skinny kids, but Mary was the skinniest, so her first nickname was “Skinny.” This was expanded to Skinny Minnie, then morphed as follows: Minnie Mouse, the Mouse, Ringie Mouse, Dingie Mouse, Dingle Fritz, Dingle or Dingo, Fritz. Mary’s daughter Sara is called Tweety Bird because as a baby, she looked just like the cartoon character, with a large forehead and huge eyes. The in-laws are not exempt from nicknaming either, so Mary’s husband Bob is Captain Bob (former airline pilot) or Rambob (so named due to certain aggressive tendencies that seem to come out on crowded buses).
The fourth child of my parents is Jenny. She was a sweet little kid, and my dad would sit her on his lap and start to tell her a very sad made-up story just to make her cry. As soon as the tears welled up in her eyes, he would laugh and hug and kiss her and call her “Heart of Gold.” While Dad thought this was great sport, Jenny didn’t take kindly to it and told him so as soon as she could talk well enough. He stopped taunting her, but the name stuck for a while. “Spork” was another nickname he had for Jenny, because while she wasn’t really fat, she was a stocky little fireplug. Later he just called her Ol’ Jen Jennison or just Jennison. Jenny’s kids are Joe (Kokomo Joe) and Kelly (Princess–as in Princess Grace Kelly). When Kelly was about three years old and Dad started calling her Princess, she very matter-of-factly told him, and much to his delight, that she was not a princess, she was a human. That did not deter him from calling her “Princess,” and at some point Kelly decided that was not such a bad nickname. Jenny’s husband Erik is “Erik the Red.”
Our brother Dick is the baby, poor guy, growing up with four older sisters. He was up to the task, though, and presented a whole new nicknaming opportunity for our Dad. Dick was all boy, a rough and ready little guy right from the get-go. Dad dubbed him “Bull” as soon as he could crawl and started terrorizing the household, and he is Bull 50 years later. Dick has had other secondary nicknames in the meantime. Magnum Force and Bwana are the two that come to mind, both stemming from his love for hunting and appreciation for firearms, passions that he learned from our dad. Dick’s kids are Katie (Fearless) and Bill (Buster). His wife Diane is “The Finn,” due to her Finnlander heritage.
My own husband’s nickname is one that he gave himself and that my dad adopted. My husband referred to himself as Toby (a slave name?) at a family gathering when he was doing a lot of cleaning up and “stepping and fetching” while the rest of us drank and played cards or something. Dad, who up until fairly recently, never did anything that remotely resembled housework chided Dick (my husband, not my brother) for doing women’s work and setting a bad example for the rest of the men and started calling him “Toby” or “Tobe. Dick grew up on a farm in Iowa, and Dad likes to tease him by calling him that “hog farmer” or “pork producer.” He does like pork, but we do not raise hogs. Our kids are Liz (Maggie, Wizzie, Whiz-bang) and Steve (Mongo, Mongo the Mongoose, the Goose). Perhaps they have so many nicknames because they were the first and only grandchildren for seven years. Dad thought we should name our firstborn Maggie. When we didn’t, he just called her that anyway for about the first year of her life. Typical. There’s even a little stretch of sand on the lake in front of my parents’ house that is called Maggie’s Beach. Wizzie is just baby-talk for Lizzie, I think, and Whiz-Bang is an expansion. Even I call her Wiz sometimes. Steve was dubbed “Mongo” after the character that Alex Karras played in the movie Blazing Saddles due to his rather remarkable size and strength at birth (10.5 lbs and 23″). The Mongoose part was added, if I remember correctly, after a trip to visit my parents in the Caribbean, where Steve acquired a T-shirt with a picture of a mongoose on it. And, in typical Bill Pence vernacular, Mongoose got shortened to Goose.
So that’s the family. There are other relatives and some friends that have also been given nicknames over the years. Generally, if Dad likes you, you get a nickname, and sometimes you do even if he doesn’t.